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September 29th, 2022 By Chris Laskey

In our recent joint Webinar, Altai’s Beth Power and Achurch Consulting Tammy Marko came together for a roundtable discussion on the RFP process. In today’s Market, countless Association Management Software (AMS) vendors are each promising to deliver the best solution for your organization. Navigating your way through selecting a new vendor can be daunting. Hearing the truth about the process from industry experts can help you better prepare and move forward with this process.


What is an RFP?  

An association that is searching for new AMS software may issue a Request for Proposal (RFP) to each prospective AMS vendor. What are your system considerations? What needs are being unmet by your current AMS? An RFP can help you answer these questions. Typically, an RFP includes:   

  • Background Information   
  • Detailed description and goals of the project  
  • Specific Requirements of Project (Budget, Systems, Materials) 
  • Project timeline and deadline  
  • Project deliverables, specifications, and questions   
  • Evaluation criteria of RFPS  

The document outlines what the organization is looking to achieve with its new software. Along with this, the RFP asks for detailed information on the perspective vendor’s systems ability to meet requirements. An RFP can help an organization understand the strengths and weaknesses of its organization while providing a framework for managing the selection of new software.   

Do You Even Need an RFP?   

RFPs allow associations to create and understand their feature assessment list to inform the selection process. The featured assessment could be from how you do events to changing address types, it is one of the most important aspects of an RFP. So, whether it is in the traditional term of an RFP, you still need to determine what your basic guard rails of what you are looking for in an AMS are.   

While not all associations require an RFP, many require it under association policy. From a consulting perspective, RFPs are always encouraged to better understand needs. A detailed RFP can be leveraged in the discovery period because a lot of the legwork is already done! Along with this, RFP can help with understanding what anticipated costs might look like. Whichever way you proceed, make sure to check your by-laws to ensure that the decisions you are making align with them   

Should You Use a Consultant?   

The role of a consultant can address many different facets of the RFP process. Think of a consultant as an extension of your staff, they are here to help you and make your life easier. Consultants can:  

Help walk you through the process.   

Maybe you haven’t selected a new AMS in a long time –or maybe ever! Consultants can help you navigate your way through this process all the way to the down selecting process.   

Save your association time.  

Consultants know that staff are already busy with their job responsibilities. A consultant taking charge of time-consuming tasks such as writing the RFP and responding to vendors will allow more time for staff to be focused on day-to-day operations.   

Understand your association from a technological perspective.  

Consultants can help Identify where your challenges are, what your needs are, and other higher-level requirements.   

Going Into an RFP…  

Communication is essential when beginning the RFP process. Selecting an AMS is not just an IT selection. A new AMS affects every department of an organization therefore It’s important to consider everyone who plays a role in your organization. It’s important to consider who is going to be responsible for making the decision. Talk with your team before to understand:   

  • What features you are looking for  
  • Your pain points- and how a new AMS could help.  
  • What your customers and staff are asking for   

Focus on a core team consisting of liaisons from each of the functional areas of your organization. Ensure that the team stays part of the process, don’t be afraid to lean on them on every part of the process. Engage with staff and volunteers throughout the process.   

A new AMS system can change many aspects of your organization structure, make sure to engage staff involved throughout the process to alleviate stress.    

How to Construct a Good RFP  

Here’s the thing: we all know that most systems are going to address the basic responsibilities of an AMS. While checking the boxes is important, asking too generic questions isn’t necessarily going to narrow down the selection of your vendor.   

Instead of asking Generic Yes/No questions, asking how or why can help you better distinguish vendors from another. Along with this, Tell the vendor why you need specific functionality to help the vendor distinguish YOU from other clients.   

Tip: Write the narrative or scenario that you need to be solved by an AMS. Not only does this frame the conversation, but also can be used in the future for the Vendor for user stories.  

Comparing Apples to Oranges   

So, you got your RFP responses back. What now? Comparing vendors can be tricky and can sometimes feel like comparing apples to oranges.   

When reviewing an RFP response, if you don’t have the specific details of how a vendor will achieve what you want them to- It’s okay. If you feel confident in their ability to achieve your goals, it is perfectly okay to proceed with them.   

So, What’s Next?  

  1. Demos  

After the RFP process, you’ve narrowed down your selections to the vendors that best fit your needs. Next is the demo phase of selecting new CRM software for your organization. Until the very end of the process, it’s essential to have your core team a part of the whole process, including demos.     

  1. Scorecards  

Using scorecards when comparing vendors throughout the entire RFP process can be helpful. While using a data-driven approach narrowing down the selection can certainly be effective.   

  1. Down selecting   

After seeing all the demos, using your scorecards and other selection methods you will be able to narrow down your selection to your finalists. Having a thorough discussion with your core team will allow you to determine what vendor will suit the needs of your entire organization.   

If you are having a difficult time selecting between two vendors, try asking to meet with the implementation team to get a better understanding of those you’ll be working with more closely. This will give you a better understand of the project ahead.  

Once you determine your vendor, your next step is to establish what the contracting phase will look like with your selected provider. Along with this, building a timeline for implementation is essential.   

While navigating the RFP process and selecting a new AMS might feel like an overwhelming task, there are so many resources and help for you. Want to read more? Need more information? Take a look at Altai’s Buyers Guide for in-depth guidance, information, tips, and tricks on making an informed decision on selecting your association’s next AMS.