How to run a partner selection process
There isn’t a one-size-fits all selection process. The best process for your charity will depend on different things. Such as project budget, project complexity and your understanding of the challenges.
A good process
To select a great partner, we recommend a three-phase process. There is flexibility within this. See the adaptations to each phase below.
1: Send out RFI
2: Send full brief
3: Chemistry sessions
This is about getting to know each other and what it's like to work together. If budget permits, pay each partner to run a workshop.
- How to assess chemistry (coming soon)
Adaptations and notes for each phase
- RFI phase - You might choose to share the RFI publicly. If you do this, be prepared to receive many responses of varying quality. To manage workload, stipulate responses are no more than 2 sides of A4. Inform potential partners if you are open to taking questions via a call. Alternatively, host an "Information call" - so that all potential partners can register for this and ask questions.
- Brief phase - You might choose to skip the RFI phase, and go straight to briefing. If you do this, carefully make a shortlist of 3-4 partners that you think will fit best.
- Chemistry phase - You might choose to host a traditional chemistry meeting or pitch session. Make the process transparent and reasonable for all parties.
Optional phase: Soft market testing
Consider carrying out soft market testing before the RFI phase. This involves engaging with potential partners early, helping to you to sense-check and refine requirements, timescales and budgets.
This exercise is useful if you lack knowledge of the problem space and possible solutions. It’s especially useful where projects are complex or of significant value.
This will help you to better understand your project while also informing your long-list of partners. It’s also useful if you choose not to run an RFI phase, as you might feel confident in selecting 3-4 partners to take direct to the brief phase.
We don’t recommend an RFP (Request for Proposal) process open to unlimited responses. This is when an RFP is sent to multiple partners and published openly, for example on LinkedIn and Slack communities. We’ve known charities to receive 20-30 responses of mixed quality using this approach.
Why this approach is not recommended:
- It can generate an overwhelming number of proposals
- It gives you and your team far too much work to do
- Creates a lot of wasted effort among partners
- It invites responses from unsuitable partners
- The best teams are often too busy to respond to hefty RFPs
In the RFI and brief, be clear and transparent about the selection process, budget info, timeline and what’s expected of partners.
For example, if you expect partners to attend in-person chemistry sessions, let them know from the outset. This will likely incur travel costs and time away from the office.
Offer to answer questions at each stage of the process.
Inform all partners of the outcome at the end of each phase.
This guidance builds on discussions in the Agencies for Good community, plus contributions from:
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