A Simple Guide to Issuing an Effective RFP

Written by Christine Allen

Many elements go into writing a RFP or RFQ. The task can become even more ambitious when dealing with a particular project type, such as a recreation or community center. While required criteria will vary by project, the cornerstone of a successful RFP process is to clearly define owner’s and project’s needs.


First, let us outline the difference between an RFP and an RFQ. 

An RFP, Request For Proposal, requires respondents to submit a proposal or a cost for the services requested. An RFQ, Request For Qualifications, is a qualifications-based submission that showcases a respondent’s experience without requiring the submission of a fee for the cost of services. Your state or City laws may require one or the other. A clearly written RFP or RFQ will ensure you receive “apples to apples” responses. 

A third option is a two-part process where the first part is a request for qualifications to develop a shortlist and then asks the top 3 qualified respondents to submit fees at the interview phase.

Outline of Key Sections

Now that we all understand the differences, let's outline some key sections to include in your next RFP issue.

Cover Page – This is an excellent opportunity to summarize critical dates for your RFP. Include your logo, title of project, RFP number, due date, date of issue, deadline for questions and pre-proposal meeting details, if applicable.

Introduction – Introduce your project and your City/Organization. This is an opportunity to be proud of your community and don’t forget to brag a little! Why is this project important? What are your goals with this RFP? Take a couple of paragraphs to introduce your community and the project from a high level. If you have a target budget, make sure you state it so that bids align with your project goals.

Scope of Services – Know your project! For the RFP process to be efficient and effective, you must first do your homework. Describe your project and process in as much detail as possible. This will not only save you time by eliminating unnecessary questions from submitting firms, but it will also provide them the information they need to get excited about your project and share how they can help you achieve your goals.

Describe the scope of your request in detail:

  • Project location
  • Needs and goals
  • Project delivery preference
  • Number of meetings anticipated (How many public meetings? Will there be presentations to political groups such as a City Council?)
  • Approximate size
  • Anticipated program (i.e., spaces/amenities potentially part of the project)
  • Estimated budget (Even if it’s a feasibility study!)
  • Funding (Are you looking to pass a bond campaign? If so, when is your target date?)
  • Renderings (What level of renderings are you looking for? A conceptual floor plan or an animated video? The level of design you are seeking for this phase will greatly influence the fee.)
  • Important dates (Is the project required to be completed by a specific date?)

Submittal Schedule & Instructions

Submittal Schedule & Instructions– Share the details of the RFP to keep your committee and all submitters on the same page. These are hard facts about the RFP schedule, the number of copies required, the prescribed format and where to send or submit the response.

Provide specific dates (and times, when applicable) for the following items related to the RFP process and schedule. It is helpful to outline these important dates in a table:

This section is also an opportunity to specify any formatting requirements/restrictions:

  • Page limit and what is/isn’t included in the page count (covers, dividers, cover letter, resumes, required forms, etc.)
  • Page size
  • File size restriction, if electronic
  • Please note that font and margin restrictions limit the creativity of respondents and can inhibit their ability to give you a sense of who they are.

Also be sure to specify:

  • Number of copies and delivery method (electronic vs hard copies, PDF on a USB, etc.)
  • Address, email address, etc. where submissions should be sent or delivered

Submittal Requirements

Submittal Requirements – Eliminate the guessing game from your submitters and get the information you really want! Be specific about your request, but also allow some room for flexibility and creativity so you can evaluate not only the firms’ qualifications but their “personality fit.” Remember, you’ll be working with them for the next one or two years, maybe longer, so it’s important you enjoy the team you commit to.

Be specific about the content you're seeking:

  • Cover Letter
  • Firm Profile
  • Project team:
    - Organizational chart
    - Resumes of key members
  • Relevant Experience, including:
    - Project description
    - Owner contact information
    - Project size
    - Project cost
    - Project completion date
  • Project Approach, Work Plan and Schedule
    • In addition to asking for the firm’s general approach, we suggest asking two to three specific questions relating to the project that demonstrate how responding firms can help you achieve your project goals. For example: How will you ensure the project stays on schedule? What are your methods for cost control? How do you design contextually? What is your process for public engagement?
  • References
  • Fee Proposal
    • Remember, having a clearly defined scope of services is the key to getting comparable fees. This is where you will get the bulk of questions from proposers.
  • Appendix, if necessary (consultant team, additional information, etc.)
  • Required Forms - If you have a required form, make sure you clearly state that it needs to be included in the response so you don’t have to disqualify an otherwise qualified submission.

Selection Criteria

Selection Criteria - This should directly correspond to your submittal requirements. It indicates how you’re weighing the criteria, so proposers know where to focus their efforts. Below is an example that corresponds to our sample submittal requirements.

Required City Language – Your City or Organization may require specific language for your RFP. This could be a statement about non-collusion, insurance requirements, or minority business goals. Ensure your procurement department has briefed you on the language required for solicitations.

Attachments – Clearly label any attachments you are providing, such as sample contracts, required forms, or any pre-work that has been done, such as site plans, feasibility studies, geotechnical reports, site surveys, etc. You could also attach your logo (png or vector) as a separate file for ease of use throughout the proposal response.

And that’s it! Following this outline should ensure you receive clear and comparable submissions for your next RFP/RFQ. Please reach out with any questions, and we would be happy to send RFPs from other cities in the process of doing the same thing as you!

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