Solicitations and RFPs: What’s the difference?

  • December 29, 2020

What is the difference between a solicitation and a request for proposals (RFP)? These terms are often used interchangeably to represent opportunities for small businesses to submit proposals. Some common terms for this include Procurement, Solicitation, Request for Proposal (RFP), Request for Quotation (RFQ), Request for Qualifications and Quotation (RFQ), or Request for Information (RFI), all of which can be used to describe an opportunity in which a federal payer will grant funds to a small business for doing a specific type of work for a selected duration.


While all RFPs are a type of solicitation, not all solicitations are RFPs. Solicitation simply means documentation has been disseminated, allowing small businesses to submit competitive bids to solve an unmet need of an agency. Solicitations can come in many forms, and RFPs are but one individual type of solicitation. Solicitations are a notice, not a binding contract. While the winning RFP will receive the bid and the opportunity to complete the work, a solicitation is in no way binding. It serves the express purpose of alerting potential contractors to an opportunity.


In general, RFPs are used in place of solicitations when an entity knows what they need but do not have specifics in place regarding how the goal will be accomplished. RFPs differ from other types of solicitations, such as bids in which a set cost is determined. Usually, with an RFP, there is a funding ceiling, and the applicant is responsible for itemizing and justifying how much of the potential award they need to complete the work. This is true in cases of both federal and foundation solicitations. RFPs present a need and invite companies to determine viable solutions in response to this need. Because there is no clear cut definition of HOW the company is expected to solve the problem, an RFP is used. RFPs also enable the funder to compare and contrast different vendors to evaluate, which is likely to be the best option.

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