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Four Tips for a Successful RFP Process

Photo of author, Kathleen McDermott.
Kathleen McDermott
Business Development Manager and Director of Nonprofit Advisory Services

A request for proposal (RFP) is one method for nonprofits to vet professional advisors such as investment managers. In a recent blog, Your Nonprofit’s New Best Friend, author Brian Gongaware, an MCWS investment advisor, discusses the criteria for deciding whether to conduct a full-blown RFP or not.

If this is indeed the path your organization takes, there is no question the process can quickly evolve into a confusing, daunting, and time-consuming project for you, your organization’s board, and even for those who are responding to your RFP. The solution? Here are four tips to eliminate all that stress and instead create a productive, seamless RFP process for all involved:

1. Create a reasonable set of RFP questions.

Don’t start from scratch! One of the easiest ways to construct your RFP is to find a template online. While this is a start, make sure the questions you choose to incorporate make sense for your organization. Many times, I’ve read very complicated investment questions posed by organizations with a very simple investment portfolio. If you aren’t sure what makes sense for your organization, don’t be afraid to ask a professional to review the questions. Professionals with finance, accounting, or banking backgrounds can all serve as valuable resources.

2. Include attachments to the RFP that are specific to your organization and that will help respondents better understand your financial situation to make specific recommendations.

Items such as your organization’s current Investment Policy Statement or a recent financial statement are examples of valuable attachments to include. Including this kind of information will also help your RFP review committee; they will be able to clearly differentiate between firms who are submitting a “cookie-cutter template response” to your RFP versus firms who are actually analyzing your data and submitting thoughtful responses that indicate a clear vision and strategy for your organization’s successful financial future.

3. Be specific on your timeline.

Obviously, you are going to provide a due date for the proposals to be submitted. However, it is also helpful to include deadlines for other actions: notification of intent to apply; questions or requests for additional information related to the RFP; date by which answers will be provided; notification date for presentations; presentation dates; and final selection date of the RFP winner.

Furthermore, as it relates to the RFP timeline, give responders plenty of time to craft their proposal. Generally, three weeks is sufficient. A longer deadline period might be appropriate if your timeline extends over major holidays or during the summer months when vacations are prevalent.

Finally, be sure to allow plenty of time for your internal review process of RFP submissions. We can all appreciate how incredibly difficult it is to gather committee members together for any significant length of time, especially if several meetings are necessary to accomplish the business at hand. A good rule of thumb is to also avoid major holidays and summer vacation months when planning for your internal review process of RFP submissions.

4. Finally, the “devil is in the details,” as they say – so anticipate all the possible questions that could arise from respondents and include those details in your RFP. Some information to consider is the following:

  • Are respondents permitted to ask questions of your organization; and if so, is there a time limit for posing questions? To whom should the questions be addressed? Will your organization compile all questions and answers and distribute them to all who have been invited to participate?
  • Would you prefer an emailed RFP submission or one that is bound and sent via U.S. mail? How many copies are necessary?
  • Do you have a system in place for evaluating the responses? A scoring system is an effective way to evaluate and if certain answers carry more weight than others, you might consider placing a quantitative system in place for those and a more qualitative evaluation for the remaining questions.
  • If conducting interviews among the top respondents, be sure to allow plenty of time for each group to present, answer questions, and leave the venue before the next contender arrives. It is also a “best practice” to share the format you expect during the interview, i.e. presentation followed by Q&A, just Q&A, or something more customized to your needs.

Despite the fact that issuing RFPs can be a painstaking effort for many nonprofit board members, a well-thought-out process will reap many rewards, alleviate stress, and most importantly, help you find that advisor who is committed to your mission and dedicated to serving your organization.

"Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success." – Henry Ford

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