How to write an RFP that gets high-quality proposals

Request for proposal, How to write request for proposal,

A request for proposal, often called an RFP, is a formal request organizations create to invite vendors to apply for a specific project. Requests for proposals are an effective tool for your nonprofit if you’re looking to complete a project that’s outside of your existing resources. Technology, course development, and even construction are some examples of the type of projects where you might need an RFP.

In addition, RFPs even the playing field for applicants by bringing transparency to the selection process. In fact, some organizations may have policies outlining when and how to issue an RFP vs. when they are not necessary.

Not every project merits the use of RFPs. But a well-written RFP can bring clarity to your project and help you attract excellent vendors who are aligned with your needs.

To fulfill its purpose, your RFP needs to break down your objectives, timeline, scope, and budget as clearly as possible so that only vendors who can meet your requirements will apply.

The more thorough your RFP, the better your chances of finding a great match to fulfill your needs. This saves everyone time and helps the project run smoothly.

Here’s everything you need to include for a successful RFP that attracts the talent you need.

How to write a successful RFP

The first step for writing a request for proposal is to identify your internal needs. You’ll want to define your objective for the project as clearly as possible so that you can communicate your needs, scope and budget with potential vendors.

This is the foundation for everything your RFP will include.


Once you have a clear objective, scope and budget for your project, it’s time to dive into the actual RFP writing process.

Your introduction section should include a short overview of your organization and the reason you’re issuing the RFP. It’s helpful to explain the problem you’re facing and break down what you’re hoping to achieve with the service you’re soliciting.

While this section is short, it’s also a prime space to share what your nonprofit stands for so that any providers are clear on your mission and can make an informed decision to submit a proposal.

Project requirements

This is the core of your entire RFP. Your project requirements section needs to be as thorough as possible so that vendors understand your objectives and can determine whether they’re a good fit.

Your project requirements section needs to break down:

  • Your objectives for this project.
  • A clear timeline of when you’d like to start and complete the project.
  • Your budget.
  • Any specific information about the project, like non-negotiable software, systems or materials, depending on the scope.

Depending on how you structure it, your project requirements section can also mention the milestones and timeline. Or this could be a separate section of your RFP.

Milestones and timeline

Regardless of whether you choose to make it a separate section or keep it within the project requirements, your RFP needs a timeline for completion and the milestones you expect to be fulfilled.

Examples of your milestones include:

  • The deadline for submitting a proposal.
  • When applicants can expect to hear back.
  • The project’s kickoff date.
  • The project’s completion date.

A detailed timeline with fixed milestones clarifies expectations and aligns you with potential vendors, preventing those who can’t adhere to your timeframe from applying in the first place.

Response guidelines

This section fulfills two purposes. On one hand, it makes the submission process easier for vendors. And on the other hand, it unifies your submissions, making your review process simpler by standardizing the information you’ll need to consider.

At the bare minimum, include the following elements in your response guidelines:

  • Contact information: How will you receive the proposal? It could be a form submission or an email address, for example. Also, note who will be receiving it so the applicant can address their proposal properly.
  • Submission requirements: Detail your preferred format for the submission, like a PDF file, a specific naming convention for the file, and a special keyword in the email’s subject line to keep the process running smoothly for your team of evaluators.
  • Submission deadline: Clearly state when the window will close for applicants to submit their proposals.

Depending on your project and nonprofit, you may find other elements to list in the response guidelines, like must-have details or non-negotiable components for your project.

Selection criteria

A successful RFP includes the evaluation criteria you’ll use to select your vendor among the applicants. This makes the process transparent and helps them weigh their chances of getting the contract.

To make the process more accurate and objective, assign each evaluation criterion a fixed weight, or a percentage of the total outcome. This approach is known as weighted scoring and allows you to have a tangible outcome (a score) when selecting a vendor.

Some examples of criteria include experience with similar projects, pricing, and data security. But you can select your criteria based on your nonprofit’s priorities.

Final words

There are many benefits of using RFPs in your nonprofit. First, they’re an excellent tool for finding vendors who can successfully meet your organizational needs because you’ll likely get applications from vendors you wouldn’t have considered otherwise. Second, a great RFP brings transparency to the selection process and prevents conflicts of interest or suspicions of favoritism.

And finally, just the act of writing an RFP brings clarity to your project, including essential elements like the objectives, scope, and budget.

Are you spearheading a project that’ll require the use of RFPs to secure third-party partners? Book a consultation now and together, we’ll create a strategy to reach your nonprofit’s objectives.

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