“We don’t RFP, we ask for help.”

At a recent meeting of a volunteer non-profit association, one which requires dues of its members, one of the agenda items was announcing the launch of their new website.

We were told the priority was to have a simple, functional, basic online presence.  A few years ago, the previous leadership had also wanted a website.  They put out a Request for Proposal.

It didn’t go anywhere.

At the meeting, the new leader dismissed the earlier attempt, attributing the RFP as part of the failure:

“We’re a non-profit.  We don’t Request for Proposal, we ask for help.”

Read it this way: We cannot afford to do this, we will take the least expensive offer but we’d rather pay nothing.

I cringed.

Before the organization disregards an RFP as the way to solicit proposals, the benefits need to be understood:

The organization can obtain accurate and detailed information on the solution and its associated costs, compare and contrast the benefits of one proposed solution to another, and have some negotiating power.

Working for non-profits, I’ve had vendors try to hook me believing that all I cared about was cost.  Every time, one vendor proposal would be to beat the lowest bid by 10% and provide the exact same service.  When I heard that, they were crossed off my list.  If their initial response doesn’t include substantive inquires that required digging deeper into my business problem, then I know they don’t care about what I am trying to do.

With that approach, I know the vendor is not committed to my mission.

I want vendors who are listening to me.  I want them to ask questions.  In their proposal, if they are able to take what I’ve given them and run with it, then I want to know.

And, that’s the kind of company I want to work with.

That’s the kind of company that is truly helping me.

The volatility of the economy is causing many people to take a “wait and see” attitude.  Justifying every penny spent is going to become important even for larger non-profits.  Calculating ROI will become more important than ever.

It will be a time to show creativity and leadership in demonstrating their marketing strategies are forward-thinking, innovative, and ROI-driven.

Non-profits will need to invest more in search engine optimization and marketing, social media, blog strategies, and making sure their website is built with the most current markup and content management strategies. Only in this way can a non-profit have the highest return possible on investment.

The technology sector knows this.  Just read Mark ‘Rizzin’ Hopkins’ article on Mashable.com, “5 Web 2.0 Businesses That Will Thrive in a Down Economy”:

“The world knows that they need to be on the Internet, they know they can use it to efficiently connect to new and existing customers (something they’ll be wanting to do more than ever, soon), and we have ironed out the ways to do it.  Look at this as our distribution phase. We’ve been innovating for quite a while on the technology side, now we’ll be turning our attention on innovating and making more efficient the business side.”

Now is the time for non-profits to educate themselves and adopt business process standards like Requests for Proposal. Yes, you can still “ask for help”, but you need to know that you’re receiving the right type of help.

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