Skip to content
We are now Bonterra

How to improve your nonprofit RFP in 7 actionable steps

October 08, 2022
This nonprofit professional is shaking hands with a consultant who responded to the nonprofit's RFP.

While a request for proposal (RFP) may look like a regular document with a list of things to do and brainstorm, an effective one breaks down a project into several parts and determines milestones and deadlines to get that project done.

Various industries use RFPs and devote time to creating them, but nonprofit organizations have a particular need for streamlined request creation because of the urgency of their work. Between finding the right candidates and convincing board members to agree on the details of the request, your organization must find an efficient way to create RFPs without spending too much time running the process.

Follow these simple, yet powerful steps to save time in the long run and hire a better partner for your nonprofit.

1. State the problem

To respond to your request, partners will first need to know the need your organization is looking to meet. Begin crafting your RFP by talking about the purpose of the request. Then, provide all the necessary context a partner will need when approaching the job. For example, you might identify: 

  • A person or team already working on the issue.
  • Any new funding recently secured for the project.
  • How long the issue has existed.
  • Tools or equipment that might be necessary to get the job done.

Be transparent about the situation and any expectations you have for solving this problem. For example, if you already have a team working on the issue, be clear about who will supervise the partner’s work and what the chain of authority is for the project. This context encourages the right people to reach out by providing all the necessary details to target a specific audience.

2. Share your ideal outcome

After explaining your project and the necessary context, emphasize the severity of the issue by sharing the ideal outcome, not just in the eyes of your nonprofit, but in terms of the community. Consider answering these questions:

  • What would the world look like if your problem didn’t exist? 
  • Who would benefit from the completion of this project?
  • How can this work improve the community as a whole?

Remember, the reader of your RFP may not be involved in or aware of your organization in any way. Talking about the goal of your work, including this project and your overall purpose, helps the consultant better understand your priorities and the importance of the issue. It also sets up the opportunity for you to create measurable standards of success.

3. Outline your ideal process

Once you’ve clarified your ideal outcome, you’ll be able to outline the best version of how this process can look. For example, you might specify:

  • What you want to see in proposals.
  • A reasonable timeline for receiving, evaluating, and deciding on a proposal. 
  • A start date for the project and a deadline for its completion.

Opening your RFP with clarity about the issue your nonprofit faces and the best course of action to solve this issue allows you to set standards early on for how the process will move forward.

4. Don’t skip the budget

Adding a budget to your nonprofit’s RFP is like including a salary in a job listing. Budgetary information is important to most consultants, especially when it pertains to their work and how they’ll complete a project. That’s why including a budget ensures you’re capturing the attention of all the potential knowledge and partnership!

5. Welcome meetings with the point of contact

A point of contact is an essential part of your request. It’s not only important to create opportunities for open communication with a designated team member, but meeting your consultants before accepting an application is also important for the following reasons:

  • Meeting with a real person humanizes the application process.
  • Open conversation allows nonprofits to get to know consultants.
  • Speaking outside of the application questions allows for more conversation topics and for important information to come up casually in conversation.

While it is an investment in time, meeting with partners before choosing a proposal allows you to better understand who is behind each application. Consider including a calendar invite or scheduling link to allow consultants to offer dates and times they’d be available for a meeting.

6. Call out your nonprofit’s values

Better outcomes begin with intentionality. Just as consultants will appreciate the transparency about your project, it’s also important for them to understand the culture of the work environment they might be joining.

Include your organizational DEI statement or briefly discuss how this project intersects with your values, including how diversity and inclusion factor into your purpose. Something simple but genuine like “Candidates from all backgrounds are encouraged to apply” can ensure that your organization comes across as authentic.

7. Share the RFP outside your network

Your RFP will only be successful if people can see it! Think of a few places where candidates you don’t know might be able and willing to work with you. Ask friends, share on listservs and with affinity groups, or post it on LinkedIn to reach consultants around the U.S.

Make your nonprofit’s RFP process more efficient

When purpose-driven organizations follow these seven steps, they can build great RFPs that help readers quickly determine if a project is or isn’t a fit for them. For more guidance on streamlining the process for your nonprofit, consider using a template to guide your RFP creation.

In the end, this process makes it easier for the right people to reach and work with your organization on projects that help you power your purpose.

Ready to Get Started?

    Community Outreach
  • Nonprofits
  • Digital communications & marketing