A request for proposal (RFP) is an excellent tool for nonprofits to use to find the best products and services for their organization at competitive prices. Although it can take considerable time and effort, a well planned, written and executed RFP can be a game changer when it comes to finding a solution partner that truly understands your organisation’s goals, pain-points, and what functionality you need to ensure you continue to deliver on your mission. We know this can be a daunting task at times - so we are here to help! Below we have pulled together a list of 8 questions to ask yourself before you start the RFP process, which will point you in the right direction for a stronger and more effective RFP.
What is the problem? Start by asking, what parts of your administrative processes are causing you pain or can be improved? Why do you need a change? Putting pen to paper and writing a summary of where your organization is right now and where you want to be is an important and valuable first step in the RFP process. A new solution needs to enable change, so diving in and knowing what needs to be changed, will allow vendors to walk you through a solution that will work best for you – a true partnership.
What are your project goals and how do they align with your broader organizational goals? It might sound like common sense, but you should be able to articulate how a major undertaking like an ERP/CRM implementation aligns to your organization’s overall mission. Think about short-term operational goals as well as long-term strategic ones.
What are your requirements? This can be an ‘all hands on deck’ process! When it comes to requirements, it’s not really about quantity, but rather quality and completeness. The more detail you have (remember to include all user levels) when laying out current functionality, existing processes and future wants, is an extremely helpful process that will give you more accurate estimates.
We often see a seemingly ‘more is better’ list of requirements, but remember - they need to be good requirements too! What does that mean? Be Specific, detailed, and documented. Vague requirements such as “Must have program management functionality,” can lead to a variety of interpretations and responses. Most organizations have a variety of programs and services, and each may have a very different list of requirements from an administrative standpoint. By understanding and documenting your organization’s processes and policies, vendors will be able to more easily and accurately assess your functional needs.
What are the scope priorities? This is a relatively simple piece of the RFP puzzle that many organizations tend to forget. You must clearly define the scope of work that you require. While it can be tempting to try to do everything at once, this is not always logistically practical in terms of cost, planning resources, and change management. By taking the time to compile a clear understanding of how your scope should be prioritised, vendors will be able to create a manageable and effective implementation plan.
What existing systems will this new solution integrate with? Often missed or incorrectly described, it is important to list what other pieces of software need to integrate with the new solution. Describe, in detail, how they will need to interact with one another - one-way or two-way communication, how often the existing software is updated, and how much information will need to be synced between the two.
What is your budget? Taking the time to research and understand the market and what to expect in terms of pricing will give you a solid foundation to work from when determining your budget. Reach out to peers, solution consultants, or even vendors to get an idea of what to expect so that you’re not surprised when bids start rolling in. This will also give vendors the chance to better understand your expectations and offer competitive proposals that fit within your budget.
What is your timeline? While people always list the due dates for Q&A, proposal submissions, and the date of award, they often tend to neglect to go beyond the RFP process to determine other key dates that lead up to go-live. We know organizations can have various mitigating factors when it comes to an implementation, so it is important to set a desired timeline framework from the start. This will help vendors understand your expectations to ensure there are no surprises during the implementation process.
Who are your subject experts and project resources? Before you send out an RFP, it’s important to ensure that you have adequate resources to respond to any clarifications that may be needed. Vendors who are bidding on your RFP often have additional questions from a variety of perspectives. By involving team members from your C-suite all the way down to the end users, you can provide context that will help ensure a more insightful response from vendors. This process will also ensure your outcomes are aligned with your requirements.
In the end, remember to keep it simple: When developing your RFP, try to keep it as simple as possible while remaining comprehensive. Be technical where you need to be technical, but avoid superfluous language wherever you can. Typically, you should be able to outline all of your needs within a few pages, usually between 2-5 pages with a maximum of 8-10 pages (excluding appendices – i.e. requirements list). However, remember that page length should, in part, correspond with project scope - a large and complex project should have a longer and more in-depth proposal. Although it is important to keep your RFP simple and concise, you shouldn’t forget any of the following elements:
- An explanation of how vendors should approach the scope of work sought
- A request for a clear and accurate cost proposal
- A request for a statement of experience and qualifications
- Client examples and references to projects similar to your organization’s needs.
Overall, if your RFP is subpar, you will receive subpar proposals. To make sure that you receive the best proposals possible, you must consider and clearly define the scope, must-haves, and your requirements of suppliers. By putting maximum effort into your RFP, you can expect to receive quality proposals from potential partners.
Don’t re-invent the wheel. If you're considering a new software system in the next few years, and want to learn from the procurement best practices of Nonprofits before you, then our upcoming webinar on March 21st is for you.