In the Trenches: The RFP Process
In order to transform an objective “wish list” into reality, start from the end result and work in. What is it that you wish to accomplish? And what is most important to you in getting there? Communicate what you want by asking strategic questions. For example, if agency size is important, ask the agency to not only tell you how many employees it has (in-house and freelance), but also how the staff will be organized to serve your organization after a contract is signed. You’ll protect yourself from being awed by a great presentation made by an agency that lacks commitment or resources after you say “yes.”
2. Offer a realistic timeframe. Competent fundraising agencies, given the time, will dig into their pool of research and experience to provide you with keen insights on potential new strategies. And in our world where contributions actually dropped 1.2 percent in FY03, realistic observations are worth a whole lot more than hollow promises. There are cases where time is at a premium, of course, but when you can, offer a month or more. Any less and the agency might have trouble providing creative assessments and competitive quotes.
3. Provide accurate, complete information. You’ve heard the expression, “garbage in/garbage out.” The more data you provide to the agency, the better its response. Include such details as:
- the reason for your agency search (change, new ideas, etc.);
- current challenges (a drop in contributors, acquisition and retention costs, a stalled major gift program, etc.);
- specifics regarding existing and past programs (types of media used, overall income generated, response rates and the extent to which you use premiums);
- organizational background, history and mission;
- samples of current materials and an explanation of what worked and what didn’t;
- description of current processes (strategic planning, creative, production, database systems, etc.);
- comprehensive outline of services for which you’re looking and why;
- budgeting guidelines;
- clear instructions (documents required, deadlines, where to send the response, contact name for questions, etc.); and
- description of the review and feedback process (How long will it take? Will a presentation be required for stage two?).
4. Ask for comprehensive short-term plans. Most likely an agency will not be adequately equipped to provide extended-term plans (five-plus years), but a one- to two-year plan may be much more feasible, depending on the information you provide. The more meaningful the data you supply, such as current membership rate, profile of top donors and lifetime value to your organization, the better equipped an agency will be to meet your current and near-term needs. But don’t judge the response by the estimated net income or number of new donors generated. Rather, look at the process by which the agency came to its conclusions and recommendations.