What is an RFP (Request for Proposal)?

Alfredo Ramirez

What exactly is an RFP, and why do so many organizations use it to define needs and select partners? A Request for Proposal (RFP) is more than just a procurement form; it's a strategy for companies to clarify their needs and find the best partners to fulfill them.

Understanding RFPs

Requests for proposals (RFPs) are documents as much as a process. Generally, an RFP is a written or visual document that outlines a specific project or service need and invites providers to submit proposals that satisfy their requirements. They can also be known as solicitations, tenders, and terms of reference. All types of organizations use them to find materials and services, from government to nonprofits and private enterprises.

Most importantly, they are used to find partners who can help you do the things no one else, inside or outside your organization, can do at a price you can afford.

Understanding the RFP Process: A Guide for Agency Owners

Navigating the Request for Proposal (RFP) process is crucial for agency owners who are looking to secure new business and build long-term client relationships. By understanding how organizations manage their procurement through RFPs, you can better position your agency to respond effectively and stand out from the competition. Here's a breakdown of the RFP process from the perspective of the issuing organization, providing valuable insights into each phase.

Preparation Phase

In the preparation phase, organizations meticulously define their project needs and objectives. They engage with internal stakeholders to align these needs with the broader goals of the company. For an agency, understanding this part of the process is crucial; the more accurately you can align your proposal to the client’s defined needs and show that you understand their goals, the higher your chances of advancing in the selection process.

Publication Phase

During the publication phase, the organization crafts and releases the RFP. This document will include all the necessary details to attract the right vendors, such as project scope, objectives, and requirements. For agencies, the key here is to read the RFP carefully—every detail can give you insights into what the client truly values. Crafting your response to address these points clearly and comprehensively can significantly increase your likelihood of success.

Response Handling

Once the RFP is published, the organization will receive responses from various contenders. They set up evaluation criteria and assemble a review committee often made up of members from multiple departments. Understanding that your proposal will be scrutinized by a diverse group helps in tailoring your response to appeal to varied interests and perspectives within the client’s organization. Highlight how your services can meet cross-departmental needs and provide holistic benefits.

Final Selection and Negotiation

The final selection phase is critical. After a thorough review, the organization engages with a shortlisted vendor to finalize details and negotiate terms. From an agency perspective, this is your opportunity to clarify any outstanding points and negotiate terms that meet both parties' expectations. Demonstrating flexibility without compromising on the quality of your service can make a significant difference.

Post-Selection Follow-up

After the contract is signed, the organization focuses on building a solid relationship with the chosen vendor. For agency owners, this phase is about establishing trust and demonstrating reliability. Keeping open lines of communication, being proactive in addressing potential issues, and consistently delivering on your promises will help cement your agency as a valued partner for future projects.

By understanding the RFP process from the perspective of the issuing organization, agency owners can tailor their proposals more effectively, address the client’s core needs, and build lasting partnerships that could lead to more opportunities. Each phase of the process offers different opportunities to demonstrate your agency's value and alignment with potential clients' strategic goals.

RFP v. RFQ v. RFI: Know the Difference

Understanding the distinctions between a Request for Proposal (RFP), a Request for Quote (RFQ), and a Request for Information (RFI) is crucial for organizations looking to engage suppliers and service providers effectively. Each document serves a unique purpose and is used under different circumstances:

  1. Request for Proposal — RFPs announce a specific project or service and invite qualified respondents to provide a solution proposal.
  2. Request for Quote — RFQs are used when the needs are well-defined and the primary concern is the cost. Organizations issue RFQs when they require specific products or services in set quantities and predefined qualities. The main focus here is on obtaining the best price for the exact specifications, making RFQs more straightforward and shorter than RFPs.
  3. Request for Information — RFIs gather general information from potential suppliers or service providers about their capabilities, products, or services before issuing an RFP or RFQ. RFIs help organizations understand what solutions exist in the market and which vendors might be equipped to fulfill their requirements.

Elements of RFPs

A typical RFP contains the following sections to generate high-quality responses from prospective vendors:

1. Organization Overview

To begin with, every RFP needs an introduction to the project and the organization so respondents have a general sense of how compatible they will be. This section should be no longer than 250 words and include information such as the name of the organization, when it was founded, the goals and values of the organization, and past projects. Having this information as an introduction helps potential respondents get a sense of who they are working with.

2. Project Overview

This section should include a brief overview and introduction to the project that is the basis of the RFP. This information is helpful to get more information than can be gleaned from just the title but less than an entire SOW.

Some RFPs will combine the project overview the organization overview. While this is generally fine, ensuring at least a paragraph break separates the information is vital to facilitate skimming.

3. Contact Information

Every RFP must have detailed contact information of the issuer company/organization in case potential respondents have questions about the project or services. It is best practice to include the name of a point person, email, and/or phone number, as well as if questions are allowed. Ideally, this same point of contact should be the same person who will receive and even review proposals.

4. Project Goals

This section is vital to any RFP as it is the first information about desired project results. Use this section to convey high-level thinking behind the desired project and discuss what needs to be achieved broadly. This information can help potential respondents decide whether the project aligns with their services and values. Project goals should be straightforward and easily identifiable in the text.

5. Scope of Work

Now that you’ve laid out your overall goals for the project, it is time to get down to the specifics. This section should be viewed as an outline of actionable items that are easy to follow and clear in desired outcomes. It is recommended that these actionable items be written out in bullet points. While it is essential to make your scope of work as detailed as possible, it is okay to have some leeway for back-and-forth communications with potential contractors.

6. Specified Qualifications

Some industries have qualification requirements for potential bidders to be considered. If this applies to your industry, list them very clearly to avoid wasting your time and their time.Other helpful information to have in your RFP is the proposal submission format. List out specifications for how you want the proposals to be submitted with information like proposal file format, file name, file size, and any information you feel necessary to have for them to include.

7. Project Deadlines and Other Key Dates

There should be a deadline for proposals to be submitted on both date and time. Additional key dates such as proposal review date, contract start date, and deliverables submission date should be listed for more transparency. Having these dates allows potential bidders to know when they hear back and the timeframe they need to budget for the project.

8. Budget

We highly recommend including a specific budget or budget range to facilitate transparency and allow potential respondents to craft the perfect proposal for you. In doing so, you are helping avoid confusion and miscommunication throughout the process.

9. Selection Criteria (Optional)

This section can explain how proposals will be reviewed to increase transparency in the process. By giving a clear rubric, respondents can better craft their proposals to your specifications and requirements, making the process easier for everybody. You should include specific categories you look for in a proposal and how much each weighs in overall consideration.

10. Additional Files

The final part of your RFP should include any additional files necessary to make your request clear and transparent. These can consist of diagrams, texts, and visuals to enhance the respondents’ understanding of your specifications.


As you navigate the complexities of the RFP process, remember that the goal is not just to select a vendor but to forge a partnership that will bring value to both parties. For more insights and personalized advice, contact Prosal today to start crafting your effective RFP.


Alfredo Ramirez

Alfredo is the COO and Co-Founder of Prosal. He has over ten years of experience working in the nonprofit industry and previously founded a successful digital strategies business, winning over $2 million in RFPs throughout his career. He is an avid mountain biker and snowboarder and enjoys anything that takes him outdoors.

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