By: Bonnie Massa, Massa & Company, Inc.
Non-profit organizations who are interested in securing a product or service frequently distribute a request for proposal (RFP). In response, potential consultants spend hours of non-billable time putting together a proposal, submitting it, and then sitting back and waiting for a response. Experience has taught me that this is an incredibly counterproductive approach that wastes the valuable time of organizations and consultants alike, especially if the work or project an organization purchases is infrequent or never been purchased before.
An RFP requires potential consultants to provide a description of their deliverables, timelines for completing them, and an estimate of the costs involved. This is akin to doing business at a drive-in window. The organization creates an “order” for exactly what they believe they need, forcing the consultant to take the “order” and create a proposal without knowing the circumstances that led to the need for consultants to be summoned. Fine for burgers but bad for business! An RFP obliges consultants to develop all of these items without affording them the opportunity to get to know the people, problems, and culture that are all part of understanding why the organization is looking for a consultant to begin with. On top of that, a poorly-conceived or poorly-written RFP will inevitably solicit fewer proposals, and/or proposals that are off the mark. In these cases, everyone has wasted their time. Lose – lose!
RFIs, on the other hand, collect information about the potential consultant’s background, abilities, and experience – in other words, with a focus on the consultant’s skills! The organization uses this information to decide whether to consider them for an upcoming project. By focusing on the most important element of a consultant-organization relationship – the extent to which they “fit” with one another – an RFI demonstrates the organization’s desire to find the right consultant and the organization’s respect for the consultant’s time and resources by requesting only the basic information needed to move forward with the process. Win – win! Why not use this “free” consulting time to talk to two or three consultants and ask them questions that help the organization sharpen its own knowledge and sense of what is needed?
Here are five reasons why the RFI is a better tool for the organization and the consultant:
What I am describing, without actual examples to protect the guilty, is that RFPs don’t work for most organizations or consultants so let’s use a better tool! If you’re a non-profit leader whose goal is to find a partner who can help you reach your goals, then it’s important to share information and really learn if this is a good fit.
If you’re a consultant, seriously consider whether it is worth your time to answer some rote questions that may not be on target. Next time you get an RFP – ask for a meeting with the organization. If they are unwilling to meet with you to learn about your expertise and your personal style before committing to a relationship, what have you learned about the organization and what it will be like to work for them?
Bonnie Massa is President of Massa & Company, Inc. and Vice-President of Member Services and Development for Association of Consultants to Nonprofits.
ACN offers an RFP template on its web site to assist organizations with finding a consultant among its members. If you agree with Bonnie that an RFI is a better tool – let us hear from you below and we will offer an RFI tool on the web site.
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