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6 strategies to improve your nonprofit RFP process

February 12, 2021
Two smiling colleagues look at a laptop while writing a request for proposal (RFP) for their nonprofit.

If your nonprofit organization is planning a project that would benefit from outsourced services such as fundraising consulting or graphic design, the best way to find a provider is to issue a request for proposals (RFP). An RFP is a document that describes your nonprofit’s project-specific needs and asks companies or freelancers to explain how they can meet those needs.

Because developing an RFP often requires a lot of time and effort, this guide outlines six strategies to make this process more efficient and effective for your organization. Let’s get started.

1. Determine whether issuing an RFP is the right course of action

The RFP is the best-known document your nonprofit could issue to potential service providers, but it isn’t the only one. There is also the request for information (RFI), a fact-finding document used to help your organization better understand the services you might need to complete a project; and the request for quotation (RFQ), which explains in detail what you need and simply asks providers to respond with information on their pricing for your specific project.

If you know exactly what you’re looking for to complete your project and have fairly simple needs, you might choose an RFQ instead of an RFP to streamline your review process. Or, if you aren’t completely sure about the specifics of your project, you might issue an RFI before developing your RFP to make the latter document more clear. Think through which documents are necessary for your organization before creating your RFP.

2. Clearly define your project’s scope and timeline

A detailed yet precise RFP will help you attract providers with the right skills and bandwidth to take on your organization’s project. Achieving this largely depends on presenting an RFP that purposefully explains your needs, parameters, and ideal relationship with the provider.

To determine the scope of the work you’ll need the provider to complete, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is the project’s end goal?
  • What metrics will indicate whether you’ve achieved your goal?
  • What expertise do your nonprofit’s staff members already have, and what gaps need to be filled?
  • Does the provider need to complete the work themselves, or would it be more efficient to have them train your staff to do it?

Once you’ve answered these questions, include a detailed description of the project’s scope in your RFP, as well as a proposed timeline that aligns with your organization’s fundraising strategy. For example, if you’re redesigning your nonprofit website, you might state that a contracted web developer needs to be able to finish the project by November 1 so you can more effectively collect online donations during the year-end giving season.

3. Research potential providers

When vying for a partnership with your nonprofit, most providers will readily provide examples of their work, accolades, and testimonials from happy clients, all of which will give you an idea of what your working relationship will be like. However, it’s also beneficial to do your own research. Browse their websites, read additional client reviews online, and compare the samples they provide to your organization’s project to help you make your decision.

If you know of other nonprofits that have completed projects similar to yours, reach out to them to ask for recommendations. They may have experience working with a provider who has responded to your RFP and can answer any questions you have about the process. Or, they could point you in the direction of a provider you might not have considered.

Additionally, keep in mind that you can expand your RFP’s reach by taking advantage of free online posting sources. Websites like Philanthropy News Digest and RFP Database host RFPs from a variety of organizations, and many providers visit these sites to look for new projects that might suit their specialties. Casting a wide net will offer your organization the chance to select from more providers with unique strengths and skills.

4. Be prepared to negotiate

As a nonprofit professional, you likely have experience with negotiation. After all, resources are often limited, so negotiating with providers to ensure your projects stay within budget is critical.

When you create your RFP, familiarize yourself with the provider’s field and make sure you have an understanding of what an organization like yours should expect to pay for certain services. The knowledge you gain will allow you to ask the right questions and can help you negotiate with vendors to get the best possible work at a price your nonprofit can afford.

5. Provide context on your organization

Your RFP should include a cover letter that introduces your nonprofit to potential partners and creates a sense of the culture in which you operate. Carefully craft this section so that respondents can design the best solution strategy for your organization’s specific situation.

In addition to determining logistics, use the cover letter to discuss your nonprofit’s purpose. Include a few statistics about your organization’s accomplishments, a short impact story, and a photo of your staff or volunteers at work to help potential providers understand who you are and what you do. This way, you can find a provider that is capable of completing your project and shares your values, making for a longer-lasting partnership.

6. Make a data-driven decision

Clear outcome metrics are critical in objectively determining which RFP response your nonprofit should accept. Create a simple scoring system for RFP responses based on the factors that matter the most to your organization—factors like experience working with nonprofits and ability to match your project’s timeline can play a key role in a successful partnership.

Breaking down and quantifying the points that influence a project’s success will allow the best candidates to rise to the top. Once you’ve narrowed down your applicant pool to a few high-scoring potential providers, consult with your staff and board members to get multiple opinions before making your final decision.

Starting the nonprofit RFP process

Developing a nonprofit RFP takes some careful planning and effort, but when done well, it can help you form a strong partnership that helps you achieve your goals. You’ll be glad you invested a little more time up front if it means saving yourself a lot of time later.

Ready to start the RFP process for your organization? Watch this video to find the right outside help. 

Ready to Get Started?

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