Bristol Organizations

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Many nonprofits see great value in hiring consultants or other contractors to advance their work and supplement expertise. A typical way to identify these individuals is through an RFP process – Request for Proposal (RFP).


RFPs can be a great way to identify a clear scope of work and find candidates to support what your organization needs in achieving its goals. Here are five tips on what to consider when crafting an RFP:


Tip #1: What to Include

Some organizations prefer to forego an RFP process, which is perfectly ok. And, in many cases, there are consultants/contractors who prefer to work when there is no RFP process. Regardless, the scope of work parameters are very important to clarify expectations and accountability for the project.


Here are some important details to include in an RFP:

  • Success outcomes or objectives
  • Specifics around the scope of work
  • Budget
  • Realistic timeline
  • Leadership team or contact(s) for the project
  • History for the project or scope of work (in other words, why now? Why this work?)
  • Organizational culture


Tip #2: Realistic Timelines

Having a realistic timeline for both the project/scope of work and the RFP is so important. Consultants and contractors should be putting a lot of effort into developing a response to your RFP and you want to respect that effort. Think of it this way: when you have applied for jobs in the past, you would hate to wait months to hear back about whether or not you received an interview or are going to be hired, right? Same with consultants.


In the case of strategic planning for our company, we take on a limited amount of strategic planning clients a year because of the capacity and quality of services. Therefore, and in order to keep our business viable, we need to know timelines for services and response times for RFPs so we can plan accordingly.


In many cases, our proposals expire after 30 days. We have found that if a client isn’t ready by then to move forward with our work (or not), it’s time to move on.


Finally, it’s important to remember that contractors and consultants are not magicians — that’s a whole different skill set. Often projects take more time than you think they will, not necessarily because of our work but because we have to adapt to external factors. In one example, we know whenever we are facilitating input calls with stakeholders that there will be a percentage of individuals who will need multiple reminders to schedule calls, people who will fail to show for calls, and people who will have to reschedule – and any combination of those scenarios.


Give yourself more time than you think you will need or consider asking the contractor/consultant what they recommend.


Tip #3: Proposal Length Limitations

Limiting the number of pages for a proposal can really tie the hands of consultants and contractors. I understand that reading can be laborious in our quick-fix world but it’s worth it.


In our strategic planning proposals, we offer multiple options and scopes of work and timelines for prospective clients. There are many reasons for this but primarily it’s because there is no “one way” to approach strategic planning; we want to be thorough in describing the various scope of work options and budgets; and it takes time and detail to makes sure the language we use is manageable for the review team.


Restrictions like these can have a detrimental effect on a consultant/contractor including important details in the scope of work and how they are expressed – images, smart art graphics, etc.


Tip #4: Proposal Review

When reviewing proposals, make sure you have the right folks at the table (this almost always includes the chief executive). In strategic planning, we like to see a governance committee or an ad hoc strategic planning committee of 2 – 3 people reviewing proposals.


We will look at who the people are reviewing proposals in our consideration of clients as well. It tells us a lot about accountability and buy-in for the organization in the process and scope of work. Since a strategic plan is a function of board governance, the board and the chief executive should be leading the effort to contract for the scope of work. This is in contrast to the board delegating all the responsibility to the chief executive or the development director. Plus, even if the development director is interested, this is not their job; they have plenty else to do.


Additionally, make sure you indicate one or two point persons from the organization throughout the project. This will help to streamline communications between the planning team and the consultant(s).


Tip #5: Consider Competition

In consulting, contractors are certainly always in competition for clients. The best consultants are typically highest in demand – this is a good thing. But it also means they aren’t available 24/7 for every nonprofit and frankly, not every nonprofit or scope of work is a good fit.


You absolutely want competition for your scope of work. You can make your RFP this beautiful opportunity reflecting how clear and committed your organization is for the work. You have high standards and can’t wait for a consultant/contractor who shares that value.


The best consultants will be looking for the best clients as well. In our case, we have a “red flag” checklist that we work through with any prospective client and it starts with the RFP. If we are not a good fit – or vice versa – we won’t be submitting a proposal. We have no intention of wasting the nonprofit’s time or ours. After all, time is the greatest asset we have.


In the end, you want the best consultants to be in competition for your work—to do that, you must strive to be the ideal client.


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