Here at SMCo, we receive a lot of Requests for Proposals (RFPs) from nonprofit organizations and foundations. While we do receive some that are detailed and make it straightforward to respond to if the project seems like a good fit, not all are so clear. Oftentimes, those come from organizations that haven’t ever issued and RFP before and it’s really freaking hard to find good information about what to include!
Sure, you know to include deadlines, page counts, and who your donation processor is (if you don’t, determine that stuff first!), but what else will ensure you get a slate of excellent proposals that are a perfect fit?
Here are some top-level tips for creating an RFP that designers and agencies will be dying to respond to!
Be clear with your goal.
As the famous book says, start with the why. Why is now the time redesign your website and work with a pro? “It’s time” is not enough of an answer. Is your site not mobile-friendly? Does it not reflect your brand accurately? Are your primary services or causes not front and center? Has your mission changed? Get very clear on this internally and include it in your RFP. A great way to get focused on the goal is to survey staff and board members. Ask them how they use your site and how they use other sites—you’ll learn a lot.
Next, prioritize your outcomes.
Ultimately, a website redesign is all about the outcomes you hope to achieve. You’ll do your organization a huge favor if you make a list of all the outcomes you’re hoping for. Talk to your team and ask them what would make their lives easier if the website could do for them. What are the common questions they’re asked or problems they encounter. Do not skip this step! Seriously! Next, determine which of those outcomes are more important. Break them into “must haves” and “nice to haves” so that your potential design agency can present you with pricing options that make sense. I’ve seen many an RFP with massive wishlists that would be better handled over multiple phases, both from a budgetary and workflow perspective but if everything is a must have, your potential designers cannot recommend appropriate phasing for your project.
Get really clear on your budget.
We’ve received a lot of RFPs without a budget range. When we see this, we always ask the organization for a budget range. It’s not uncommon for someone to reply that they “want to see what ranges we get.” This is absolutely the wrong way to determine your budget for such an important piece of organizational infrastructure. I cannot emphasize this enough.
Why is that the case?
By not being clear on your budget, you could easily end up with many, many RFP responses that are far over your budget. On the other hand, you could end up with smaller quotes because the responders don’t understand the scope of your expectations and how “high touch” your project is. While is sort of thing may be annoying for RFP respondents, it can be absolutely distressing for the issuing organization that’s faced with evaluating many RFPs that simply don’t meet their expectations.
Some organizations will put a note that says something like “We are unable to consider responses in excess of $XX,XXX.” I think this is fine, but I recommend leaving a bit of leeway, whether it be that you except proposals that have multiple tiers, or may not incorporate everything on your wishlist.
The best practice is to include a range and whether or not you’ll consider proposals in excess of the limit, if the agency is able to deliver more of your prioritized outcomes (mentioned above).
Your budget and plan for ongoing and fixed costs.
At SMCo, we only work with two fixed web hosts, Flywheel for WordPress and Squarespace. This is due to our expectation that clients have high quality, dependable hosting that’s compatible with the tools we use day-to-day in website design and development. Neither of these options is on the cheap end, but they’re worth it because you have stable websites with tech support. We occasionally have potential clients who want to remain on, say, Bluehost (the stuff of nightmares) and we simply cannot work with a poor quality host so they’re not a good fit for us. Expect to plan on $25+ per month for your hosting and if you’re planning on utilizing a specific host, include that in your RFP.
Further, there are other costs such as stock image licensing, WordPress plugins, hiring photographers/videographers, translation plugins (and the translators to do the translations), membership plugins and more. These types of things can add up quickly! If you’re on a limited budget, mention that in your RFP and even ask your proposers to make recommendations and outline these costs in their proposals.
Explain your timeline requirements, but be open to advice on this.
This is actually one of the biggest issues I’ve seen from organizations, unrealistic (both ways) timelines. If you have a particular event that necessitates a new site, plan well in advance, of course. But also be open to phasing in your project in order to meet those deadlines. On the other hand, we’ve also received RFPs which draw out the process beyond where it needs to be, and that can make companies with efficient processes nervous. Ultimately, each respondent will likely have a process they use which impacts the timeline—part of your evaluation should be a look at their processes and your determining if it will work with your organizational needs.
Describe who will be involved in this project and what their roles are.
Do you have a committee that needs to review each point in the project or have you entrusted a single decision-maker? Will your board need to sign off and will your agency need to present to them? What human resources have you dedicated to this project? Have you given your marketing manager time in their schedule to work on this project or are at capacity and need more intensive project management?
All of this impacts budget, of course, but it also influences proposed timelines, processes, and how your design partner dedicates their internal resources to your project. And, frankly, some companies aren’t familiar or comfortable working with boards and committees, so they’ll want to know this so they can filter themselves out prior to going through the submission process. (We have a specific process we use to ensure that boards and committees are engaged but also create space so the hands-on project team can focus on achieving the project outcomes.)
If your organization has specific policies regarding vendors, include that too.
If you have specific payment terms, require vendors to track and report hours, carry a certain type of insurance, register with your state/local government, or other nuanced detail, disclose that in your RFP. This may be a deal breaker for some companies. For example, one of our team members is based in Canada, but we once received an RFP that required everyone to be U.S.-based due to their organization’s policies. I was happy to know this so we wouldn’t waste our or the organization’s time with a response that was disqualifying. Similarly, because we don’t do hourly billing as a matter of company policy, those that require that type of itemization aren’t a great fit. On the other hand, we’re usually happy to adjust our insurance policy within reason if we know that’s required.
The rule of thumb? When in doubt, disclose!
Include your decision-making timeline.
Our proposals typically auto-expire in seven days. However, if your organization won’t be reviewing RFP responses for 30 days, we’ll always adjust those expiration dates. Similarly, this keeps me from following up too soon and annoying you inadvertently.
Finally, include a contact person who’s available to answer questions.
I cannot impress upon you how critical this is. I don’t believe there has been a single RFP I’ve received that I haven’t wanted to get more clarity on and the best way to do that is with an actual human conversation (gasp!). And nothing is sad-making like a line at the end of the RFP telling me that emails/calls are not accepted. An actual call is the best way to ensure you’ll get excellent responses from multiple top-notch companies, so please don’t shut the door on that opportunity.
Have more questions about what a design agency needs to see in your nonprofit’s RFP? Drop a note in the comments below and we’ll respond ASAP!