Learn how to vet and advocate for the right grant management software by writing a great RFP. Plus, get a template to help you get started.
If you are a grant program administrator, procurement manager, finance director, or CIO, you have arrived here because you are considering acquiring Grant Management Software (GMS). You know this software is necessary for your state, local or tribal government, either to create a new or enhance an existing grant program.
In either case, it is likely (and understandable!) that you may not be an expert in the features and capabilities of modern, cloud-based grant management software. However, you must now compose a Request for Information (RFI) or Request for Proposal (RFP) that outlines all current and future requirements that your public entity may need. This task can be daunting, but we are here to help you. Here, find everything you need to know to compose an RFP that meets your needs for grants management software as a government entity.
Throughout this document, you will see the term RFP as we reference the process, but feel free to interchange the term with RFI or RFQ (request for quote) if that is the desired document you are creating.
To help you get started, we've created an RFP template. Download the template now.
The RFP process is a typical step for public entities seeking to acquire grant management software, but there are cases where it may not be wise, necessary, or even feasible. While issuing an RFP often makes sense, whether due to a desire to receive competitive bids or as a non-negotiable agency protocol, there are significant drawbacks worth considering if your situation is more flexible. One of the biggest drawbacks is the amount of time that it eats up.
The RFP process is not always as simple as it may seem at the outset. You’ll need to draft it carefully, solicit responses (with an adequate deadline to expect the most thorough and competitive offers reasonably), honor a Q&A period with respondents, and after all of that—your team must thoughtfully review and go through your decision-making process. Only once you select the vendor may you get to the important, often urgent work, of building out your program on the new software.
For these reasons, we recommend that before drafting your RFP, check out alternative ways to purchase the software you need. Here are a few common situations where an RFP may not be your only or best option:
If the software is below the spending threshold. If the value of the software purchase is below the spending threshold set by the agency or department, an RFP may not be necessary. While researching GMS platforms, it is worth getting some ballpark price quotes to determine if you need to go to RFP and if your budget will allow for the solution.
When the software is the sole source to fulfill a key requirement. If you can demonstrate that a particular software provider offers features that are unique and cannot be found elsewhere, you may be able to secure a sole-source contract without the need for an RFP. Sole-source contracts are issued when only a single business can fulfill the requirements of a contract. For instance:
A tight timeline to launch
Track record in preventing fraud
Built-in, zero-lift comprehensive audit-preparedness
These are examples of requirements that may be non-negotiable elements of your RFP that only a single vendor may fulfill. If you would like to work with Submittable, we can provide guidance on a sole-source justification.
If you can leverage state contracts or cooperative purchasing agreements. Additionally, if existing state contracts offer your preferred software of choice, or if other similar agencies/entities in the state have already gone through the RFP process, you may be able to piggyback on those contracts without going through the process yourself. For example, Submittable is on the Software Licensing Program (SLP) contract with the State of California. Another option is to explore technology buying groups such as Carahsoft or GSA that have already negotiated government contracts with multiple software providers. Submittable is available through Carahsoft, NASPO, GSA Advantage and SLP.
When there are existing contracts. This may sound obvious, but do ensure you don’t already have a contract within your municipality. For example, Submittable can run multiple programs on one platform—and you may already have access through a different division of your tribe, city, county or state department without knowing it. Even if your program requires a unique program portal, you can still qualify for significant savings for adding to an existing contract (in addition to the benefit of skipping a lengthy RFP process).
During emergency circumstances. In times of crisis, such as a natural disaster, health pandemic or a state of emergency declaration, there are often acquisition flexibilities that allow you to source a solution to get funds and resources when they are needed most in time to avert further harm to impact communities.
It is essential to consider all of these factors and evaluate whether an RFP process is the best approach for acquiring the necessary grant management software.
Alternate procurement processes. Consider not pursuing an RFP if:
The cost is lower than the budget threshold
Your purchase qualifies for a sole-source contract
A preferred vendor is listed on your state contract or through a pre-approved purchase group
An adjacent municipality has an existing contract with a preferred vendor
Your conducting an emergency procurement
If you determine that an RFP is the most appropriate choice, we will guide you in creating an effective RPF that enables you to choose the best vendor to meet your objectives. The best way to measure the value you will get from a GMS is to ensure that it aligns with your business case. For this reason it is worth drafting out your business case before you before conducting your initial research and cost analysis.
Business case: Your business case will communicate the benefits your are looking to achieve by adopting a new software.
When detailing your business case, consider:
Overall strategic goals and purpose. Articulate the overarching objectives of your grant program, including a summary of your vision and how the GMS fits into your overall strategy.
Program priorities. Include any organizational priorities that you would like to ensure runs throughout your grant process. For instance, your program may prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion in its grant-making process and require a platform that supports these goals.
Project scope. List what this project will achieve and what is not part of it. Include an overview of deliverables and services.
Milestones and/or timeline. Provide a detailed timeline for the project, including key milestones and deadlines for implementing the software and getting your first grant program up and running.
Background information. Detail background information on your your current grant management processes, including what tools or systems you're currently using to manage grants. This should also include any pain points or challenges you've faced with your current system, and how the new software will help to address these issues.
If you haven’t already, check out our guide on Government Grantmakers Making the Case for Digital Transformation. This will help not just build your business case on why you need grant management software but will detail specific benefits that a purpose-built GMS can provide government teams.
To ensure that you can evaluate proposals effectively, conducting a cost analysis before drafting your RFP is critical. This involves understanding the features and functionality that you will require, so you can avoid requesting proposals with unfamiliar or incomplete pricing.
Certain logistical elements of your program setup and staffing availability may influence your priorities as you consider various varieties of software. For instance:
Do you prefer a primarily out-of-the-box, self-service solution?
What level of customization and/or professional services do you prefer or need?
Are you running a specific, limited-time program, or an ongoing program that you expect to continue, or even grow and scale?
Are you looking for a single solution that will support multiple or even many programs?
What is your ideal launch timeline?
We recommend you seek a solution that will cover your entire grants management lifecycle, from planning through award and post-award (and in many cases, an easily repeatable process for the following cycle).
Within creating your grant program design your organization may need professional services such as.
Your applicants, whether they are individuals, other public entities, businesses or nonprofits, should be at the forefront of the solution you select. It is crucial to be aware of the key features that make for an inclusive, accessible, and overall positive applicant experience. Features that you may want to consider detailing in your RFP or look for in a vendor’s response may include:
Naturally, much of your RFP will center on core functionalities that enhance the daily productivity of your program. Particularly if this software is intended to substitute an obsolete legacy system or a laborious manual process you will be laser-focused on finding a new vendor that can provide the efficiencies that you crave and that will result in the time-savings you need to perform and meet your goals.
An easy-to-use intuitive interface that eliminates time wasted learning difficult new software. This can be tricky to confirm during an RFP process—ask for screenshots and/or links to video tutorials of the platform so that your team can confidently judge the ease of use.
Must-have capabilities for your grant management system’s internal users include:
Agencies typically initiate the search for grant management software due to cumbersome manual processes that impede their workflow and cause frustration among their team and applicants. By leveraging automation capabilities, agencies can drastically improve their efficiencies and ultimately provide a much better experience for their team.
To further optimize and streamline grant management procedures, take advantage of automation in workflow, reviews, and scheduling. Specific automations to consider asking after include:
If your program involves an element of human review, be that from your internal team, advisory board, or from external reviewers from your community, look for functionality that will simplify complex needs and streamline your overall workflow.
We discussed the need for automated reviews above. The below review processes can be used in tandem with automated review.
Unfortunately, there are many fraudulent actors out there, as evidenced by the significant fraud that occurred during the 2020 emergency programs. To combat this issue, fraud prevention, and identity theft protection are crucial components to grant programs. These topics have gained even more importance under President Biden's sweeping Pandemic Anti-Fraud Proposal, which highlights the need for strong measures to prevent fraud and protect against identity theft.
One feature to look for is automated data validation. By cross-referencing applicant-provided data across vast third-party databases, such as Dun & Bradstreet and SAM.gov technology can save time for staff and prevent fraud, while also reducing the risk of human error.
It's crucial to ensure that funds reach their intended recipients without creating additional burdens for applicants. Therefore, look for software with built-in fraud prevention tools at application intake that doesn’t add friction to the application process. This could include personalized knowledge-based authentication quizzes that require applicants to answer a few short questions about their personal and private history, or identity verification tools that match selfies taken in real time to government-issued IDs. View Submittable’s fraud prevention tools as an example of what to look for.
Effective grant management systems should include robust funds tracking and award management features, as well as be able to efficiently and accurately disburse funds.
A grant management solution should provide funds tracking so that your team has one source of truth when it comes to the budget. The tool should break down how much of your budget you’ve awarded, delivered and reimbursed, with easy-to-interpret visualizations.
Software must also be capable of sending electronic grant payments directly from the system to expedite funding and eliminate the work associated with issuing paper checks. Electronic payments can shave days or weeks off of the time it takes to get funding to an awardee. Learn more about funds distribution here.
While ACH is the best mechanism for paying recipients, in the event you are working with unbanked populations, it’s also important that the vendor may disburse funds via check and/or prepaid debit card.
Seek a reimbursement process that is easy to implement, manage and approve for the program manager. The ability is essential for the sub-recipient to send in reimbursements as needed for quick repayment to not slow down the good work they are performing.
Having all your data in one place will make it easier for your closeout activities including expenditure tracking, document validation, document compilation, and audit-preparedness.
Begin with the assurance that the platform will document each and every activity that takes place. This is the most important step you can take from a compliance standpoint.
Once you’ve ensured everything is documented, how accessible is that documentation for your audit-preparedness. Look for a tool that can export all of your data for your auditor in a single step, ensuring Single Audit compliance.
If you’ll be looking to report on historical programs holistically, be sure to seek a tool that provides data migration.
Beyond compliance and audit-preparedness, you and your team will also be held accountable to your unique goals and objectives. To assess your progress and impact, you’ll need a tool with robust on-demand reports and data visualizations.
Grantmakers often collect sensitive data from individuals, organizations and businesses, including personal and financial information. Therefore, you must ensure the security and privacy of this data. If you are a federal agency or pass-through agency for federal dollars, then federal compliance requirements are paramount.
Search for grant management software that has strong security certifications that require third-party audits, such as a SOC 2 Type 2 certification, and request to see their report to ensure that there are no exceptions you should be leery of.
Cloud-based data hosting for grant management systems is important as it provides secure, reliable, and scalable storage solutions, which can be accessed from anywhere at any time. The provider of the data hosting will also have their own security certifications to make sure you and your applicant's data is protected. Be sure the cloud host is a reputable provider.
It is important to ensure that the grant management platform you choose supports user roles and permissions that align with your program's workflow. This will help to ensure that users only have access to the data and features that they need to perform their job roles and responsibilities, while also minimizing the risk of data breaches and unauthorized access to sensitive information.
Single-Sign-On (SSO) provides a more secure approach to software access by reducing the risk of password reuse, providing centralized access control, enhancing security measures, and increasing visibility into user activity.
You need assurance that your grant management system will work when you need it most. Stability in grant management software is essential for ensuring uninterrupted access from your applicants and team, minimizing downtime, and preventing costly errors. System crashes, data loss, or other technical issues can have serious consequences, such as delays in award disbursement, mismanagement of funds, and damage to the organization's reputation. Seek a provider with a minimum of the industry-standard 99.9% uptime.
Ensuring the privacy of your applicants is crucial. As a responsible organization, it is important to know the necessary compliance certificates that your program requires. Depending on your programs and applicants, there are the five major compliance certificates that you should ensure your grant management software provider have: HIPPA, CCPA, GDPR, FERPA and PCI DSS.
It's important to gain a comprehensive understanding of the company you could potentially partner with for an extended period of time. This includes not only their current products and services but also their dedication to future growth and product development. Inquire about the company's plans for the future, in addition to their history, to fully comprehend their vision and direction. You are looking for software to not only meet your needs for today but to scale with you in the future.
There are a few key factors to consider when looking at a company’s innovation:
You've done your research, and now you're finally ready to start drafting your RFP. It's time to put your fingers to the keyboard and bring your ideas to life. With all that preparation behind you, the drafting process should be a breeze. Get ready to take the next step in bringing your project to fruition.
Use a template. To help you get started, use this template to get ideas of what to include. This template focuses on the RFP questions you may want to include centered around GMS functionality. We assume that your government entity already has a template with a checklist of processes, instructions, and schedules, to include in each RFP you issue. (If you are starting from scratch, www.acquisition.gov/ is a good place to start.)
Include a business case. Outline your business case, goals, and objectives for the software. Name any specific features or functionalities the system must possess to meet your requirements. Also, include an outline of your desired implementation timeline and the proposed project budget. The RFP should also specify any desired success metrics to evaluate the system's performance and should request information on the vendor's experience in the grant management industry.
Keep it short. Be kind to your evaluators when crafting your proposal. Use checkboxes to easily receive a lot of information without reading through long narratives—especially in areas such as security and compliance. In many cases, a simple check mark and an attachment for proof will suffice.
Draft a rubric. Aligning your rubric/scoring system with your program goals will keep your evaluators from getting lost in the features and instead focused on what matters most. By publishing your rubric in your RFP, vendors can tailor their responses accordingly and not add unnecessary information that doesn't matter to your program (and wastes time and energy from your team).
Here are a couple of quick suggestions to plan for during evaluations.
Identify unique features and strengths. After receiving vendor proposals from your RFP, the final step is to collaborate with your internal stakeholders and reviewers to identify the unique features and strengths of each vendor. Then, use this information to compare and contrast the shortlisted vendors with the highest RFP scores.
Schedule product demos. Consider scheduling vendor product demos for the highest-scoring responses to your RFP. Simply put, you don’t know what you don’t know. You will learn of features and capabilities that you may not know existed prior to drafting your RFP. Most importantly, you want to ensure that the solution you may invest in looks like something that will be manageable for the program team that will use it daily.
Writing an RFP involves striking a balance between adhering to a process and being flexible to collaboration. While it is good to have a structured approach, recognize that some critical details can get ironed out during contract negotiations. It is important to focus on finding a partner rather than just a vendor that checks all the boxes.
Seek out a partner that shares your values, brings expertise and support that can help foster a long-term relationship that benefits your organization, grant programs and recipients. By prioritizing finding the right partner, you can increase your chances of success in implementing a grant management solution. With the right partner you can achieve your goals and make an impact in your community.