5 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Creating an RFP

By Lisa Hirst Carnes | July 2022

A person working at a desk with crumpled up paper.

Requests for Proposal (RFPs) are dreaded, groaned over, and even avoided when possible. We get it! RFPs get a bad rap because they can be tedious, time-consuming, and even ineffective. And unfortunately, many RFPs are done poorly, which results in vague and convoluted responses. This dearth of quality information makes it even harder to make a business decision. 

But, this doesn't have to be the case. Like any tool an organization has at its disposal, an RFP can produce meaningful results. 
 
To help your organization get better responses to your RFPs, here are five mistakes to avoid.

Mistake #1 - Casting Too Wide a Net

If you aren't discerning when sending out RFPs, you won't get quality results. One of the keys is to create a well-researched selection of prospective vendors. This takes a little more work on your end. But, you'll save yourself from wading through a sea of unhelpful responses.
 
Do your due diligence. Review each vendor's website and compare the tools and features they offer. Compile a preliminary list of prospective vendors and compare their solutions. Then, only reach out to the vendors you think will be the best fit. This helps to limit the number of RFPs you send out, and you'll see better, more qualified responses. 

Mistake #2 - Asking the Wrong Questions

When putting together an RFP, outline several questions to help you determine the best fit. Often, the questions are too broad, disorganized, or can be answered on the website.
 
If you ask the wrong questions, the responses won't have the information you're looking for. This will waste your time and that of the vendors you're reaching out to. It could even lead you to overlook the best partnership. 
 
When formulating questions for an RFP, avoid asking:
  • Too many questions or combining several questions under a single number
  • Open-ended questions or statements
  • Vague questions that could be interpreted in different ways
  • Questions that can be answered on the vendor's website
Instead, save everyone some time and be direct and specific. 

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Mistake #3 - Providing No Information About Your Organization

The purpose of an RFP is to ask a prospective vendor a series of questions about what they do and what they can offer you. The least you can do is give them something in return. Avoid copying and pasting generic information from your website. If they can't figure out the basics themselves, they're likely not a vendor you want to work with. 
 
Provide information about your organization and why you're looking for the solution. Explain your budget and any constraints that may impact your decision. It can be helpful to include the size of your company and the number of users you expect to access and use the solution. Describe the project or ways you wish to use what the vendor provides. Inform them of how your employees work, such as whether everyone is in the office or works from home. 
 
By describing what your organization does, the vendor can gauge how you plan to work with them. Then they can tailor their RFP response to your needs. 

Mistake #4 - Telling them How to Do Their Jobs

This might seem self-explanatory, but too many RFPs outline how an organization intends to work with the vendor. It's fine to mention that you're seeking a collaborative relationship or requesting support. But, getting specific about what, when, and how the vendor does their jobs is overbearing. 
 
No one wants to be told what to do. If you make your organization out to be difficult or demanding, you might find out that no one wants to work with you. This will show in half-hearted RFP responses. 

Mistake #5 - Using a Disorganized or Confusing RFP Template

Downloading an RFP template from the internet may seem like an easy choice. But, adding or removing sections from that template can lead to a jumbled mess if you're not careful. Remember that you will have to review the responses when they come in. So, if the document is a mess when you send it out, imagine what it will look like when it comes back!
 
Keep your RFP organized and clear, with defined sections. Keep questions in one section and organize them in a logical manner. Often, this means starting with basic questions and getting more detailed as you go.
 
When considering extra information, do so sparingly. If it's necessary, include it, but use as few appendixes and attachments as possible. And avoid sending other supporting documents with the RFP as it can lead to confusion.
 
It can be easy to fall into the trap of trying to be helpful and ending up sharing everything but the kitchen sink. But, it won't help the vendor as much as a clear, direct, and organized RFP.

Be Prepared to Take the Pain Out of RFPs

We can't guarantee that avoiding these mistakes will take the drudgery out of the RFP process. But, it can ensure that you get better results. Remember to do your due diligence, ask the right questions, and keep your RFP organized. By providing vendors the right level of detail, you should get the answers you're looking for.
 
That sounds pretty painless, doesn't it?
 
If you're still feeling overwhelmed by the RFP process, don't hesitate to contact us.

Topics: Nonprofit Help

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