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How to Write a Marketing RFP that Gets the Best Consultant or Firm to Deliver Everything You Need – On Time and on Budget


By Nancy Schwartz
President, Nancy Schwartz & Company

Reprinted by permission from:
Getting Attention: Helping Nonprofits Succeed Through Effective Marketing

As the head of a long-time marketing firm serving nonprofits and foundations, I’ve probably reviewed over 500 RFPs in my time, all from nonprofits and foundations seeking marketing services. And I can tell you, no more than 50 of them are effectively designed to motivate responses that are comprehensive and accurate.

Accuracy of course is key. Because if your RFP doesn’t cover everything you’re looking for — in the way you want it — delivered, budget and timeframe are bound to be off. Trash in, trash out as they say. So put some time and effort into your RFP.

Here are some quick tips for writing a marketing services RFP that’ll get high-quality service providers to respond eagerly, thoroughly and accurately:

  • Be realistic…in the work you’re asking for in a particular timeframe, within a specific budget. If you don’t know what it takes (time or dollar-wise), ask colleagues in peer organizations.
  • Be thorough in what you include, and format theproposal thoughtfully so it’s easy for the recipient to scan and review.
  • Put the effort into making the proposal easy to digest, as you would with your brochures or Web site.
  • Cover these areas:
    • Organizational background (brief), project description, why you’re implementing this project now, goals and objectives, challenges (if you know them) deliverables, timeframe, who to contact with questions.
    • Ask recipients to let you know within a day or two whether they’ll be responding or not. That way you can send the RFP out to additional marketers if you need to.
  • Give folks two weeks to respond.
  • Crafting a proposal is extremely labor intensive if it’s done right. Frequently, it’s work implemented that isn’t rewarded with the job.
  • Be prepared to answer these questions:
    • How many firms/individuals will be submitting proposals?
      I never jump in if a prospect is expecting more than five proposals. That says to me that they are fishing for ideas, may not know what they want, and we don’t have a good chance of getting the work.
    • What’s your budget range?
      Some prospects are reluctant to share this information, thinking that the bidders will just mark up the work to that level. Most of the time, believe me, the budget isn’t enough, and knowing the range enables us to define what we *can* provide for that fee.
    • What are your criteria for selecting a consultant or firm?I like to know what’s most important to a prospective client, and also get a sense of the culture of the organization. A good fit is crucial.
    • Who would your point person on this project be?It’s difficult to succeed in bringing a project to life when there’s not a single point person. Your point person should run much of the review and approval processes inside your organization it’ll be much more effective and efficient that way, and ensure everyone’s on the same page.
  • Be aware of the marketer who submits a proposal without asking questions.That indicates someone who’s either not serious about the job or not putting the required time into the proposal development process.I’m looking for a connection, as well, when I call with questions. That’s a critical component of project success, and not testable via written communications.

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