You and your board have decided it’s a perfect time for strategic planning. You’ve also decided you’d like outside help with facilitation and documentation to help you clarify your future. To help you get the best response from possible strategic planning partners for selecting just the right fit, here are a few things to keep in mind when preparing a Request for Proposal (RFP).
Clarify Your Goal
It’s important that you spell out how detailed you seek the strategic planning process to be. Indicate the final outcome you seek—and clarify what you do not want as this will help the respondents understand the scope of work expected. Clarify how much you seek this process to inform your decision-making surrounding your branding, fundraising, programming, and perhaps other key issues.
Articulate whom you seek to participate in the planning process. Clarify the number of board members, committees, staff positions, volunteers or others you wish to be involved. Do you want to keep the planning group small but gain a wider perspective? If so, clarify if a survey or focus group may be welcome.
Define Timeline and Meeting Expectations
Strategic planning may involve many moving parts. Be clear if you wish for the work to be done in a series of meetings, over a retreat, or a combination. A simple process may include pre-work, a survey, a half-day planning session, and then a follow-up meeting to review final documentation. A more robust process will involve more planning meetings and detailed follow-up meetings if budgets or department plans are to be included.
While you will ask the respondents to recommend a process, it is helpful if your organization is clear about a strategic planning process that fits your culture. Here’s a possible outline of items you may wish to include in your process:
- Pre-work: What might help the outside facilitator understand the dynamics and needs of an organization (may include reading past plans, budgets, discussion with executive director and/or board chair)?
- Do you seek a market analysis and/or a competitor analysis as a part of this process?
- Do you need help articulating the vision of the organization? (Do you need to revisit mission, vision and values, brand or messaging? Or are they well defined and integrated?)
- Clarify if you’d like to review risks and opportunities over a specific time period (2-3-5 years). Might this be a simple SWOT exercise, or do you seek something more robust?
- Indicate if you’ve already identified or need help identifying and prioritizing key initiatives.
- Do you seek a dashboard or other metrics to track and manage progress?
- Will budget alignment be a part of this exercise, or is that for later? Be clear.
- What deliverables do you expect: a simple high-level spreadsheet or a robust planning document? Do you need tools to show how you integrate the plan into individual performance?
- Will you need follow-up and an accountability partner to integrate the plan, or will that be handled internally? Will you need the facilitator to present a final plan to the board for a vote? Do you need to help inform or train staff?
While it’s tempting to let the respondents tell you how much their approach will cost, that might not be the best approach. If you are willing to share the potential budget allocation available for this process, it will indicate you seek a true partner and are being transparent from the beginning. It also signals to the respondents how detailed you wish the scope to be and what will be able to be a part of this process. While this approach may weed out some respondents, it maintains goodwill—as responding to RFPs can be a lengthy and time-consuming process for organizations. The more upfront you can be at the start, the better the response you will receive.
If you have a membership with the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), you might be able to access its resources for creating RFPs. Other online sources may provide you with a format that is just right for you so you don’t have to start from scratch.
Lastly, when in doubt, call those you seek a response from and talk through what you are looking for. The more you communicate at the front end of the process, the more spot-on the proposal will be. And that will set you up well for a great strategic planning process.
Bridget Krage O’Connor is owner and founder of O’Connor Connective—a consulting firm that aligns strategy and communications to help organizational leaders get results. Learn more at oconnorconnective.com.