Last week I discussed why I consider the RFP process for hiring consultants to be a waste of time and resources, for foundations and consultants alike. This week, read about 5 better ways to find quality consulting help. Before you send out another RFP to retain a consultant, consider these alternatives:
1. Continuously source and build relationships with consultants. Don't wait until you desperately need a consultant to start looking for one. Ask peer foundations to share their experiences. Create a shared list of consultants who have delivered pleasing results. Ask a consultant or two to help you brainstorm ideas in the early stages in exchange for lunch.
2. Ask colleagues, including consultants, for referrals. Word of mouth truly is the best source. Email colleagues, in your foundation and at others, describing what you're looking for and asking for suggestions. Listservs or directories from funder networks, affinity groups, and regional associations can also provide valuable contacts.
3. Turn to the National Network of Consultants to Grantmakers (NNCG). NNCG's mission is to help grantmakers by strengthening the work of knowledgeable, ethical and experienced consultants. Its free online directory offers a complete national list of vetted consultants in multiple disciplines.
4. Issue a "Request for Qualifications." It's much less time-consuming to prepare an RFQ and review all the responses, and for the consultant to submit a two-page list of qualifications. You'll likely identify terrific consultants who might be good for future needs, even if not for the current project. Keep their contact information (see #1 above).
5. Be open and honest with prospective consultants about what you are doing, what you are looking for, and the stage you are in. If you want some free advice, tell them that, limit their time, and buy them breakfast or lunch. If you need more of their time, pay them for a half or full day to come in and brainstorm and vet ideas, with no expectations of any further work.
If you strongly prefer to use an RFP process (or if you are trapped under your foundation's RFP policy), here are five suggestions to make it as successful as possible:
1. Limit the number of consultants invited to submit proposals. It's easy to become overwhelmed by too many proposals - to the point that you have to completely reprioritize your workload to deal with them. This is a case where less can be more.
2. Talk to prospective consultants early on. Instead of sending an email that says, "You are invited to submit a proposal by this deadline," pick up the phone and discuss the project with your short list of consultants. The conversations can help you clarify your objectives, which will result in higher-quality proposals.
3. Allow prospective consultants to talk with decision makers. A consultant must understand the needs and objectives of the people whose budgets are funding the project and who are making the decisions, to ensure the proposal meets those needs.
4. Don't pretend to know everything about the project. Sometimes you can't determine the specific scope of work, but the consultant can. Focus the RFP on your needs, your objectives, and the critical deadlines. Rely on the consultant to determine the best approach to meet your stated goals.
5. Be open with the consultants you contact. Tell them why you have invited them to apply, and let them know who else is competing for this work. Then they can decide whether responding to the RFP would be a good use of their time and yours.
I'm not saying that RFPs never generate talented, effective consultants. I am sure many of you have terrific examples to the contrary. And I do too. However, I do suggest that instead of turning to an RFP as the default, foundations can check their assumptions about the value of the process, consider the actual human and financial resources involved, and brainstorm other ways of engaging consultants that involve honesty, trust, and relationship building.
For more information, be sure to read the full article at Why RFPs Waste Time - Choose a Better Approach to Finding a Great Consultant.