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To be or not to be…an RFP

RFP’s (Request for Proposals) are a waste of time.

Wow- did I just say that? More importantly, did I mean it?

Well, yes and no.

To be upfront, many times, RFP’s are indeed a waste of everyone’s time. Here are some examples:

  1. A small organization with 2 users, 2000 records, and a budget of $5,000 creates a 91 page RFP for review. Unfortunately, at this level, no vendor will complete this type of RFP because it simply does not make business sense to spend 30+ hours for that level of opportunity where your profit evaporates to nothing.
  2. A larger organization submits a 150 page RFP that includes 292 customized details, including ones that say, “The system must integrate with legacy databases”, or my favorite, “The system must be easy to use”.

When Nonprofit RFPs Make Sense

RFP’s that DO make sense include those that are carefully thought out and include detailed needs analysis that are essential to the organizations operations. Yes, it may be nice for the fundraising software to integrate with your lighting air conditioning system, but is it worth it?

We also receive many unsolicited RFP’s. While we appreciate to be included in the selection process, we will never have enough information to fill out the RFP completely and competently UNLESS we are able to spend some time upfront with the prospect.

Why? Because it’s impossible to know how to answer the questions unless we have a much thorough understanding of the organization’s business practices, mission, and goals. It will take time- expensive staff time- to make sure that we fully understand the requirements so that we can accurately answer the RFP. This is why many times, we require a first round demonstration of our product so that both sides can ask and answer questions to see if we’re a good fit. Would you ever go out on a first date by filling out and signing a prenuptial agreement? I don’t think so- that can happen at a later date, once we get to know each other better.

Why should non profit organizations care? Well, to be upfront it’s much better for us to spend time on the things that really matter to your organization than to spend time making sure that we’re using the correct font and formatting style. If we are required to spend endless hours just making sure an RFP looks correct, rather than being correct, we will have to raise our prices to justify our time investment, and that helps no one.

Therefore, please understand our position on RFP’s. Sometimes they are a waste of time- for both sides. Other times they are very helpful, but not without a clear and upfront understanding of the requirements so that we are all on the same page and the project is a runaway success!

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