A few weeks back I got an email with a request for proposal (RFP) from an organization I’ve wanted to work for since I was about six years old. This is a world-class nonprofit with a mission that doesn’t just sing to me – it roars.
They were looking for someone to do a research department audit, which is one of the parts of my job that I just love.
Meeting with the prospect development team and frontline fundraisers to learn about their goals…making sure the teams have the skills, human resources, and tools they need to achieve their goals…benchmarking them against similar nonprofits…making recommendations…mentoring…
So much collaboration, and learning, and advising, and sharing. So much incredibly important two-way communication.
As much as it kills me, and as much I’d love to work with them, I won’t be responding to their RFP. I’m following the lead of a growing number of respected fundraising consultants who are saying no to responding to RFPs.
Why? Because this RFP shared some common terms of engagement I’ve seen in several other RFPs I’ve gotten lately:
- “No telephone inquiries.”
- “We won’t be taking questions – send a bid based on the following parameters…”
- “Email questions to this address by 5PM on Friday; we will respond to all questions in one large email sent to everyone.”
- “Based on this [three-paragraph] description of our nonprofit and fundraising office, provide a bid answering the following 32 questions detailing your assessment methodology.”
The kitchen remodel
Imagine a pair of homeowners who need to have their kitchen renovated. They email the kitchen store or a general contractor and say:
“Give us a bid for remodeling our kitchen. Attached is a one-sheeter to guide you. You can’t come by and measure the space. We’ll need the bid in a week. Don’t call with questions – email them to this address and we’ll answer all contractors together in one email. We’re not going to tell you how much we want to spend – you tell us what our budget is.”
That’d be crazy, right? They’re about to spend a ton of money! They want the end result to be the best possible option – a modern, efficient working and living space at a reasonable price. Not giving the contractor enough information to create an informed, reasonable bid for their ideal kitchen is a recipe for disaster.
And what if the contractor turns out to be a total jerk or a slob? Maybe they were great on paper (or the cheapest bid) but once the contract is signed the couple have to live with this contractor in their house for weeks and weeks.
On the flip side
Or let’s say they’re the gold standard of contractors. They have exactly the skills the client needs, but when the contractor receives the RFP they might not bother to respond, thinking that the client is sending out loud signals that they would be uncommunicative or uninterested in collaborating.
If someone has already stated right up front that they don’t want to talk, well…I think the vendor should believe them.
It’s a no-brainer – we should get rid of RFPs altogether
None of us provide those kinds of terms with any other professional we consult with in our daily life, so why would we do it at work?
And as fundraising professionals, isn’t vetting prospective partners what we’re (supposed to be) really good at?
Any consultation is about mutual trust, communication, and collaboration between the consultant and client. It may be my loss, but that request for proposal in my inbox will go unanswered.