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RFPs: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Posted Sep 18, 2015 10:00 AM
RFPs are a common method for nonprofits to gather bidders for an important project. However, in our experience, we believe RFPs are not always the best way to select that crucial vendor your organization needs. We recommend nonprofits instead hire a consultant based on an in-depth discussion rather than dryly reviewing a document.

At 501 Commons, we are often contacted by nonprofits asking us to respond to their request for proposal (RFP) and to pass on an RFP to appropriate providers in our Resource Directory.

We are happy to pass along your RFPs to qualified organizations, and we occasionally respond to RFPs ourselves. However, we want you to consider that RFPs may not be the best way to select a consultant or vendor.

Talking to several qualified vendors will give you a better sense of who would be a good fit for your project. Benefits of this approach include:

  • There will be no need to spend time preparing the RFP.
  • You get to engage with consultants by having a conversation rather than just responding to an RFP.
  • Talking to the vendor will often help you define more clearly what you want.
  • If there is no RFP to respond to, they do not have to raise their bid to recoup the time they spend responding to the RFP.

Meeting with a prospective consultant will also help the consultant understand what you need. They will not have to “pad” their bid to cover unknown requirements. For nonprofits, evaluating RFP responses can take a long time and often these processes lead to prioritizing budget over quality or outcomes.

Perhaps more importantly, many of the most experienced and in-demand vendors will not respond to an RFP so you may be missing out on the best partner. Here are some other tips to setting up a successful consulting project:

  • Make sure you are clear about the outcomes you want from the consultation.
  • To avoid getting bogged down in the consulting process, engage all the relevant internal stakeholders and come to an agreement on what you want the consultant to do.
  • Make sure you are prepared to allocate the time and thoughtfulness needed for a successful project.
  • Make sure the potential consultant meets with the whole project team. This will help ensure that the consultant will “get” your organization and will fit in with your culture.
Our last and most important hint…consider the consultants and nonprofit specialists listed in the Statewide Nonprofit Resource Directory. They have all been reviewed and recommended by their former nonprofit clients.