Strategy Session: Going Beyond the RFP
A primer on options beyond the typical RFP.
You might do better with an RFQ or an RFI. Here’s how they differ and how to decide which you need.
A lot of frustration surrounds requests for proposals, from both the association-executive and consultant viewpoint. RFPs take hours to create and even more hours to answer. Many consultants have decided to simply stop responding to them. Fortunately, other options are available that can save time, money, and headaches.
Within the past year, I have used three different types of requests for projects in different situations:
Request for qualifications. An RFQ is short and sweet and best used to prequalify candidates or companies either before an RFP process or for a small, defined project. It can be a list of questions, tasks, or desired outcomes. I used an RFQ to prequalify consultants for a strategic planning meeting. We knew the candidates that would work best for us, and they knew whether the opportunity was a fit for them. While not everyone who received the RFQ completed it—as it wasn’t a good fit for some—everyone we personally asked did respond, and we were able to quickly proceed with an excellent list of candidates.
Request for information. An RFI is best used when you need to compare information, when you are a small association with limited staff and budget, or when you think you know what you want but are looking for clarification. It can be a project framework or a list of questions, requirements, or needs. I used an RFI when looking for a new AMS vendor. I lead a small-staff association, so it was important to share the scope of my staff, membership, and needs, and I wanted to be able to easily compare qualifications, costs, and staff-time requirements. The RFI was much easier to prepare, and vendors could decide quickly if we were a fit for them before compiling a full response.
Request for proposal. An RFP is the most in-depth process and is best used when you are unsure of how to solve a problem or when your project is massive—such as procuring a new IT provider or content management system for a large association. An RFP outlines the association’s background, project scope, deliverables, timeline, budget, and more. We used an RFP in our search for new financial and accounting services. We’d only had in-house accounting before and were unsure of what to ask for and what an outside firm might be able to offer us.