The Summer Mating Ritual of the RFP
Ah, it’s summer. Such a wonderful time of year. The sun is shining. Flowers are in bloom. Butterflies and bumblebees fill the air. Sweethearts walk hand in hand.
And dissatisfied nonprofit organizations, at the end of disappointing fiscal periods, are sowing Requests for Proposals for their direct-marketing programs.
With a new fiscal year about to begin, many nonprofit organizations that aren’t achieving the results they want begin anew by searching for new direct-marketing consultants.
As this season begins, and as the organizations and consultants commence their mating dances, allow me to offer some words of advice about how best to conduct this courtship ritual and select the perfect mate.
Is divorce really the answer?
Before you jump on the RFP bandwagon, ask yourself if the process truly is necessary. If budgets are not being met, is it really the current consultant’s fault? Or is this a “down” time for your organization or issue? Or is the fault really within your organization’s management of the fundraising programs? Too often, clients fire their consultants to cover up their own deficiencies.
As a consultant, I’ve been both the victim and beneficiary of needless RFP processes by clients. My firm has been fired by clients for whom we have done terrific work, and we also have picked up clients who I thought were crazy to fire their original consultants. Needlessly shifting between consultants often leads to a lack of the management consistency that is necessary for a successful fundraising program.
Choose the right candidates
Do some research beforehand about the best firms to select. Sending out RFPs to a huge number of firms only will ensure that you have too much material to read and too little time to do it thoroughly.
At this stage of the process, you have decision-making authority you may lose later in the process. Use this opportunity to weed out those firms you know will do a bad job.
Too many times I’ve seen a commercial firm with little or no nonprofit fundraising experience make it through the RFP process to the board of directors, who don’t know much about fundraising either. Sometimes these firms “wow” the board and get the contract. Then you, the fundraising professional, must spend your first few meetings educating your new consultant about the difference between renewals and appeals.
Understand the true costs
How does the consultant make money? A low monthly retainer and low creative fees do not always guarantee that you’ll be paying a small amount for a consultant’s services.
Some clients prefer that their fees be “hidden.” So they allow their consultants to gain much of their compensation by marking up production invoices. While this practice initially might appear as an inexpensive way to pay for a consultant, don’t be fooled. In such cases, all you’ve done is give a consultant permission to hide its profits from you. You still are paying fees … but you have no way to monitor how much. Chances are the true cost is higher than if you paid the consultant directly.
Also, be aware of situations in which consultants subcontract your production work to outside production managers. In such cases, a middle-man has been added, and this entity is earning compensation through unknown mark-ups of the invoices you pay.
Set reasonable deadlines
Allow a reasonable amount of time for the RFP process. All too often, the proposal process does not provide enough time for all of the parties to do their best work.
By allowing a consultant sufficient time to create a proposal, you will receive a better-prepared product. And by allowing yourself sufficient time to analyze the proposals you receive, and to thoroughly interview the candidates, you will be able to ensure that you make the best decision.
Jim Hussey is president of Adams Hussey & Associates. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.