031: The Four BEST Places to Find Contracts for Nonprofits

031: Four best places to find contracts for nonprofits

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Finding money in your city, state, or region may not be as difficult as you think. In today’s blog, you will get four tips on how to find local funding through contracts that are published through Request for Proposals or RFP. According to Tech Soup:

 

“A request for proposal, or RFP, is a document that describes a project's needs and asks for proposed solutions from qualified vendors.”

 

So why should your nonprofit apply for an RFP to get a contract rather than solely looking for grants? Contracts can be advantageous when compared to grants as they do not have the same rigorous components as grants. Most nonprofits love contracts as the reporting requirements can seem like kindergarten requirements compared to complex federal grants. However, before you ditch all the grant seeking and chase after contracts, note that contracts are legally binding - and if you do not adhere to the requirements, you could be brought to court and I doubt you have ‘bail’ as a category in your budget. But contracts are pretty awesome.
 

 

 

Let’s pretend your nonprofit supports street artists. The city you live in has an agency that releases a Request for Proposal (commonly referred to For example, letas its acronym RFP) to install murals in an urban area that is focused on revitalization. If your nonprofit is eligible for the requirements and your project meets the scope of work, you might want to consider applying for this opportunity. The RFP will give you an outline of the specific desired scope of work, deadline, a site visit location and time (if required), and any other pertinent information.

 

Let’s examine the above example in more detail. This RFP’s scope of work may be to complete eight murals of certain sizes that reflect the historical landmarks of the city. In the RFP, they may ask for the following:

  • certain types of paint to be used

  • specific sizes of the murals

  • deadlines for project completion

  • a brochure to go with the murals that explains each mural, the artist, description of historical elements used.

  • 1,000 copies of the brochures on certain types of paper

 

You can see how technically specifically contracts can get. Nevertheless, the more specific the RFP is, the easier it is for you to understand your pricing and to know if you will be competitive in the bidding process. Not only are reporting systems usually way simpler compared to grants, but the golden gem is that with contracts you do not have to spend the exact amount you said you were going to for each category and submit receipts. A grant will ensure you track all your expenditures equal to the amount of grant monies received. In other words, for a grant you are strictly asking for a certain amount for certain expenditures and then spending that exact amount on those expenditures. For a contract, you are approximating a budget, saying you will meet a certain scope of work, and then you report on meeting the deliverables. It doesn’t matter if you were able to get any services or products at a reduced cost. As long as you meet the standards and requirements for those services or products and you do not ask for more money, then you only report on the deliverables - not on the budget.

 

For the above example you may put together a budget that looks like this:

 

Categories

Amounts

Personnel

 

  • Executive Director 5%

$2,500

Fringe Benefits

 

  • 7.65% FICA and

$191

  • 1.5% Worker’s Comp

$38

Equipment

 

  • None

$0.00

Consultants / Contractors

 

  • Artist labor

$20,000

  • Designing and editing brochures

$2,500

  • Researchers on historical sites

$8,000

Supplies

 

  • 200 gallons of paint, paintbrushes, drop cloths, etc.

$4,200

  • Printing: 1,000 copies of brochures

$500

Indirect

 

  • Administration

$2,071

Total Budget

$40,000

 

 

 

 

Now this is a completely fictitious budget, as I am not sure what costs are all associated with painting murals, but it gives you an idea. Mind you, I did use the same format as the layout for federal grants (Personnel, Fringe Benefits, etc. categories) so that you would have consistency across all your budgets. But the thing with contracts is that most sources usually do not ask for receipts or logs for the expenditures, such as, ‘Did your executive director actually spend 10% of their time on this project?’

 

Grants will ask you to account for this information through documentation, but contracts will just require you to submit reports on the deliverables. Did you get one mural complete each month, and did you design the brochure to include the appropriate amount of historical research and print 1,000 copies? If you complete the scope of work, you get the money. And, honestly, you might not need to use the entire $500 for printing the brochures, so you can use any excess of monies to fund other project initiatives. You can see how contracts could be VERY advantageous compared to grants, as it allows much more flexibility with the funding if you meet the scope of work and timely deliverables. Of course, each agency has their own requirements, so you need to review the RFP and the contract award.

 

Where do you find out about city, state, and federal contracts?

There are four main places to look for these contracts.

1) online agency websites

2) paid online subscriptions to third parties

3) FedBizOpps

4) local newspaper



Online Agency Websites


 

Online agency websites are a great place to find out about upcoming RFPs, to see previous funding, and to be alerted for upcoming opportunities. The thing about online agency websites is that they are all very different. For example, you may go to your city website and see a menu for upcoming RFPs, but you may only see a handful of opportunities. On the other hand, if you go directly to different agency websites within your city, you may see more RFPs. This may be due to the agency not having a system of reporting every RFP to the city, or the city website just not being updated every time they receive an RFP, which is very likely. So it really depends on who is managing the websites, how often they update the website, and how those websites are laid out.

It may also be very difficult to find where the RFPs are located on websites, so it could take considerable time to dig through each website. It is good to take this on and do some research as you will probably identify certain types of agencies that have potential RFPs to fit your projects.

 

Pros: It’s free and connects you directly to the source.

Cons: Agency websites can be burdensome to look through, you have to make an effort to look through these websites on a consistent basis, and updates are not always timely.



Paid Online Subscriptions

In the world of access to information, there oftentimes comes a price tag. You will be able to find many online databases for state and federal contracts that require a paid subscription. That is because problem is that it isn’t clear what each provider does to mine data.

Do they really go into your state or cities agency website to mine the most recent RFPs, or do they only report on certain RFPs that are published to the city’s website?

Do they even look at the city’s website?

Where are they getting their information from and how often?

This is an issue, although you may prefer paying a fee to save you time of searching for RFPs.

 

Pros A one-stop shop for looking for city, state, and federal RFPs:

Cons: Paid subscriptions are required. It isn’t clear where the sites are getting information or when they update information.



FedBizOpps

is a website that provides free access to federal solicitations. You can even sign up for an email newsletter and select categories of funding and geographic areas that you are most interested in. This is great as you don’t have to remember to jump on the site to look for FedBizOpps.GovRFPs, since it is delivered straight to your inbox. This site is only for federal solicitations and won’t alert you to your city and state agency RFPs. But it is worth signing up for the federal solicitations. I will say that a majority of these are geared toward for-profit agencies and services or products for federal agencies. Getting a contract here and there for providing specific services from the federal government is a great subsidization for your overall budget.

 

Pros: It is free, and you can get solicitations delivered to your inbox

Cons: It is only for federal RFPs and there may be few and far between that fit in with the projects of your nonprofit.



Newspapers

The good ole printed or online newspaper. Many cities require that local municipalities publish RFPs through the newspaper to ensure a conflict-free bidding process. Honestly, this is one of the best resources that I use to peruse current RFPs. It acts as a one-stop shop as each agency will release their RFP about 30 days before the deadline. I don’t have to go through different websites, and I usually just peruse a newspaper while I’m at the gym or at a coffee shop (they are free to look at for the customers!). It gives me a great snapshot of everything that is available and, as an added plus, I’m able to grab any current statistics from the news articles! This is definitely a win-win-win.

Pros: It is free online (or at coffee shops/libraries) or minimal cost. You get timely announcements. It is relevant to your geographic area.

Cons: None

 

There you go. That sums up the importance and value of contracts (via RFPs) and where to find them.

 

Thanks for Listening!
Holly

 


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