How Nonprofits Can Use RFPs to Find Grants

Woman checking RFP in office.
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What Is an RFP?

Requests For Proposals (RFPs) are most likely to be used by government agencies, although foundations sometimes issue them as well.

Foundations, according to GrantSpace, prefer to receive proposals that are initiated by nonprofits or agencies rather than through RFPs. But, some foundations like to announce new grant programs in specific areas by sending out an RFP.

RFPs are published so that organizations that might be qualified to participate can apply.

The deadline for an RFP might be months away, but don't be surprised if it is only 30 days away, especially for government-issued RFPs.

In some measure, a short deadline for an RFP is a way to cut down on the number of applicants and to restrict those to only organizations that are best prepared to respond quickly.

To react quickly to RFPs, your organization must be scanning for them all the time and be ready to move rapidly.

How to Compete for an RFP

Only reply to those RFPs for which you have a program already in place or that is pretty close to being ready.

Develop a calendar that will ensure you get through all the steps of preparing the RFP and delivering it on time. Read the instructions very carefully and fulfill them to the letter.

One nonprofit located in Washington D.C., and which is in the international women's healthcare sector, has all of its department heads watch for RFPs within their specialties. This diligence helps the agency keep on top of the many opportunities that arise in its field.

Finding Government RFPs

All federal government agencies publish RFPs on their websites or at www.grants.gov. You can search for RFPs by program titles, departments, keywords, or the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA) numbers assigned to each RFP. Check out this guide to navigating Grants.gov.

You can sign up with Grants.gov to receive regular notices of newly released RFPs. Such notices contain a brief description of the grant program and a link to the RFP.

You can also consult the Federal Register, which carries grant and RFP announcements. 

Your organization should also be on appropriate mailing lists for RFPs. Check out the websites of the government agencies most closely aligned with your organization's mission and see if you can get on their mailing lists.

Finding Foundation RFPs

Perhaps the best source for foundation RFPs is the Philanthropy New Digest (PND) at the Foundation Center. Recent RFPs are listed there by date of posting and deadline dates. You can also search by keyword to find relevant RFPs. Clicking on a posting leads you to the full RFP, usually on the funder's website. Be sure to sign up for emailed RFP Alerts as well.

If you are near a Foundation Center location (usually at libraries or community foundations), you'll find RFPs posted. 

Of course, foundations post their RFPs on their own websites, so if you monitor the foundations within your organization's field, it's a good idea to look there frequently.

Don't overlook grants from local foundations and community foundations. Community foundations make grants to organizations in their state or region that serve that population. You can locate your closest community foundation with the foundation locator at the Council on Foundations. Family and corporate foundations for your state can be found at the Grantsmanship Center. Just click on your state on the map.

What to Do If You Need to Create an RFP for Your Organization

Of course, sometimes your organization may need to prepare an RFP to attract a vendor or consultant. Don't be afraid to try an RFP even if you've never done it before.

EveryAction, a consultant for nonprofits, has published an easy-to-follow recipe for devising your own RFP. Their tips include the following:

  • Decide if you really need an RFP. You might be able to suffice with an RFI (Request for information) or an RFQ (Request for Quotation).
  • Query yourself first. For instance, what expertise do you already have? Do we really need a full-fledged consultant or just a trainer for our staff? What are our goals and what deliverables do we need?
  • Research the vendors/consultants who respond to your RFP. Follow up on references and clients and unearth any complaints. Ascertain the price range for the services you need.
  • Include a thorough cover letter that lets vendors know just what your organization's culture is like. When you evaluate proposals, make sure the vendor has tried to match your culture. Don't just accept a solution that they have used before with other clients.
  • Cast a wide net. Get familiar with online posting sources, such as Philanthropy News Digest RFP Database.
  • Create a scoring system for evaluating responses to your RFP. Don't overlook simple things such as physical proximity or more essential criteria such as experience working with nonprofits.
  • Answer the question: are we ready to do things differently by using new technology or methods that a vendor might suggest or bring to the table?

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