Should small nonprofits use competitive RFPs?

Who is spending the time to answer a small nonprofit with a $5 or $10k RFP?

I'd love to hear comments from both developers and nonprofits who've worked together -- how have you started the relationship of working together, and how would you like to see it done?

My experiences:

Back when I had too little experience and too little work I answered competitive RFPs. It was generally a bad experience for me: I'm pretty sure that at least two (of a rather small total) were hopeless exercises -- competing against friends of EDs or past providers who were pretty much guaranteed the job. I'm done with that, as are other individual or little-shop designer/developers I'd recommend. I expect that RFPs lead to shops with a marketing person and more of a cookie-cutter approach, which might be good for some nonprofits, but you're pretty much asking for cookie cutter by using a low-budget RFP.

A real RFP needs things like functional requirements. Even in the Dreamweaver, this was something beyond most small nonprofits.

But CMSs bring huge discontinuities to the costs of web development: if there's a good module for a function it can take an hour, otherwise it takes weeks like it would without a CMS. You can't finish the functional specs until you know this. I vastly prefer to work with a client who knows their audience, overall goals and budget, has an example website where they love the design and an example with similar functionality to their needs ... and that's a good place to start working together and showing them cool stuff they never thought of, even though it's not enough for the nonprofit to write functional specs into an RFP.

What I would recommend instead of an RFP approach:

  1. see if the nonprofits with similar websites will talk with you and share, using the underlying functionality of their site with a completely replaced and recolored design. It would be great to see nonprofits catch up to the spirit of open-source and really start sharing. Circles of nonprofits with similar missions, similar website needs underneath, and using the same CMS would really benefit from having their web people communicating and allowed to share.
  2. google the web developer of the sites you like and aim to hire them,
  3. if they're not available and you don't have a recommended developer, show at local monthly user groups for opensource CMSs, this is a place where free advice flows easily and serious developers with a little extra time show up. {Other ideas?}

Additional resources:
Discussions about (and against) RFPs

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