When it comes to creating a new Website or redesigning an old one, "the first inclination is to just start building," says Daniel Fellini, the Web development manager at the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN). This is particularly true for new organizations or those without a tech team, he added. "But I think it’s critical to approach even the smallest sites as a project, and that means project management. It means discovery."
Through the discovery process he recommends, your organization's requirements can be defined and you'll determine the components and features that will make your site a success.
With that information in hand, you'll be able to write a clear, well-defined Request for Proposal (RFP) that will increase your chances of receiving proposals from Web agencies who truly are capable of bringing your vision to life, and you’ll get an accurate estimate in terms of cost. Here are some of the things that should be included in your RFP in order to receive a comprehensive proposal:
Provide information about what your organization does, its philosophy, and its main audience. This will give the potential Web agency the necessary background information needed to bring your vision to life.
What is the Website’s purpose? Whether you want it to be a go-to source for the dissemination of specific information, or you have large recruitment goals, the agency needs to know to create an effective solution.
Scope of Needs
Do you already have a well-defined brand or do you need design assistance? Do you have internal software -- a CRM, volunteer engagement or donation management system that needs to work with your new site? Do you prefer a commercial or Open Source Content Management System? Who will host it? These are all among the questions that should be addressed in the RFP.
What emotions do you want to invoke when visitors view the site. What adjectives best describe the voice and 'personality' of your organization? To accomplish a certain 'look,' one needs to consider aspects such as content organization and graphic design features. If there are specific animations or color schemes you want incorporated into the site, make it known.
Decide whether you need new content written or if you already have it. Some agencies have writers on staff but many do not. Content creation for Websites is one of the biggest causes of delays in Website development. If your organization will not be able to write everything in a timely manner, consider hiring a writer, preferably one who has experience writing for Websites.
Do you want the ability to create internal or external user accounts? Does the site need to have an e-commerce function? If you plan to include online donations, make sure you have already set up an online processing service.
The coding behind the scenes requires decisions on the Content Management framework you would like to use. If you don’t want to have to worry about making these decisions, leave it up to the agency to recommend a solution based on your requirements. However, insist the agency justifies its recommendation.
Budget and Timeline
Do you need to have your new site online by a specific date? If so, mention it in the RFP and if the date is negotiable. One of the biggest mistakes made in RFP's is not including the budget you expect to spend for your project. If your budget is $10,000.00 or less -- say so. If you expect to spend $20,000.00 to $25,000.00 include that fact in the RFP. You'll receive a much better proposal if you include a budget range.
Who can bid
Do you need a local Web agency that can meet in-person with your staff for at least at an initial meeting, or will you consider agencies that are located far away? Will you accept quotes from agencies overseas? Decide in advance the level of experience you want to see from your bidders and how many recent sites they have recently built that are similar to what you hope to build. You may also want to specify a minimum number of years the agency has been building Websites and if they have employees or subcontractors. You will also want to request a minimum number of references.
You'll receive better proposals if you schedule a pre-bid meeting where potential agencies can come to your office and ask questions. In any event, include a deadline for written questions and the day you expect to distribute your answers. Allow at least 10 business days after you've distributed your answers as the deadline for agencies to submit proposals. Also, decide in advance if you will accept proposals by email or if you prefer to receive them in print.
Finally, don't forget to include a point of contact and where proposals should be sent.
Consider a consultant
If these suggestions seem like too much work for an already overburdened staff, consider a technology consultant. Some Web agencies, like New Village Media, have consultants on staff who can guide you through the process of preparing and writing an RFP and even managing the project once you award a contract.