Strategic Planning Request for Proposals: Q&A
Proposals due January 27, 2 p.m. EST
Bidder Conference Q&A
The Food Trust hosted a virtual Bidder Conference on Tuesday, January 12, 2021. Applicants were encouraged but not required to attend; to watch the recording of the conference, please click here.
Below are answers to all questions raised during the conference:
Can you describe what is driving the decision to invest in a strategic planning process right now?
The agency’s current strategic plan was developed in 2016, and was meant to guide us from 2016 to 2019. That fact, combined with our new leadership at the agency, makes this an ideal time to invest in a new plan.
What are some of your aspirations for the Food Trust as you go into this planning process? What existing ideas, if any, do you have about what might be included in the strategic plan?
Our hope for the strategic planning process is that it will provide our programs with a “refresh” that will both reinforce and deepen their relevance to the communities we serve and the challenges they face. These challenges include inadequate access to healthy food, as well as high rates of food insecurity, diet-related disease and poverty. As part of that refreshed approach, we hope to identify new strategies for our organization and its programs that can empower the communities we serve, as well. Through the process, it also may be important to identify any programs that may need to sunset or transition to another organization so that we can better focus on our priorities moving forward.
How has The Food Trust done strategic planning in the past? Internal or with an outside partner? How frequent?
This is the first time The Food Trust has consulted with an outside organization to support its strategic planning process. Strategic planning has been conducted periodically over the course of our history and has always been led by the Board with the support of Food Trust staff. Our most recent strategic plan was developed in 2016.
What do you hope will be the balance of aspiration/innovation and bold thinking relative to a focus on operational stability and building a sustainable path forward for the organization? What feels most important for the next three years?
We believe a good strategic plan should help us to both develop innovative ideas for our programs moving forward and contain recommendations to help us focus on core priorities moving forward in such a way that sets the table for both innovation and stability. What feels most important for the next three years is charting a strong direction for the agency rooted in a core assessment of our existing strengths, the challenges faced in the communities we serve, and an analysis of the current ecosystem of peer agencies working in healthy food access and nutrition education.
How has the pandemic presented challenges — funding, program delivery, stakeholder needs, etc.?
The pandemic has impacted the agency in a variety of ways. For example, it taught us the possibilities of working remotely while maintaining productivity, limited our ability to continue some of our programs and required us to provide some of our nutrition education programming virtually. In other instances, the impact of the pandemic on the communities we serve resulted in increased demand for programs that address food insecurity.
We know that the organization has experienced a lot of challenges over the past year. How would you describe where the organization is today and what work has taken place over the last year?
The organization demonstrates significant progress toward managing its financial operation, reconfiguring duties and responsibilities of staff to fill key positions while continuing to deliver on its mission. Programs not core to the mission were shed and headcount was reduced. These changes reduced costs by over $2.1 million, or 20% of the FY19 budget. For FY20, a balanced budget was adopted with a reduction of almost 40% in general and administrative expenses from FY19. Staff and Board are prepared for and excited about the strategic planning work ahead.
In your Black Lives Matter letter, you mentioned a stronger focus on fighting institutional racism impact and connecting food justice to racial justice. What, if any, steps have you taken on this to date and to what degree is TFT interested in integrating an explicit focus on racial equity across the strategic planning process, plan and implementation?
The Food Trust is interested in integrating racial equity across our planning process and its implementation. This is an opportunity to ask ourselves if we are doing all that we can to ensure racial equity across our body of work. Over the past eight months, the Board and staff organized internal focus groups to examine the culture of The Food Trust and its internal operations with a DEI focus. That work produced a series of recommendations to be included in a separate Human Resources needs assessment overseen by the HR committee of the Board.
In addition, over the past year or more, some of our program areas focused on building an equity framework into their programs. The upcoming strategic planning work presents the opportunity for us to take that work deeper and establish it across all of our programming.
Does the organization have a clear and concise Theory of Change that is understood by internal team members and external stakeholders?
Many of our programs use the Socio-Ecological Model as the foundation for planning, implementing and evaluating our work. While we have not officially adopted this Theory of Change organization-wide, it is well understood by staff and has been shared with external stakeholders.
You seek consultants with "Knowledge of collective impact." How do you envision partnerships and collective goal setting and measurement being important to TFT's future? The RFP states the plan will include "proposed priorities." Will the strategies be agreed to through consensus and collaboration and adopted prior to the plan's completion, or are you anticipating using the plan as a suggested roadmap that will later be adapted by staff, leadership, Board and partners? Both?
Collaboration is at the heart of The Food Trust’s work. We want to build on our current partnerships and seek new partnerships — both within the food access space and across sectors — to be responsive and innovative to the needs of the community.
The Food Trust’s goal is to ensure the strategic plan is developed through a participant-centered approach. Key community stakeholders, Food Trust staff and Board will inform the development of the plan and have opportunities to provide input throughout the planning process. The Programming Committee of the Board is overseeing the development of the strategic plan and consists of Board members and Food Trust staff.
What is the level of depth you are looking for with metrics and measurable outcomes? For example, are you looking to identify what you will track to monitor progress or are you also looking for the consultant to research and help you set benchmarks?
The strategic plan would ideally include both short- and long-term metrics with an action plan to help The Food Trust achieve our goal. The plan would also include an implementation and monitoring plan inclusive of dashboards to assist us in measuring our progress towards our goals.
Since The Food Trust provides consulting services — including strategic planning — to partner or client organizations, are there resources or best practices that the internal consulting team uses that you would like to see incorporated into this project?
Most of The Food Trust’s consulting work is specifically oriented toward healthy food access program support and development and our practices do not readily translate to the type of organization-wide process we are looking to undertake through strategic planning. However, core aspects of that work have always included key informant interviews with people internal and external to our partners and clients, a policy and systems approach to program design, and a review of existing research on best practices for public health and community development policy and programs, and we expect that this strategic planning process will help develop a plan for our agency with similar tools.
Please share more about the optional components of the plan. What is the reason you listed them as optional (can do them in-house, not sure you will have funds, anticipate different expertise, etc.)? What is your aspiration for each of those pieces?
The optional components of the plan include: Resource Development Strategies; Recommendations for enhancement of current financial, technological and human capital; and Communication Strategies and are complementary to the work of the strategic plan. As a result of the strategic plan, these components will support the ongoing implementation of the plan to improve operational efficiency, propose new staffing structures for maximum plan effectiveness, outline resources needed to support implementation and provide recommendations for a communication plan for the launch.
How are you defining “gap analysis”?
We are looking to identify two types of gaps through the strategic planning process. Internally, we plan to look at our current performance compared to our desired or expected performance. Externally, we would like to assess what gaps currently exist related to food security in the communities we serve and where we could develop or expand existing programs to meet those needs.
What considerations are important to you in deciding between a three- to five-year planning horizon?
The decision between a three-year plan and a five-year plan will be based on what the consultant, the Board Program Committee and stakeholders recommend as the most practical time frame given the data gathered during external benchmarking and the organizational assessment.
Could you please share more about the community and staff members you anticipate participating in this process? Who are they and what ideas do you have for how you would like to engage them?
We anticipate that the consultant will conduct interviews/focus groups with a sample of residents from each of the communities where we have the largest presence. These 5-7 communities would be identified in partnership with the leadership of TFT. Additionally, the consultant will work with the Board Program Committee to identify the best ways to engage staff. This may include Board and staff retreats, planning sessions with the leadership team, etc.
Is there a specific nutrition education or food access experience or background that would be most beneficial for the consultant to the project?
The Food Trust is involved with a wide range of projects within the nutrition education and food access fields. We do not expect that a consultant would come with experience in all of these areas, but feel it would be valuable for them to bring some level of experience related to our work. There is no one specific area of expertise that we feel would be more valuable than another.
How many stakeholders do you estimate interviewing between Board members, staff and other key advisors?
Since much of the strategic planning process will be carried out virtually, we believe there is an opportunity for us to engage more stakeholders than could normally be interviewed in person. We anticipate that the consultant would interview approximately 15-20 stakeholders, across a variety of regions and programming areas. The consultant would work with the Board Program Committee to create this list of priority stakeholders. Similarly, we would like to involve as many staff and Board members as possible in the strategic planning process. We anticipate providing one to two opportunities for each of these groups to participate, including both one on one interviews and larger focus groups or retreats.
Could the references include organizations you have worked with on strategic planning, but was not necessarily a client?
Consultants should provide strong, relevant references that they feel can best speak to their work.
When was the last strategic plan? What worked and didn’t work, thinking back?
The Food Trust’s previous strategic plan was a three-year plan that ran from 2016-2019. While we believe it was a strong plan, there are aspects we would like to improve upon during this strategic planning process. There was a lack of staff involvement during the creation and initial implementation of the plan, which we feel is essential to its success. Additionally, the plan was not as detailed as we are looking for under current leadership. There were no dashboards for tracking progress and there was a lack of clear metrics to support a performance-based culture. We look forward to incorporating the components that worked well, such as Board leadership and a thorough review of the organization, while improving on the areas that didn’t.
Will the continued support in implementation be needed outside of the 3- and 6-month checkpoints? You mentioned "continuing to identify action items." Do you envision the consultant managing an implementation plan or just stepping back at those two points in time to understand what has happened and to assess where things stand and support identifying next steps?
We do not anticipate a substantial amount of support being needed beyond the 3- and 6-month checkpoints.
What type of supporting documents are required and what are those suggested? Can supporting documents include team resumes as well as work samples?
The only required supporting documentation are work samples from previously completed strategic plans. Other attachments that could be provided include team resumes, a sample dashboard, or a sample infographic summarizing overall strategic planning priorities. Please include any documentation that you feel will make the most compelling argument on your behalf.
What is the expected capacity of senior staff and Board members in participating in strategic planning? Is there a total number of hours the consultant might expect to be able to work directly with the board and senior staff through facilitated participant workshops?
TFT staff and the Board are committed to a high level of involvement in the strategic planning process. Once a finalist is selected, there will be a discussion related to roles and responsibilities, as well as a plan for meeting frequency. Once the work is underway, we intend to have the Board and staff participate as often as is needed, understanding that there may be meetings/interviews that it makes sense for the consultant to conduct on their own.
Should we expect an email back to confirm receipt of our proposal?
Is it safe to assume that supporting documents are not accounted for in the 8-page guidelines?
That is correct.
Is a Word Document/PDF the only acceptable format? Do you have a preferred format for submission?
We are open to any format as long as it meets the criteria outlined in the Submission Instructions section of the RFP.
To confirm: the process can/should involve engaging different stakeholders throughout to collect insights and confirm findings on our end?
That is correct.
Can you please tell us how many prospective vendors are on the call?
There is strong interest in this opportunity and we expect a highly competitive process.
Are you open to a team of consultants?
Should we assume there would be no in-person facilitation due to COVID?
We anticipate that, given the timeline, a large portion of the facilitation would be done remotely. We would like to leave the potential open for in-person facilitation, however, depending on the timeline of the project and the status of COVID.
Who will be in charge of recruitment for the interviews with funders and partners? The contractor or TFT?
TFT will lead the identification of funders and partners for these interviews and can support recruitment as needed. The contractor will be expected to lead outreach and implementation of the interviews.
Do you anticipate seating a specific Strategic Planning Committee, and if so do you plan on including individuals from outside of the organization, i.e. not only staff and Board members on the committee? Who will be the key decision makers in the process?
We have a Strategic Planning Committee in place, which includes individuals from the Board and TFT staff. We do not have seats on the committee for individuals outside of the organization, but have built in opportunities for feedback and discussion with partners, funders and community members. Ultimately, strategic planning is the work of the Board and they will be the key decision makers in the process.
Does TFT envision working with a smaller consulting firm or a larger firm?
We are looking for the strongest applicant that best meets the criteria outlined in the RFP.
Do you anticipate significant revisions to the mission and vision statements?
We plan to review our mission and vision statements as part of the strategic planning process. Based on the results of the strategic plan, TFT will determine whether significant revisions are needed.
Who will be involved with leading the strategic planning efforts for the organization?
The strategic planning process will be driven by the Program Committee of the Board of Directors, which is composed of both Board members and Food Trust staff.
Are you looking for a firm or an independent consultant as your partner in this?
We are looking for the strongest applicant that best meets the criteria outlined in the RFP, whether that is a firm or an independent consultant.
The RFP states that you are looking for someone with experience related to The Food Trust's work. What qualifications — beyond nonprofit and foundation experience, if any — do you think would be most helpful to this process?
We are looking for a candidate with a strong understanding of the current public health landscape, with a focus on new and emerging trends in healthy food access and nutrition education initiatives. The ideal candidate will be able to benchmark The Food Trust's current work with other leaders in the field, both locally and nationally, and make recommendations that will both strengthen existing programs and identify new opportunities for the organization moving forward. Additionally, the candidate will have a strong understanding of the impact of food insecurity as a social determinant of health and can support The Food Trust in identifying programs that best serve our communities using a participant-centered approach.
Do you have a range in mind for the project budget?
Given the scope of work and timeline, we anticipate a budget of $60,000-$70,000; however, we are open to reviewing all strong proposals that have a reasonable and justifiable budget. Philanthropic support has been secured for this work.
How much work on external benchmarks do you envision being part of this process?
We envision external benchmarking being a significant portion of the strategic planning process. In addition to conducting a thorough environmental scan, the consultant is expected to conduct interviews with funders, partners, staff and community members to gather extensive feedback on the perceived role, accomplishments and opportunities for the organization. Additionally, there should be a thorough assessment of The Food Trust’s work in light of emerging research, investment trends and current policy priorities in the field of public health and food insecurity.
What perspective or competency do you most need an outsider to bring to this work?
We expect a strong candidate to demonstrate competencies in strategic planning, group facilitation, organizational development, the development of metrics, and conducting a thorough environmental scan. Additionally, we are looking for someone who understands the relevant regional and national landscape and whose outside perspective can help to identify synergistic opportunities, both internally and externally, to enhance our comprehensive approach. The ideal candidate will also demonstrate familiarity with the core programs at The Food Trust, the complex issues that surround food insecurity, and the development of sustainable solutions through participant-centered practices.
How important is local knowledge/expertise? Are you looking for someone based in the region?
Bidders do not need to be based in the Philadelphia region to be considered and proposals will not be scored on candidate location. We are looking for someone with an understanding of the local and national landscape as well as knowledge of the key stakeholders within the Philadelphia region. Additionally, the consultant will be expected to conduct interviews and focus groups with partners, community members and staff. The candidate may be asked to attend one to two in-person meetings during the strategic planning process.
Is The Food Trust looking for significant expansion or change as part of this process, or are you looking for someone to refine and re-energize the current mission and work plan for the coming years?
We believe that the strategic planning process will guide this decision. Based on the data collected through the environmental scan, interviews, and a thorough assessment of the future direction of the field, The Food Trust will determine whether significant change is needed.
What is the timeline for this project?
Applications will be accepted through January 27, at which time the committee will begin reviewing and scoring proposals. We anticipate that a decision will be made the final week of February and notifications will go out to applicants during the first week of March. In the event that no proposal is selected, the committee may elect to issue a new RFP to attempt to expand the pool of potential respondents. Once a candidate has been selected, we expect the majority of work related to preparation, assessment and strategic plan creation to be completed between March and October 2021; however, our top priority is to engage in a thoughtful, participatory process that results in an actionable strategic plan and successful implementation of our goals.