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Blogs / ICMA | blog / Best Practices in Writing RFPs

Best Practices in Writing RFPs

Whether it comes to the strategic plan or the communications plan, localities often find the need to improve certain services that they offer, and this often requires external auditing or consulting. A Request for Proposal (RFP) is a perfect mechanism for solicitation of plans for services from outside vendors and service providers. RFPs can save localities time and money in searching for viable solutions to perceived problems, and often yield efficient proposals that would not occur to government actors outside of the industry involved with the RFP. To ensure that the next problem in your municipality is met with the highest-caliber proposals, I have compiled the following list of RFP best practices from across the Knowledge Network.

  • Format appropriately – Respondents expect RFPs to be easy to evaluate and clear to read. Cover pages and tables of contents are great tools for organizing the information in your RFP.
  • Describe the problem first – Immediately offer respondents information on the issues that are facing your municipality. Offer your RFP a descriptive title and an abstract section so that respondents can easily evaluate your proposal.
  • Clearly offer information on sending proposals – Clearly including information on your cover page about a project’s point of contact, where to send proposals, when they should be submitted, and acceptable formats, will reduce the likelihood that you receive untimely or unsatisfactory proposals. These details are often flushed out in an introduction section following the title page.
  • Establish a staff contact – Setting a point of contact for questions regarding a RFP, will save time and money. By freeing the staff-at-large from the need to field questions relating to a specific RFP, you can minimize their distractions and increase productivity.
  • Create a project reference number – Setting a reference number for a RFP allows for unambiguous discussions of proposals that may overlap with other outstanding RFPs.
  • Offer background information – Contractors and service providers considering your RFP will likely not be familiar with the exact details surrounding your RFP, so be sure to include a section in your RFP that outlines all situation-specific details. This will ensure that responses are relevant to your current problems, and may offer ideas for solving a problem to RFP respondents. Offer details on relevant employment policies, local laws, and details of potential contract, to mitigate any unforeseen problems with proposals.
  • Define the scope of work – To ensure the relevancy of the proposals that you receive, clearly define your expectations for proposals and state any characteristics that may disqualify a proposal.

Do you have any favorite tricks for writing RFPs? If so, I’d love to hear about them! Please share details about your favorite means for writing RFPs in the comments section below, or post information on the policies to the Knowledge Network’s documents page.


James Davidson

James Davidson is an intern for ICMA’s Knowledge Network. You can reach him for questions and comments at


David Thurnau

I think these are great points for those writing RFPs to keep in mind. As someone that responds to municipal RFPs, I know that when these things are followed, it allows me to develop a much better response. Some other things that I like seeing in the RFP and the surrounding process include:
1. A description for how responses will be evaluated. This gives me a clearer understanding of what the municipality finds to be the most important aspect of a project and what may be inconsequential.
2. An original RFP. Too many times I see municipalities just copy and paste another municipalities RFP into their own. This tells me that the municipality probably doesn't care too much about the project or really hasn't done any background on it. It makes me less likely to respond and if I do respond, it doesn't allow me to provide a solution that best meets that specific municipalities needs.
3. Include an other information section. As a vendor this section can be very useful to introduce an RFP issuer to something related to the requested service that the municipality probably wasn't thinking about. It might not help you fulfill the project at hand, but it might provide an idea that could help further enhance your community.
4. Be open to providing feedback to vendors after evaluations. Especially when we don't win a bid, we like to know exactly why we didn't. This allows us to improve as a vendor so that we can be more responsive to the needs municipalities. It just might be to your benefit in the future.

Anyway, just some of my thoughts on creating quality RFPs.

David Thurnau

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