At Allegiance, we have certainly seen our fair share of RFPs. And yes, we can confidently say that some are better than others. Not because we want to see simple RFPs that we can respond to quickly, but because we like RFPs that produce quality, actionable proposals.

I would bet that as a recipient of these proposals, you too would prefer to spend your time evaluating first-rate recommendations that can help move your program forward. To this end, here are a few tips that will help you make the most of your next RFP.

Share samples and past results

Without a doubt, the best way for you to ensure that you’ll receive proposals of substance is to share as much information as possible about the state of your current program. This includes sharing samples and results.

We sometimes hear clients say that they don’t want to provide this information because they want the proposals to offer fresh ideas that are not hindered by what the nonprofit organization is currently doing. To withhold this information is a critical mistake. Your history is important and provides the foundation from which true recommendations are built upon. By not providing these details upfront, you force the agency to submit a watered-down proposal that speaks to general best practices rather than keen insights that could make an immediate difference for you.

Don’t overdo it with the formalities and requirements

There are certainly going to be several questions that you’ll want addressed in your next RFP, and it’s important to ensure that you are getting the information you need. However, try to avoid making the process overly formal just for the sake of conveying the seriousness of the RFP process. Be on the lookout for the inclusion of “official-sounding questions” that offer little value in return. In addition, be specific with your questions and requirements… but not too specific. Doing so limits the responder’s ability to tell you the bigger picture and forces the responder to talk about topics that ultimately might not be suitable for you. Here are a few examples of what I mean:

  1. “Section – Describe in detail how you will meet the requirement of providing miscellaneous administrative tasks and requests.” What value does something like this really add? I suspect that the response to this question would ultimately not be a factor in your decision-making process. However, if a topic like this is of importance to you, consider asking finalists about it during their in-person presentations instead.
  2. “Provide three examples of creative materials developed for a fiscal-year-end integrated campaign, including samples of A/B testing for your peer-to-peer efforts.” The basis of this requirement is good, because its true intent is meant to assess the agency’s current work to see if they are forward thinking and engaging with the latest techniques. However, the level of specificity minimizes the opportunity to see examples of work that may be more relevant to you. Does your budget really afford you to outsource peer-to-peer work? Do you even have a sizable enough audience for an A/B split? What if the most comprehensive, integrated campaign was conducted at calendar year end instead of fiscal year end as outlined by the requirement? Even if the agency does have samples of this exact scenario to share, in the end they might discourage you from moving forward with something like this due to your file size or budget limitations. Instead, you might broadly ask for samples of three integrated campaigns, and let the responding agency decide what examples make the most sense for your program.

Ask for a yearlong budget, not just pricing for a single campaign

Many RFPs include a pricing exercise that asks for the cost of a specific campaign or package so that they can fairly examine expenses across all proposals. Although this offers an “apples-to-apples” comparison, it tells you nothing about how you will be charged for other efforts throughout the year. Nor does it enable you to gain insight on how the responding agency would recommend you spend your total budget over the course of the year.

Instead, ask for a yearlong budget showing recommendations about how your budget would be spent. Also, make sure you ask for projections so that you can see which agency can help you better achieve your goals (whether that be more net revenue, acquiring more donors, etc.).

For the agency to do this, though, it will need you to first share your past results to allow for accurate planning and projections – yes, this is the part of the blog post where we come full circle. And you will need to limit the requirements regarding what exact appeals must be included to allow the agency to make suggestions about new ideas.