How to plan an effective request for proposal (RFP)

Is your organization thinking about purchasing new technology, but not quite sure where to start? You’re not alone!

Many associations struggle to take the first step in planning an effective request for proposal (RFP) when attempting to get their board on board for new tech plans and in becoming the catalyst of change for their organization. However, modern technology is a crucial investment for any organization. Recent Community Brands research found that the time for digital transformation is now, with 65% of association professionals and 63% of members agreeing: organizations that don’t transform technologically within the next few years won’t survive. 

Keep reading to discover why investing in new association management software can future-proof your organization and learn helpful tips to plan your RFP. 

How adopting new technology can future-proof your association

Some associations might hesitate to adopt new association management software (AMS) because of the sticker price. Among some leaders who haven’t bought a new AMS in two decades, the price of innovative technology is viewed as prohibitive. In reality, the expense of not investing in modern technology will cost your organization much more. 

Legacy AMS platforms will cost you in product upgrades and complex customizations. You run the risk of losing staff who are fed up with slow technology and broken processes. Members also care about the state of your technology, and if it negatively impacts their member experience they might lapse. Because members use innovative online platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and LinkedIn every day, they expect a similar technological experience from their association. 

Ultimately, investing in new technology can help future-proof your organization, setting you up for a successful digital transformation. According to Community Brands research, majorities of association members and professionals agree that organizations must transform technologically to survive, and that technology is transforming their organization for the better. 

What is a request for proposal (RFP)? 

A request for proposal (RFP) is a document or compilation of documents sent to prospective software providers to determine if they can meet an organization’s technological needs. An RFP is made up of multiple documents including the following: 

  • The RFP section. Where you present basic information about your association, including your current state, pain points, and any high priority changes you’d like to make. You’ll also include a high-level timeline, starting with the date you’re going to send out your RFP to your desired go-live date.
     
  • Requirements matrix. This section breaks down which software features your organization needs. Often associations will leverage an Excel spreadsheet to organize these technical capabilities by individual tabs. Some examples may include reporting, CRM, Artificial Intelligence, automation, and more.
     
  • Appendices. In this section you can include a pricing worksheet, a flow chart of your current software ecosystem, and special information you feel potential software vendors should know.
     

With these three important considerations in mind, you can begin planning your association’s RFP.

If you still have questions about how to plan your RFP, check out our free guide: 7 questions to ask before purchasing new association management software. With the investment of innovative technology, you’ll have the power to transform your association, making it a go-to resource for members and a desirable work environment for staff.

Three steps to prepare your association to buy a modern AMS and plan your RFP 

You can easily remedy the aforementioned hurdles by purchasing a modern AMS. Providing a user-friendly tech experience with automated procedures will boost staff happiness. Offering a personalized digital experience for members where they can easily network will increase member engagement. 

Here’s how to get started planning your RFP to purchase a modern AMS in three simple steps: 

1. Identify why you need new tech

Before you begin your RFP, you’ll need to consider why your association needs to purchase a new AMS. Are you experiencing increased friction in staff processes or are you looking to elevate the member experience? Both younger members and staff will appreciate advanced AMS solutions.

Modern technology can provide an excellent solution to most sources of organizational friction by decreasing your expenses and saving your staff’s time. You’ll want to begin by outlining each of your association’s pain points. Next, you can refine your search for an AMS that targets each critical business issue.

“I think some organizations focus so much on getting the RFP out the door, that they fail to consider the possible consequences down the line of missing the proper preparation steps. However, if you take time to identify your technology requirements and follow best practices, you’ll be prepared to find the best software for your organization,” said Claire Lam, Community Brands Proposal Manager.

2. Work with your board for budget approval

Go to your board with a realistic technology budget in mind and explain why it’s necessary. Understand there is no “one budget fits all associations” rule to live by. Best practice calls to identify your digital needs and allow that to drive the budget, rather than an arbitrary benchmark number. If your board struggles with the budget you’ve selected, help them gain perspective on the importance of choosing the right AMS by connecting it to ROIExplain you’ll lose members and staff if you make the wrong technological choices. 
 
If your board requires further proof to approve your requested budget, get your technology team or board subcommittee involved in the review process to provide additional reporting. Additionally, many tech vendors are willing to work with customers, offering personalized demos that address specific concerns or questions. Sometimes simply seeing the capability of software is the missing link an association needs to get board approval

3. Determine staff skills and resources for the RFP

Create a software evaluation team to guide you throughout your software selection process. Build your team by involving key stakeholders and identifying staff leaders to represent your organization’s technological needs. You’ll also want to ask yourself if realistically drafting the RFP can be an internal project or if you should hire outside help, understanding that the process of researching AMS technology is daunting and that your staff might not have the bandwidth to dedicate to the operation.  
 
While hiring a consultant is an extra step, they will offer invaluable expertise on associations and the current digital landscape. A consultant is prepared to help navigate your association through the process of determining what you need in an AMS. Take time to consider what’s best for your association’s RFP process—assembling an internal team or hiring a consultant—then get to work.

“The level of RFP complexity is discretional, based on the needs of an organization. I’ve seen 2-page RFPs and 40-page RFPs. It’s up to your company to decide how much detail is needed to find your best software fit,” said Lam.

Learn more strategies to create a request for proposal (RFP)

Learn even more strategies to create your RFP. Watch our on-demand webinar today—Beyond budget approval: Next steps for successful software selection.

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