By Brian Smith – Business Development Representative
Considering the range of functionalities that association management software (AMS) solutions offer – from membership engagement and event management, to finance operations and product inventory administration – the evaluation and selection process can be truly exhaustive. There are also numerous packages that you may be new to the market since the last time your organization shopped around. Instead of losing valuable time looking at each vendor individually, many nonprofit leaders are now choosing to develop a request for proposal (RFP).
One of the great things about an RFP is that it allows for the vendors to come to you and showcase their system, while giving you the opportunity to quickly weed out ones that are not a good fit. More importantly, it provides your association with structure to make assessments and a deadline to follow through on.
But what should be included in the RFP? What questions should your AMS selection team ask that will ultimately lead to the final decision? It’s not an exact science, but the following suggestions can be helpful when deciding who makes the final cut.
Start at the Beginning
Before creating the RFP document, your first task should be to determine whether this project will be handled in-house or by a third-party management consulting firm. Find out if any of your staff members have experience with RFPs. They can provide the perspective needed to help you streamline the process.
The next step should be to evaluate your current technology environment. Are you looking for a complete overhaul? Or, would minor tweaks on top of your ecosystem do the trick? If you use Microsoft products, it’s more than likely going to be an easier transition with a vendor that utilizes the Microsoft Dynamics 365 platform.
Once those decisions have been made, you can get to the real work. For starters, it’s a good idea to provide an overview of your association. It gives vendors an idea of the association’s history, and where it sees itself going. Perhaps the vendor works with similar clients and can share their project experiences, too.
Functional Requirements & Goals
What does your association need? Do you want a cloud-based or true cloud solution?
This is where you can go into as much detail as you see fit. For many nonprofits, this will include customer relationship management (CRM) capabilities, membership reporting, accounting and finance, marketing and email communications, online shopping, content management integrations, meetings and events, education and outreach, government affairs and data migration — just to name a few. You can see how quickly everything adds up. Don’t panic. It can be cumbersome, but the more detail you include here, the more assured you will be when the time comes to sign the contract.
Feel free to add a “wish list” of your ideal AMS, too. This can include technology modules that might not be urgent for you now, but will be necessary in the future as your association grows and expands to other markets.
Like Rome, AMS solutions are not built in a day. It takes time, and your RFP should reflect that. Provide a hard deadline for when the RFP should be submitted, along with timeframes for when you would like to see demos. Leave extra time for any follow-up demos as necessary.
It also doesn’t hurt to include your fiscal year as well as dates for large meetings or annual conferences. It gives vendors an idea of your schedule and when to best communicate with you.
Make sure that you inform potential vendors how you would like the RFP to be submitted (PDF, Microsoft Word document, etc.) as well. Otherwise you’ll end up with a bunch of different formats, making your evaluations slightly more difficult. Keep things consistent.
Let’s face it, pricing is likely the most important deciding factor when selecting an AMS. Your board of directors approved a budget, and it is expected to be adhered to.
Don’t be afraid to ask what is included in the quotes that are submitted to you. Do you have to pay regular upgrade fees? Can you easily add and remove staff licenses to the system? Are integrations with third-party productivity applications included? What kind of consultations are provided?
If answers to these type of questions are not clearly stated in the proposal, there’s a good chance that there will unexpected costs down the line. Be transparent about your expectations.
The purpose of the RFP is to obtain pertinent information from vendors that will ultimately allow you to make an informed decision. No two associations are exactly alike, but no matter if yours is big or small, professional or trade, your RFP should include all of these items.
Keep the line of communication open with outside consultants to ensure a smooth process if your association decides to go that route. They won’t be able to help unless they fully understand what you need in an AMS.
If selecting an AMS is on your radar, check out our free webinar. We discuss what to expect and best practices to handle the process.
About the Author: Joining Protech Associates in 2018, Brian is responsible for sharing the tremendous benefits of Microsoft Dynamics 365 with member-based nonprofits. Brian previously worked in event management, and also wrote grants for program funding at a local Maryland nonprofit organization.