What is an RFP (Request for Proposals)?

Alfredo Ramirez

When it comes to requests for proposals (RFPs), the goal has eluded many: define a need or challenge and select a partner for the job. But what is an RFP?

What is an RFP?

Requests for proposals (RFPs) are documents as much as a process. Generally, an RFP is a written or visual document describing a need or project and asking respondents to submit proposals for how they would address the task. They can also be known as solicitations, tenders, and terms of reference. All types of organizations use them to find materials and services, from government to nonprofits and private enterprises.

Most importantly, they are used to find partners who can help you do the things no one else, inside or outside your organization, can do at a price you can afford.


An RFP is distinct from a request for a quote (RFQ) and a request for information (RFI). While the three documents are all used by organizations and firms, they are used for different purposes or reasons:

  1. Request for Proposal — RFPs announce a specific project or service and invite qualified respondents to provide a solution proposal.
  2. Request for Quote — RFQs invite suppliers for specified products or services at specified quantities and qualities.
  3. Request for Information —RFIs solicit information from potential respondents or suppliers about the product or services they can provide. RFIs can be viewed as an inquiry to gather information about products or services of interest.

A typical RFP contains the following sections to generate high-quality responses from prospective vendors:

  • Organization Overview
  • Project Overview
  • Contact information
  • Project goals
  • Scope of work
  • Specified qualifications
  • Project deadline and other key dates
  • Budget
  • Selection criteria
  • Attachment files

Organization Overview

To begin with, every RFP needs an introduction to the project and the organization so respondents have a general sense of how compatible they will be. This section should be no longer than 250 words and include information such as the name of the organization, when it was founded, the goals and values of the organization, and past projects. Having this information as an introduction helps potential respondents get a sense of who they are working with.

Project Overview

This section should include a brief overview and introduction to the project that is the basis of the RFP. This information is helpful to get more information than can be gleaned from just the title but less than an entire SOW.

Some RFPs will combine the project overview into the organization overview. While this is generally fine, ensuring at least a paragraph break separates the information is vital to facilitate skimming.

Contact Information

Every RFP must have detailed contact information of the issuer company/organization in case potential respondents have questions about the project or services. It is best practice to include the name of a point person, email, and/or phone number, as well as if questions are allowed. Ideally, this same point of contact should be the same person who will receive and even review proposals.

Project Goals

This section is vital to any RFP as it is the first information about desired project results. Use this section to convey high-level thinking behind the desired project and discuss what needs to be achieved broadly. This information can help potential respondents decide whether the project aligns with their services and values. Project goals should be straightforward and easily identifiable in the text.

Scope of Work

Now that you’ve laid out your overall goals for the project, it is time to get down to the specifics. This section should be viewed as an outline of actionable items that are easy to follow and clear in desired outcomes. It is recommended that these actionable items be written out in bullet points. While it is essential to make your scope of work as detailed as possible, it is okay to have some leeway for back-and-forth communications with potential contractors.

Specified Qualifications

Some industries have qualification requirements for potential bidders to be considered. If this applies to your industry, list them very clearly to avoid wasting your time and their time.Other helpful information to have in your RFP is the proposal submission format. List out specifications for how you want the proposals to be submitted with information like proposal file format, file name, file size, and any information you feel necessary to have for them to include.

Project Deadlines and Other Key Dates

There should be a deadline for proposals to be submitted in both date and time. There should be a deadline for proposals to be submitted in both date and time. Additional key dates such as proposal review date, contract start date, and deliverables submission date should be listed for more transparency. Having these dates allows potential bidders to know when they hear back and the timeframe they need to budget for the project.


We highly recommend including a specific budget or budget range to facilitate transparency and allow potential respondents to craft the perfect proposal for you. In doing so, you are helping avoid confusion and miscommunication throughout the process.

Selection Criteria (Optional)

This section can explain how proposals will be reviewed to increase transparency in the process. By giving a clear rubric, respondents can better craft their proposals to your specifications and requirements, making the process easier for everybody. You should include specific categories you look for in a proposal and how much each weighs in overall consideration.

Additional Files

The final part of your RFP should include any additional files necessary to make your request clear and transparent. These can consist of diagrams, texts, and visuals to enhance the respondents’ understanding of your specifications.

To improve or outsource your RFP process, talk to an RFP expert at Prosal.


Alfredo Ramirez

Alfredo is the COO and CMO of Prosal. He has nearly 10 years of experience working with nonprofits and foundations, and was the founder of a successful consulting business. He is an avid mountain biker and snowboarder and enjoys anything that takes him outdoors.

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