Is Your Nonprofit Making These 7 RFP Mistakes?

fish in oceanNonprofits often use requests for proposal (RFPs) to find potential vendors for a particular type of work after performing an assessment of the organization’s needs. But your nonprofit may actually be unknowingly hurting itself in the RFP process. Are you making these seven nonprofit RFP mistakes?

What Not to Do With Your RFP

1. Cast a wide net

You might think that casting a wide net after preparing your RFP will net you the best results. However, this is often not the case. In fact, there are many reasons doing so is actually problematic.

  • There are a lot of fish in the sea, and they are not necessarily all qualified for the type of work you need help with. So doing so is unlikely to bring you good-quality candidates.
  • If you’ve just e-mailed the RFP to every vendor you can find or posted it on your website, reputable qualified firms are not going to respond because they don’t know what their odds are—and neither do you. Therefore, it isn’t a wise business decision for the provider to respond without knowing their odds (1 in 5, 1 in 12 or 1 in 200).
  • E-mailing the RFP to many providers sends the message that the organization is just fishing for ideas and doesn’t really know what it wants.

Instead, choose three to five design firms to send the RFP to. Then let them know how many you’ve sent it to, making it more likely they will respond. Look for those that have done similar work, worked with nonprofits, and/or know your industry. Don’t hesitate to contact them to ask as well as gauge interest before sending them the RFP. You may also want to ask: What results have you achieved for your clients? Have you helped other clients solve a similar problem?

2. Make no mention of budget

Some organizations seem to have the idea that any mention of a budget will result in vendors inflating their fees to the high end of their budget range. However, not mentioning any budget is an issue for several reasons.

  • First, the vendors are already aware there is competition, so they take that into consideration. Therefore, your organization is more likely to get a better rate.
  • Second, it is akin to asking about the cost of a car and asking someone to guess at what you want. Do you want a commuter car, one that is fast, or one with a lots of bells and whistles? The price range is awfully wide, right? If you have no particular budget (maybe because this type of work hasn’t been done before), at least discuss internally what your organization is prepared to or willing to invest: $5,000, $15,000 or $50,000? Or a “no more than” amount. That will at least enable the firm to define what can be done within that range.
  • Third, vendors will let you know up front if they cannot help you for that range, so you will be able to find another vendor to send the RFP to, if needed. This will save your time and theirs.

3. Not allow enough time for responses

Preparing a well-thought-out proposal could take days—or even weeks. The vendor will need time to review the RFP, reach out with any preliminary questions and any follow-up questions while preparing the proposal. Allow a minimum of two weeks—more if possible. This isn’t something that should be rushed.

4. Not mention “non-negotiables”

If your organization has any “non-negotiables,” be sure to mention them. They could relate to software, website platform (for example, WordPress versus Drupal), an integration between your CRM and the website, or something else. Don’t wait until the vendor has proposed a solution, only to say you would never consider that option (for example, because your organization just invested $10,000 to set up x or to provide training for staff in a certain system). However, don’t necessarily be too quick to dismiss an idea if the vendor has a solution you weren’t aware of that could work even better for your needs.

5. Leave out staff’s involvement

Providing information about how staff members use or interact with what the vendor will be creating is crucial. For example, is your staff not technically savvy at all, or very savvy but too consumed with other tasks? Is there a workflow that has been working well for them? Mention that. It could very well affect the proposed solution, whether it pertains to a website or layout files they may need to work with.

6. Not address goals

Including goals will allow the vendor to better understand how to approach the solution. Are you looking to increase your convention revenue or event sponsorship by a certain percentage? Perhaps you need to reduce time spent by staff on the phone or replying to e-mails. So be sure to list any specific goals that pertain to the work.

7. Assume you must accept the proposal as is

The proposal is just the start of the process. You may come up with new information or questions throughout the process. Work with the selected vendor to refine some of those details as needed.

These are some of the things design firms wish that nonprofits knew about RFPs. Following these steps help us to help you get better results and to make the RFP process a bit easier for everyone involved.

2 comments on “Is Your Nonprofit Making These 7 RFP Mistakes?

  1. Great post. A few thoughts, specifically about web/tech RFPs —

    Organizations often put a lot of technical specs in an RFP in order to seem technologically sophisticated, but this usually just gets you an eye-roll from the recipient agency. If it’s a required integration or platform, by all means include it, but don’t toss in jargon just to look tough.

    On the other hand, go big with goals, impact, and the feeling you want the site to create. If you can excite the vendor with the work you want to do, you’ll get exciting proposals back.

    If you’ve got evaluation criteria, let the vendor know what they are, so they can address your specific questions.

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