When it’s time to contract for services, design a new building, or make technology upgrades it’s time to issue an RFP – short for “Request for Proposal.” You might want to go with someone you know, but that may not be in your best interest. In fact, you might be locking out the best qualified. And, as too many of us know, failing to issue an RFP means small, local and minority businesses lose a chance to compete.

But, issuing an RFP is work. It takes time and knowledge to craft an RFP that is concise and clearly communicates the goods or services you are seeking to purchase. When you don’t know or aren’t clear you create more work for your organization (staff and leadership) and for vendors who evaluate your request. You can also create a negative experience within your organization and/or within the community you serve.

Here are three management/leadership level discussions to consider before issuing an RFP.

1. Do you have complete buy-in amongst staff, management, board members, and the people you serve or advocate for? Talk to people about your plans and ask for their input. Be open to news you might not want to hear. You may think you need to issue an RFP now, but doing so could cause more harm than good. Is there an external force driving your schedule such as a board mandate, funder’s requirement, or market needs? What are the objections or proposed modifications? Have these been given an open and honest hearing and assess

2. Will you have the time to manage the requested project? Selecting a vendor will take more time than you can imagine. You need to define the scope of work and the criteria used to evaluate proposals. You need a committee to review and rate proposals, conduct interviews, deliberate, and make a decision. It will take even more time to negotiate a contract with timelines and deliverables that both your organization and the vendor will adhere to.

That’s just to get a vendor under contract. Then you need to work with your contractor providing information and guidance along the way. You need check-in meetings; working sessions, review sessions, and more. Map out the time you believe a project will entail and test your estimates with board members and those within organization’s who have already gone done the road that lies before you.

3. Do you have the money to pay for the goods or services? This is critical. Do not go out to bid if you don’t have the money lined up. If you want to know a range for specific services, ask your peer organizations, and ask vendors for estimates. Don’t use an RFP as a way to test market prices: issue an RFP when you are prepared to purchase goods or services.

Finally, be honest – don’t issue an RFP if you are already committed to contracting with a specific firm. That wastes your time and that of vendors who can support you.

Next week: what to include in your RFP.