How to Build a Website Design RFP for Public and Non-Profit Organizations

Public and non-profit institutions face special considerations when selecting a website development company to build or redevelop their websites. These factors often over-complicate RFP’s (Request for Proposals), which result in fewer qualified proposals and inflated estimated costs.

Want some tips on how to build RFP’s that attract more bids and lower estimates? Read on for specific direction and insight.  Note: If you haven’t started with a template, check out the bottom of this post for 2 free website design RFP templates.

Selecting the Right Website Development Company

First, consider what type of website development company would best fit your organization. The lowest priced websites are typically outsourced overseas or developed by freelance or sole proprietor developers.  These technicians are not usually able to offer the type of support and redundancy required by public institutions. They also fail the “What happens if our web developer gets hit by a bus?” test.

The next step up are small scale 2-4 person development firms.  Pricing is still very low, but processes and procedures often haven’t had time to evolve within these types of companies.

Mid-size website development companies with 5-15 employees are usually better equipped with the types of features that large public and non-profit institutions desire.  They have liability insurance, appropriate levels of employee redundancy, better project management and payment policies.  

Marketing agencies are typically at the top end of the spectrum.  While marketing agencies offer the added benefit of a market strategy, you will want to ensure the agency has enough website-focused employees and experience in websites to deliver a quality product.

For government and larger non-profit institutions, a mid-size website development company or marketing agency is usually the best selection; whereas some smaller non-profits may find a small website development company or even a good freelance developer to be the most economical choice.

How to Determine Your Basic Web Needs…Our Best Advice? Ask an Expert

Next, short list a group of professional companies. What information do they require in order to produce an accurate estimate and proposal?  If you don’t have internal project champions who have been heavily involved in creating a website of this scope before, consider sitting down with one of the companies on your list to go through requirements.  Some website technologies are incredibly easy and inexpensive to implement, whereas others will sink your RFP.  Meeting with a website specialist will help determine which of your requirements should be under the “necessary” column and which can be under “nice to have”.

Usually design items and strategy are much more difficult to include in a proposal.  Consider that design is subjective and that including subjective requirements in your RFP will elicit a variety of responses.  To determine the best web designers, take a look through some of their portfolio pieces and ask for a short list of websites to review as part of the RFP.  Keep in mind that what you’re looking at may not be their designer’s first choices, but rather a collaboration of their suggestions along with client requirements and requests.

Technical Requirements – Consider a CMS

In RFP’s, the rubber meets the road when it comes to technical requirements.  This is where price stays at a reasonable level or skyrockets outside of your budget.  As a part of basic technical requirements, most public and non-profit organizations will need a good content management system (CMS).  If you’re not locked in to an existing content management system like RedDot or Sharepoint, consider specifying an open source content management system, such as WordPress, Joomla or Drupal. Generally speaking, open source CMS’s are more popular with developers, easier to use, inexpensive to maintain and offer an extensive range of plugins. Choosing an unpopular or proprietary CMS will increase the cost to make changes and reduce the effective lifespan of your website.  If you’re not familiar with the functionality of a modern CMS, ask your prospective website companies for a demonstration of their preferred CMS.

A Good CMS Offers Flexibility and Easy Management

In addition to those listed above, here are the benefits of a good CMS:

  • Online, login-from-anywhere administration.
  • Content versioning.  Accidentally overwrite a big chunk of text?  Just roll back to the last version.
  • A variety of user roles and permissions.  Want one user to be able to write a page and another to approve?  Easy!
  • A great page content editor.  These are usually WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) style editors that work like Microsoft Word(R) along with media handlers that help out with uploading and resizing pictures.
  • Pages are easily administered, modified, re-categorized, etc.

Take Stock – What does Your Organization Need from Your Website?

Because of the flexibility in most modern CMS’s, you can expect that the following features and functionality could be added to your website with fairly low risk:

  • Newsletter integration
  • Google Analytics
  • Business directories
  • Google Site Search (awesome if you have a big site lacking in structure)
  • Live chat
  • Event calendars
  • Photo galleries
  • News feeds or news sections
  • Social media feeds (especially useful if you want to put a feed of your Twitter or Facebook activity somewhere on the site)
  • Social media sharing functionality, Facebook “like” button, etc.
  • Careers section

Carefully assess your needs and decide what is important now and what can be added in the future.

Added Website Features & Functionality

Moving into more complex website features and custom development, the following components, if applicable, must be clearly defined in order to correctly estimate and deliver on:

  • eCommerce
  • Full multi-lingual or multi-national support
  • A user or customer portal, intranet, or similar private section
  • Mobile specific website
  • Custom business logic
  • Flash intro video or interactivity
  • Customized databases and reporting
  • Integration with 3rd party systems is in a league all by itself.

Save Yourself Some Time

Some of the requirements you can leave out of the RFP would include:

  • Hosting.  Most professional website development companies will work with a variety of professional website hosting companies, so tying hosting requirements in with a website will not actually help.  Any good website hosting company will support any of the modern CMS’s, although special considerations will need to be taken for Cold Fusion or Microsoft based systems. Rackspace is certainly the best known hosting company, but good local alternatives will exist in most markets.
  • Functionality with older browsers.  Supporting Internet Explorer 6 and simliar vintage web browsers is costly and will limit some of the better features of a website.  Once usage is considered (IE6 accounts for <1% of users for many sites), it can be safely assumed that 100% functionality with these older technologies is not required.
  • Extensive Market Strategy.  If you need extensive marketing strategy, separate it from your website RFP because the results of that market strategy will dictate the scope and features of the website you require.  Scoping both at the same time should be impossible if there is any insight at all to gain from the strategy sessions.
  • Odd requirements for the proposal.  8 printed and bound copies, and 1 copy on a CD-ROM or floppy disk?  Save some trees and request PDF soft copies instead.

Free Website RFP Templates to Get You Started

Getting great responses on your RFP from great companies isn’t rocket science.  Take some time to compile a website development RFP that is easy to read and understand and you can ensure that all the companies you contact will be bidding on the same basis. You will also get the best prices from the best companies.  If you’re looking for a place to start, we have included some free RFP templates below which are specific to non-profit and public companies.  Feel free to download them and use them as a basis for your upcoming website RFP.

Download Non profit website RFP template

Download Public website RFP template

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One thought on “How to Build a Website Design RFP for Public and Non-Profit Organizations

  1. I wish I had a tenner for every site created by a marketing agency or mid-sized web development agency that has later gone bust or had a ‘change of direction’ away from website development, that I’ve had to pick up and support, wearing my humble small agency /freelancer hat.

    A lot of them don’t even have expertise in house, they subcontract to freelancers, and the change in levels of expertise when one member of staff leaves can be horrible.

    I have clients who have been with me for 12 years, and because I AM aware that I might get hit by a bus, I am cautious about documentation, commenting code, and ensuring that I try to use open source systems that are widely used, so my customers could reasonably easily pick up a new developer with similar skills. How much time do large agencies with flashy offices spend planning for ‘what would happen to this client’s site if we happen to go’ I wonder?

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