Collaborating with digital partner

How to find the right digital partner

Securing funding for your digital initiative often comes with a caveat – an NGO is required to have a technical partner who can deliver it.

But finding the right supplier for your organisation can be daunting and it’s difficult to know where to start.

Bond has recently appointed a long-term digital partner. The process we went through was rigorous and lengthy, but we learnt some valuable lessons and we’re very happy with the outcome. So I wanted to share some insights and tips.

The landscape of digital agencies has become more vast and specialised in recent years. Digital agencies can be broadly categorised into:

  • Strategy, to help you plan your digital transformation roadmap.
  • Digital marketing, which will take care of your Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Pay Per Click (PPC) needs.
  • Branding, which traditionally has delivered branded digital products and designs.
  • Digital, often specialising in one stack of technology, like Drupal, WordPress, Sitecore etc.
  • Full service, delivering all the above.

Which one do you need? It’s especially hard to judge, as many agency websites offer all those services. Rather than finding a supplier, we at Bond wanted a strategic partner to work with us to drive forward our digital vision. To help you embark on finding the right partner, here are the steps we took and some tips for making the most of the process.

1. Write a comprehensive Request for a Proposal (RFP)

As succinctly as possible, you need to convey the structure, values and strategy of your organisation. Then proceed to formulating your problem statement, i.e. what are your users’ needs and biggest pain points?

It’s likely you’ll be unsure of how much what you’re asking for is worth, but you should work out how much you can afford to spend on digital in the coming 12 months with your financial director. The agencies you approach will advise on the best ways to spend your budget, but they need to know what to work towards.

You need to create criteria for appointing an agency. Outline what’s most important to your organisation – is it the shared values and cultural fit, or experience in a specific CRM or software? Prioritise these criteria with your colleagues first, which will make the decision-making process easier later. You should also outline what your expectations of the tender process are and how much time you have to devote to it.

2. Shortlist agencies smartly

If you haven’t worked with an agency before, talk to someone who has experience with it. There’s a lot of helpful advice at Digital Charities.

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Consider the size and location of the agency. If you need different services like branding, PPC and strategy, for example, it might be worth looking at full-service agencies which might be more expensive when London-based; or looking to appoint two smaller agencies. If the agency doesn’t have a satellite office in London, which is often the case these days, make sure they clarify early on if they’re going to charge you for their travel expenses.

Approach 5-6 agencies with your RFP. The time they’ll spend preparing your quotes and going through the tender process is non-chargeable, so make sure you respect their time and don’t ask too much of them.

Read their case studies and jot down questions and potential similarities with problems that your organisation is facing. Once you’ve shared an RFP with an agency who is eager to submit a proposal, ask them to share their existing client contact details, so you can get their references.

3. Set the ground rules of the relationship

A relationship with your agency is like any relationship – the better it is, the better the end-product will be. Be clear about your internal capacity and knowledge of managing digital projects, who the final approver is, how your board and potential funder will be involved, and what your preferred channel of communication is.

If you’ve selected the right agency, they will address these parameters during the onboarding process. Their expertise should be a key element in identifying your digital roadmap and catalysing your organisation’s capacity to innovate, so it’s worth careful consideration.

As we work on Bond’s digital roadmap, I’ll be sharing our progress, challenges and lessons learned. Please get in touch if you are working on a digital initiative and want to share your experiences.


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