Monday, August 4, 2014

Evaluating proposal requests

Twice in the last few months prospective clients have asked to have a proposal prepared to answer a request for a bid or apply for a grant. Neither RFP fit the client.

How do you know whether a proposal is a good fit? It's kind of like evaluating whether a date is a potential spouse. Either the chemistry is there or it isn't.

That's not to say that every request must match what you offer 100%. If your date meets every other criteria, would you break up with them just because of hair color or height?  Probably not, unless that was the most important feature on your list.

When you see that RFP, ask yourself if you can meet the  important requirements. For instance, one of the aforementioned clients was a nonprofit responding to a request for proposals regarding a service for low-income mothers. The client's program aligned very closely with the grant parameters, except for one thing. The grantor only funded nonprofits in a specific state, and it wasn't even close to where the client was located.

Even just a cursory look at the grantor's previous award history showed they had never funded anything outside of their geographic area. Nevertheless, the client was absolutely sure that when the grantor read their wonderful proposal, they would break that pattern.

It was never going to work. The grantor was a family foundation with specific ties to a specific state, and they clearly said that their geographic criteria was set in stone. The nonprofit didn't recognize the importance of their location as a deal-breaker.

I politely declined to write the proposal, citing geographic mismatch, eventually found them a grant they could qualify for and wrote that proposal instead.

The other RFP was for a specific type of cleaning service. There were a couple of things that the client didn't currently offer, but they were fairly minor, i.e. they didn't offer floor buffing and didn't have a floor buffer, but other than that, they matched up pretty well. We researched what it would cost to buy or rent a buffer and how long it would take to train someone to use it, fired off the proposal, and it was accepted.

Both of these examples are pretty straightforward. It isn't always that obvious, but the principle is the same. Firing off a proposal just because you can isn't always the right strategy and it could waste a lot of time and money.

It isn't necessary to look for the perfect RFP, but you need to be able to differentiate between what's possible and what isn't. If you can adapt your circumstances reasonably easily to the grantor's requirements, then go for it.

Don't get blinded by a big award or a fat, juicy contract and then find out it won't work out. If you need the money or the job within three months, and the grant or contract won't be awarded for six months, then maybe it isn't going to work for you. Perform a thorough evaluation first.

If you don't know how to evaluate a RFQ or RFP, let me know. I'd be happy to help, either by teaching you what to look for or performing the research. Either way, look before you leap!

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