It seemed timely to dig out a post that I originally wrote eight years ago – since nothing has really changed.
I’m talking about the outdated and ridiculous process of the Request For Proposal (RFP).
(Heads up: sarcasm alert)
Charities need to make sure they are spending their hard raised donations in a fiscally responsible way and therefore must seek out the best possible supplier (price and experience) for every facet of a project or programme.
So really, what could be more responsible than sitting down to write one (or steal one from a colleague) with a bunch of people who believe that a RFP should be very long, as non-specific as possible and sent to every agency you can think of?
You will also want to ask for loads of samples, digital and real, some suggestions for new and innovative ideas (please provide mock-ups and detailed explanation please) and most importantly – do not – I repeat – do not put anything under budget except for: TBD. Bonus points for requesting five year projections based on round numbers and detailed job titles and descriptions of every human that may or may not have a look at your account.
Make sure you’re clear you want a digital copy of the proposal via email, cd or dvd, and also would like a hand delivered, manila envelope with at least – at least!!! – 10 hard copies so every important person in the office can have one. Or two.
Finally, after everyone in the organization has had a crack at your finely tuned manifesto and you’ve spent more man hours than you care to remember putting it together, the happy day arrives and you can now mail it, fax it, email it and spread your RFP all around.
And now… you wait…
Within hours, the proposals start to flood in like some great rising tide.
Look at all of these suppliers who want to help us! Wow! Look at how thick this one is! My gosh, look at the stock this one used – oooooooooo…
The hours, turn to days, turn to weeks (maybe you shouldn’t have put an end date so far into the future) and finally the drop dead day arrives and you can now disregard any more submissions. Whew.
You go into the board room where the office manager has been stacking all of the RFP’s that have come in envelopes, boxes, hand delivered, big, small, perfect bound, spiral bound with business cards, bios, head shots and glossy paper up the waazoo.
Now you need to get a committee to go through all of these – one by one.
This one’s no good, they only sent 9 copies – in the bin…
This one has no title page, which we asked for – in the bin…
This one has 2 staff – and we want them to be at least as big as us – in the bin…
Ah – they used paperclips, not staples – in the bin…
Hour after hour, sorting, reading a whole bunch of stuff that isn’t even close to what you are looking for – but at least it’s obvious you are important – look at all of the proposals you got!
Wow – look at how fiscally responsible we are!
I probably made my point a long time ago didn’t I?
It seems to me, the only reason that a firm should respond to RFP’s is because it is an opportunity to reflect on the good work we are doing for great clients.
Clients who understand and appreciate what we do and thank us for being aware of the bottom line and keeping their projects on budget. Clients who love our creative and what we are bringing strategically to the table. And not one, has ever come as a result of us responding to a RFP.
This process, passed to our sector from the commercial world needs to end. It’s generally wasteful and pointless.
There are a lot of great printers, designers, writers, consultants and firms out there, all of whom can take you beyond where you sit today. All of whom can make how you fundraise – better.
And all you need to do to find them is – a little bit of homework. With a little bit of conversation. That’s it.
Ask some colleagues, research who else is doing work you admire, look online at AFP, google… do some homework.
Even devise a short list of 2 or 3 you believe would be a good match. Call them or email them. Ask questions about how they work, be explicit on your challenges, the stuff that keeps you awake at night, this is what you want to spend. ‘Can you do it?’ ‘Can I see some stuff like this you have done?’ ‘Oh – we should meet quickly for coffee to make sure there is a nice personal fit too – why not?’
Simple but not easy.
I really want you to think about this.