Here I’ll share a template you can use when creating a tender / Request for Proposals (RFP) for the development of a new charity website.
I’ll also give you some tips as to what to include and provide an agency/freelancer’s perspective on the process.
First up, let me say right off the bat that filling in this form or creating your own brief isn’t something that you can knock out in half an hour. Creating a proper brief will take the best part of a day or so.
It’s time very well spent though because you need to do some serious thinking about what it is you want and need. Getting a new website involves a substantial investment of your time and money – so you need to have a good idea of what kind of ‘return’ you’re expecting. Not necessarily in terms of exact pounds and pence, but a good grasp of what ‘success’ will look like. What are the problems it will solve, what will you be able to do better? What do your users need to accomplish on the site and how can you help them do that?
Commissioning a new website can be quite a daunting process though. Especially because it’s not something that many people have done before or do regularly. Because of its importance and the investment involved, people often feel a pressure to ‘get it right’ even though they’re not quite sure how to do so. That’s why doing some research and thinking beforehand is a good idea, and this briefing document is a good way to structure that thinking.
Below I’ll share some of the elements that I think are required when creating a brief / RFP for developing a new website. First though I’m going to dive straight in at the deep end and look at two areas that people most often ask me about.
Should you include your budget in the tender document?
The million dollar question! The main reason for not stating your budget is that you don’t want to give away your hand so early in the game. You worry that if you reveal that you’ve got £10,000 to play with then agencies are going to charge you £10k for something that they might only charge someone else £7k for. That’s understandable, and there are some agencies that work like that. But starting off the process on a footing of distrust and suspicion isn’t the best way forward. I can pretty much guarantee that if you don’t include your budget then you’ll just get emails and phone calls from everyone asking about it anyway.
Websites are a bit like houses – it’s impossible to answer the question ‘how much does one cost?’ without getting a bit more information first. It’s also hard to break down the cost into their component parts.
A successful website development project fully understands the problem it is trying to solve and delivers the best solution. A lot of the value in the project lies in unearthing and articulating the potential benefits to the charity and to the website visitors. But it’s hard to put an exact price on the graphic design, just as it’s impossible to say how much the third bedroom in a house costs. You can’t isolate them from the rest of the build.
The agency/freelancer’s perspective:
Without knowing some parameters for how much you’ve got to invest, I’m not going to spend half a day writing a proposal. Some people think websites only cost £500, or that’s maybe all they can afford to allocate. So it’s a waste of both our time for me to write up a proposal worth £5,000 only for you to reply that you only have £500 to spend.
Similarly, if your trustees have agreed to allocate £30,000 to the new website project then that £5,000 response is likely to be just as much a waste of both our time. Believe me, I’m often surprised at how little correlation there is between how small a charity’s turnover is, and how much it is willing to invest in a new website. That’s why I wouldn’t write a proposal without knowing how much of our time and resources you’re seeking to engage.
But if I put my budget as a maximum of £10,000 then the agencies are all going to set their price as that?
That’s true to some extent. Most aren’t trying it on though. I’d think of it more like an episode of Location, Location, Location – you tell Phil and Kirsty what your budget is and they’ll show you what you can get for your money. Their job is to help you, but they can’t do that if you don’t tell them what ballpark you’re playing in!
My advice would be to provide a budget range rather than one figure. So something like ‘we have a budget of £7-12k allocated, depending on the solutions offered’. I’d also make sure that you hold some budget back rather than blow it all upfront. You’ll want to think about ongoing maintenance and possibly a later phase of development or further integration with your CRM system for example.
Should I ask agencies to come up with some ideas of what the new site could look like?
I’d advise that you steer clear of asking anyone for ‘speculative design’ work. Design is a problem-solving exercise, and you only know exactly what problems the site design is trying to solve when you’ve had a proper sit down with the client and teased it all out. That gives you an objective means of assessing whether the home page design works. Without it, these things are always subjective and come down to personal preferences. You wouldn’t ask a decorator to paint a room in your house for free to see if you like their work, so it’s not fair to ask designers to effectively do the same.
I think it’s OK to ask agencies to share ideas from existing sites about what might work well in your case, but asking to design something from scratch as part of the tender process isn’t a good idea.
The agency / freelancer’s perspective:
If someone asks for free speculative design work along with a proposal then it tells me that they don’t understand or value the role and importance of the design process. I could spend a whole day mocking up some Photoshop designs in the hope that someone looking at them might be drawn to one of them. But that doesn’t tell me anything about whether the design would ‘work’ for its intended audience and objectives.
We don’t do speculative design work, and in my experience the bigger agencies that do so will just farm it out to an intern and ask them to modify a Photoshop template they used for a previous client!
Filling in this template seems like a lot of work. How will it save me money and time?
The agency / freelancer’s perspective:
If your new website brief amounts to an email with a few sentences about how your old site doesn’t look very nice, then it’s obvious that you haven’t really engaged with the project yet. Maybe that’s because you’re confused by how all this works, or that you’re really busy doing your day job, or because you see it as something akin to buying a new photocopier for the office. Either way, it makes me think that I’m going to have to spend a fair bit of time with you to do this vital research (we call it the ‘Discovery’ phase) – and my time equals your money!
The more specific you can be about what ‘success’ looks like and what you need, want and like – then the more accurate and detailed my proposal will be. If you’ve done some thinking about the project before I come onboard then there’s less chance that there will be any unpleasant surprises. Writing a proposal and cost is always something of a stab in the dark. But the more information an agency has, the less contingency they need to add in to the cost. I can’t afford to lose money by promising to deliver a project for a certain price, only to discover that it’s not going to be as straightforward as I had thought. So the more grey areas there are, the more ‘wiggle room’ an agency is forced to add in to the cost to cover against all eventualities.
If you don’t want to use the Charity website RFP template but want to incorporate some of the elements in your own document then I’m reproducing some of the template content here for your convenience. These are the sections I think a good brief should cover, as well as some guidance text to help you answer them
Use most of the rest of this page to tell us about your charity. You’ve probably already got some ‘About us’ text you can copy and paste here. We’d be interested to know what your biggest sources of income are, or any big plans for the future – so the new site can support these goals.
What makes us different?
Why should a donor give money to you and not one of your ‘competitors’? Capturing the essence of your ‘story’ and what makes you unique/special is often the key to making a really compelling website.
Our current website
Approx number of monthly visits/sessions: (check your Google Analytics if you use it)
Approx year it was built:
Which CMS does it use (if known):
How we drive traffic to the website: Facebook/Twitter/Email newsletters/Physical events/Google Adwords Grant
What we like / works well on our current site
Let us know if there are any aspects or functionality of your current site that work well and that you’d like to retain.
Issues with our current site – from a staff/charity perspective
E.g. hard for staff to update the site not enough of them are trained, the CMS has a big license fee, the current web agency don’t provide a good service, there’s not enough templates to choose from, it’s hard to download data from it etc.
Issues with our current site – from a website visitor’s perspective
E.g. it’s not mobile-friendly, the design is very dated, it’s hard to find the right content, it doesn’t inspire people to donate or sign-up etc.
What has prompted you to develop a new website. Why now, not this time next year? What’s the main reason you’re biting the bullet and investing in a new site now?
Aims of the new website – what does success look like?
You’re investing a fair bit of time and money into building a new website, so you should have an idea of what return you hope to get from that investment, even if it’s hard to quantify it in exact pounds and pence. When the new site is in place, how will things be different? More people will come to your events? You’ll be able to free up fundraiser staff time by automating some processes, people will engage with the site more (lower bounce rates, higher time on site). More staff will be able to update the site etc.
Let us know how you plan to fill the site with content. Are you planning to bring across content from an existing site or start afresh? What staff resources have you got allocated to creating/refreshing the content for launch? Who will be creating content on an ongoing basis after launch? How often? (Be realistic here!) What are the different types of content you have identified that you will want/need (news, events, blog, project updates, case studies etc).
Do you have a stockpile of good photos to use on the new website? Are there child protection or confidentiality issues that make using photographs a challenge?
Who are the main external stakeholders of the website? Try to be more specific than ‘the general public’.
This is really important – we need to plan ‘user journeys’. Need a strong idea of what you want people to do when they come to the site
|Audience||Desired Action 1||Desired Action 2||Desired Action 3|
|e.g. potential marathon runners or challenge eventers||Easily see on the site a list of events they can take part in||Register their interest online and possibly book a guaranteed place||Get all the information they need without having to email staff with questions|
|e.g. Trusts and Foundations||Get an overview of our work, history, finances and other funders||Be more inclined to look favourably on a grant application because we look credible and professional|
Let us know what you’ve got in the way of branding materials. Do you have a set of branding guidelines? Are there colour palettes that you want to use, or is your only ‘brand asset’ your logo?
The more specific you can be here, the more accurately we can quote the project. E.g don’t just say ‘Events functionality’. Where are the evets held? How often?, do you want people to be able to book tickets online? Are they free or paid? Do you use something like Eventbrite to manage the event? Do you need an events calendar?
Is there some content that you only want certain people to see?
Can visitors create an account on the site?
If there are any ‘must-haves’ for your new website then list them here. Things like ‘mobile-friendly’ or ‘must integrate a Twitter feed’ are taken for granted. But if you only want to use an open-source CMS, or you have other software like a CRM system or third-party websites that you need to work with, then let us know here.
We highly recommend that you put something here. Put in a budget range if you’d rather not give your maximum figure. Remember to say whether you’re allowing for VAT or not.
Websites we like
List some websites who have some design or functionality elements you like, in relation to your prospective site. Let us know what it is you like about them. Try to steer clear of personal preferences – we’re looking for what will work best for the charity’s new website.
Do say ‘we like the donation form on this one because it is on one page and it looks clean and professional’. Don’t say ‘I like Facebook because you can message friends on it’. These don’t have to be your ‘competitor’ charities, or even other charity websites at all.
Websites we don’t like
Similarly, let us know of any websites with a design or functionality that you actively don’t want your site to draw inspiration from. Again, let us know why you don’t like them.
If there’s a date that you’d like the website to be launched by, or any other important milestone dates then let us know.
Let us know who to send the response to, and the deadline for doing so. We strongly recommend that you do not ask for potential design ideas as part of the proposal. The best approach is usually something like ‘We would like to receive written proposals by (deadline date and time) which outline your approach and your suitability for the project. We will then follow up further with a shortlist of selected agencies/freelancers.’