Gary Wexler on RFP and Institutionalizing Nonprofit Dysfunction

Their work is important, and nonprofits believe they are doing the right thing. However, are they defeating their success by issuing a delusional RFP (Request for Proposal) that reflects the ineffectiveness of their processes and marketing strategies?

The RFP sets out a list of requirements.

1. An investigation of the communications strategies of each of the five coalition members.

2. An investigation of other coalitions throughout the country and their communication strategies.

3. Outlining costs and benefits of such a program. (Means you actually have to create the program.)

The list went on, requesting analyses, creative work, evaluations, training sessions, branding, public relations, media strategies and a host of others tasks. To reach excellence, the work would require the labor of a professional team over many months. The RFP was long, complex and convoluted. The budget for all of it? $15,000 .

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Then a document followed from the funding foundation with pages of requirements, stipulations, hoops to jump through, reports to be made and handstands to be performed.

The irony is that the labor poured into creating this RFP probably exceeded this project’s budget by at least three to four times.

I declined to compete or explain that I would need to apply for aid from their organizations to work my way out of the poverty imposed upon me by accepting their proposal.

I offered the one question that experience has taught me needs to be asked of a nonprofit when determining if there is a chance at success. What kind of milestones and approval process will you be establishing while this work is ongoing? (One client, alone, is complex enough.) In this case, there are five clients and a foundation, each with its own agenda and internal committees and boards. There are deep complexities reflecting the causes each are tackling. What will be the process for them to reach consensus and move forward at each stage?

While they were posing a thousand questions, they had no answer to this essential one. Along with all their other impossible demands, they were setting up a dysfunctional nightmare. The foundation, big and national, has a responsibility to know better.

The marketing RFP process that has evolved in recent years, is often implemented with hubris, intimidation, unrealistic demands—and no consideration for the finances of the small businesses that service them. It is one of those practices borrowed from business that has no place in the nonprofit world. RFPs in business are issued for multi-million dollar budgets—not for $15,000.

This kind of action wastes millions of donor dollars and causes severe dysfunction. It has been institutionalized, with a whole system built around it. It must be taken down, brick by brick and replaced with marketing education and a practice of excellence.

If ever there was a need for The Revolution, this proves it. Tell us what you think. Make your comment below.

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Gary Wexler

Gary Wexler  is a former Ad Executive that has helped to create television commercials for products such as Apple and Coca-cola. Now, Gary uses his powers for good to help nonprofit agencies maximize their marketing strategies instead of wasting donor dollars on ineffective tactics. You can visit him on his blog at View all posts by Gary Wexler

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