You are on the board of a small nonprofit looking for management services or a meeting planner who needs some help promoting/planning your next meeting. How do you get help?
Whether you are seeking greater efficiencies and economies for your independent association or annual conference, a change of your association management company, or have reached the point in the association’s evolution when you need to hire professional staff, the initial step is to develop a request for proposal (RFP). Developing an RFP that will attract just the kind of management your organization needs is critical to accomplishing your strategic goals.
Half the battle is knowing what you want. The other half is communicating it.
These are tips were prepared with association/meeting management services in mind, but can apply to any RFP process to get the services your organization needs.
Who prepares the RFP?
The best way to begin is to form a small task force or search committee of involved members who are knowledgeable about the work of the association. Often, when work is divided among a number of volunteers and committees, or is delegated to staff, it may be difficult to define exactly what’s involved in the management of the association on a day-to-day basis. Ask people who have been recently involved to participate in the task force as well as past and future leaders.
What does the RFP include?
First, association management companies will want a profile of the organization. A good starting point is to obtain the “Request for Association Information” form developed by ASAE. This form asks many of the questions that AMCs need to know about the organization, including:
* Is your organization incorporated? If so, in what state?
* Is your organization recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as tax exempt? If so, under what code (i.e. 501 (c)(3), 501 (c)(6))?
* What is the purpose of your organization?
* What type of organization is it?
* Board composition?
* Details on committees.
* Who is currently managing the association?
* How many members do you have? What are the categories of membership?
* What is the potential number of members available in your profession or industry?
* What is your total budget? What is the present dues structure?
* Describe your governance structure. Attach an organizational chart if available.
* How often does your governing body meet?
* Does your organization have a strategic plan? Goals?
* What are your most urgent problems or concerns?
* What are the most significant accomplishments you wish to achieve through a management transition and what do you feel is a reasonable time frame in which you would expect them to be achieved?
* Other profile information that will help the AMC understand the scope of the association’s activities and programs.
Be realistic. Avoid “wish lists.” Rather, describe the essential services your organization requires, areas where volunteer time and talent are not being contributed, and areas where the expertise of a professional in association management is needed.
Be specific. If you ask for a proposal to “manage our annual conference,” AMCs will require a great deal of additional information, such as duration of the conference, format, number of attendees, number of programs, specifics on social events, details on exhibits management services to be provided, and publications associated with the event. A similar level of specification will be required if you request a quotation for “publishing the newsletter.”
Include samples, whenever possible, of your newsletter, convention brochure, membership directory, operating budget, trade show brochure, and bylaws. Remember, you can’t provide too much information.
What is the deadline for responding?
AMCs will want information on process and deadlines. A reasonable amount of time for the AMC to respond to the RFP is typically four to six weeks.
What bidders need to include with the response?
You should request a list of references, a company profile, and background on the staff to be assigned to the association.
How will the selection be made?
Often the search committee will select two or three final candidates to be interviewed by the full board. Give the date of the final interviews, the date the decision will be made, and when prospects will be notified. Include the name of the individual who will respond to questions.
Who should receive the RFP?
Many associations wish to contract with a management company that manages associations similar in size or in industries similar to theirs. The business of managing an association, however, requires a body of knowledge unrelated to the industry or professional practice of the organization’s members. More important than whether the company “speaks your members’ language” is its level of experience in association management—including expertise in nonprofit tax and regulatory issues; governance structure and volunteer relations; and such legal issues as foundations and subsidiary corporations, generation of non dues income, and chapter relations.
Following these tips will lay the groundwork for getting quality proposals and help bidders better understand your organization's needs and wants.