Who’s Allowed to Be Honest?

fallen tree in a pasture

One of the observations that has fascinated me the most over my years of consulting is this question: Who’s allowed to be honest?

What do I mean by that?

Well, let’s flip it around.

Have you ever hired a consultant for your association?

The answer is probably “Yes.”

So then you’re likely familiar with the phenomenon of: In her report, the consultant includes something that you or someone else on your staff has been pushing for months, maybe years, and it’s been like the proverbial tree falling in the woods with no one around to hear. But all of a sudden, when the consultant recommends it, there are all these people standing around saying, “Hey! Did you just hear that tree fall down?”

And there are reasons that The Powers That Be in your organization are more willing to listen to the consultant. She has experience with multiple association clients. She’s done research. She’s “objective” (well, none of us is truly objective, but she at least has no vested interest in a particular outcome).

But it’s still frustrating, right?

I know, because I’ve experienced it myself as staff and even written about it previously.

As I wrote in that post:

A lot of associations complain that our volunteer leaders are disengaged or make unrealistic demands or just don’t understand the reality in which we operate. But is it our fault?

What I meant by that was: When staff does tell leadership, particularly volunteer leadership, the truth, when they give their most accurate assessment of a situation and their best recommendation for a course of action, what happens?

Who’s allowed to tell the truth? And, perhaps more importantly, who does your leadership (paid and volunteer) actually listen to? And if staff are repeatedly ignored or even punished for sharing those assessments, particularly when it’s bad news, and providing those recommendations, what happens?

Remember: Whatever behavior you reward is what you’re going to get more of.

Alternatively: Show me what you reward, and I’ll tell you what you value. 

I’m not trying to put myself out of a job here, but your staff members at ALL levels know things leadership doesn’t, see things senior leadership isn’t privy to, and have good ideas. But if you’re constantly shutting them down, don’t be surprised if they disengage or decide to take their talents elsewhere.

Photo by Andrew Yu on Unsplash

Your Meetings Suck

bored looking blonde woman wearing glasses sitting in front of a computer

But they don’t have to.

I don’t mean your Annual Meeting, of course. If that sucks, you have MUCH bigger problems. I mean those 2 hour snooze-fests where 50% of your staff sits there on Zoom/Teams/WebEx “multitasking” with their cameras off, while one person blathers on and the other 50% thank The Powers That Be that they were spared attendance.

And this problem has gotten MUCH worse since the pandemic, with the ease of scheduling virtual meetings and everyone’s increasing comfort with video conferencing tech.

A few of my favorite tips to help your meetings ROCK!

  1. Informational meetings. DO NOT have them. I mean it! If you don’t have questions to ask that require the active participation of  multiple people to answer, send a memo. Send an email. Start a Slack thread. Send a gorilla-gram. But DO NOT send a meeting invitation! “This meeting could’ve been an email”? DO NOT PASS GO, DO NOT COLLECT $200.
  2. Participants. Have the right people – and ONLY the right people – in the Zoom room. Do you have more than one representative per department involved? Unless there’s something truly unique about their individual perspectives, maybe don’t invite both of them. Don’t invite people just to cover your ass, or so their feelings won’t be hurt. Their feelings will be MORE hurt by spending 30+ hours a week in meetings they didn’t need to attend in the first place.
  3. Agenda. Have one. Even if it’s a regularly scheduled meeting. Especially if it’s a regularly scheduled meeting, which tend to quickly devolve into informational meetings. In fact, if it’s a regularly scheduled meeting and you have no agenda, CANCEL IT. And if your agenda has more than about three items per hour of scheduled meeting, you need to cut back, because you will NOT get through everything. And think twice before scheduling a meeting that’s more than an hour. People can’t concentrate for that long.
  4. Questions. Remember the no informational meetings rule? You should walk into any meeting with a list of questions you need the group you’ve gathered to discuss and, perhaps, answer. After all, if you’re just conveying information, you sent a memo, right? And if you just need one person’s thoughts, you went to that person and talked to her directly, right?
  5. Listening. Who should do the majority of the talking? If you say, “Me Me Me! It’s all about me!”, review the above point. You’re there to ask questions and facilitate discussion. That means less talking, more listening. And make sure you’ve asked someone you trust to take notes, because it’s really hard to facilitate a discussion AND take good notes at the same time.
  6. Action Items. Gathering a bunch of people for an hour or two is expensive. Next time you’re sitting there online with your Brady Bunch squares, do a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation of the salaries+benefits (which are generally about 1/3 of salary) of yourself and all the other squares. Then ponder the opportunity costs for a moment – what ELSE could those people have been doing? You better make damn sure that when you leave, everyone knows what her marching orders are and when they’re supposed to be fulfilled. Sending a follow up email to all the meeting participants with “this is what we all agreed we’d do, this is who agreed to do each thing, and this is when we agreed it would be done by” earns you a gold star.

Got any favorite tips to convene like a rockstar? Share ’em in the comments.

Photo by Magnet.me on Unsplash

Dump the Performance Review!

five yellow stars on a pink and blue background

We all know that one of the top reasons people voluntarily leave their jobs is bad management. Bad management can express itself in a variety of ways: the infamous “one person screwed up/took advantage of the organization so let me send out a cranky email to everyone setting up a Draconian new policy,” the capricious boss who takes out bad moods on staff, the micro-manager, the boss who never, ever backs staff members in confrontations with volunteers or members, the boss who plays favorites, the boss who doesn’t give enough direction or support, the boss who only knows how to give negative feedback, the narcissist, the boss who’s terrified of making a bad decision and so makes none, the boss who’s totally impulsive, etc.

We can add the boss who uses performance reviews as an opportunity to bludgeon staff to that list. Why do annual reviews have to be like this?

I like the idea UCLA’s Samuel Culbert proposes as a solution: If someone has a behavior, attitude, or productivity problem, don’t wait until review time to address it. Address it right away!

I’d add: If performance isn’t a determinant of pay in your organization (i.e., everyone’s getting a standard 3.7% raise or whatever), don’t pretend like it is.

What if annual reviews were viewed, first and foremost, as an opportunity to formally recognize all the good work each staff member has done in the past year and thank them for it? Not that you don’t want to thank them along the way, but what if this were the time to pile up the loot, so to speak, and acknowledge it?

What if reviews were used as a time to look back at the goals each person set for the year and assess what happened? Which ones were met? Exceeded? Which ones weren’t met, and why? Many times, there are very good reasons why goals weren’t met – they were discovered partway through the year to be no longer relevant, other more pressing things that weren’t anticipated came to the fore, some critical prerequisite wasn’t met, they weren’t realistic in the first place, they just got delayed/deferred, etc.

What if, in talking about any behavior/attitude/productivity issues that need addressing, the focus was on coming up with a plan to address them together (staff person, manager, team, organization)?

What if staffers had a chance to tell managers what they need from the managers or from the organization to be successful? What if staffers had a chance to, without fear of repurcussions, offer positive and negative feedback about their managers? To their faces?

What if reviews focused on setting goals for the coming year, and what each player (staff, manager, team and organization) needs to do to make them happen?

What if salary was a minor part of the discussion? What if some of the rewards offered were non-monetary?

In other words, what if reviews were a positive, open, friendly, useful process, in which BOTH sides got to give and receive positive and negative feedback, and the focus was on working together to set and achieve good goals and address any obstacles that might get in the way?

If your association were to throw out how you review people and start from scratch, what would that look like?

What really constitutes effective feedback at work, both positive and negative? What would your ideal performance assessment system be? What rewards, financial and non-financial, are most meaningful to each of your staff members? How do you know? 

Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

2: Strategic Planning v. Strategic Thinking

silhouette of a person wearing a hiking backpack hiking in the mountains at sunrise

We’re almost at the end of the revisiting of the top ten all-time Spark blog posts in honor of Spark’s tenth anniversary!

Coming in at the #2 spot: Strategic Planning v. Strategic Thinking.

In the original post, I highlighted Henry Mintzberg’s well-known Harvard Business Review piece “The Fall and Rise of Strategic Planning,” in which he encourages us to focus on creating dynamic, flexible visions of the future that accommodate disruption and allow us to rapidly respond to emergent trends.

In other words, do 100% the opposite of what we usually do in strategic planning.

Now, I mostly do *membership* strategy for clients. But every once in a while, I have an organizational strategy project. When I do organizational strategy, I use Appreciative Inquiry methods to try to help my clients switch from a strategic planning (static, rigid, episodic, fixed) perspective to a strategic thinking approach. And it is generally a HARD mental and organizational transition for them to make, because we’re all so accustomed to the “traditional” way.

But as so many of us saw during the pandemic, the traditional way of planning fails us, and it fails us SPECTACULARLY when a crisis hits.

One of the things we learned is that we CAN rapidly gather information from our members and other stakeholders and use that to create minimum viable product style tests, then take what we learn from those tests and use it to create the next iteration of that MVP, or to change directions entirely. And the world doesn’t end if the original thing isn’t perfect, or if we do have a make a small – or big – change in the next round.

Now this mostly happened in the context of events and professional development, where all of a sudden, our traditional way of going about the business of associations was unavailable to us. But we can apply those lessons we learned, about focusing on the journey, about becoming deeply curious about our members’ and other audiences’ daily challenges, about being inventive and responsive in providing solutions those challenges, both outside event planning and outside a global pandemic.

If we’re willing to change “the way we’ve always done it.”

Are we?

Photo by Mukuko Studio on Unsplash

Being Responsible About Research

In this final post celebrating the launch of Caveat Emptor: Becoming a Responsible Consumer of Research, I want to talk about why this matters.

Why do association execs need to develop discernment about research, both as consumers and sponsors? Why do you need to have at least some familiarity with research terms? Why do you need to understand the benefits and drawbacks of various types of research methods?

Quoting from the monograph:

It’s important for associations to get this right, both so that association executives have the best possible chance of making good decisions about how to invest limited association resources to generate the best return for members, and because associations are viewed as trusted, unbiased sources of information for the members and other audiences we serve. It’s incumbent on us to provide quality research products so we remain worthy of that trust.

As a reminder, the whitepaper also includes:

  • An interview with Dr. Sharon E. Moss, co-editor (with Sarah C. Slater) of The Informed Association: A Practical Guide to Using Research for Results, on ethical practices in research.
  • An interview with Dr. Joyce E. A. Russell, The Helen and William O’Toole Dean at Villanova School of Business, on developing discernment in assessing research.
  • An interview with Jeff Tenenbaum, Managing Partner at Tenenbaum Law Group PLLC, on avoiding antitrust liability.
  • Case studies with the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy, the Association of American Medical Colleges, the Casualty Actuarial Society, and IEEE.
  • A plain English review of key research terms, and a brief explanation of the rules of formal logic (and how they affect research work).
  • Recommendations for books, articles, websites, podcasts, and courses you can use to improve your research skills.
  • A series of thought questions for you to use to spark discussion with your team.
  • An extensive list of resources in case you want to dig deeper on any of the topics addressed.

My co-author Polly Karpowicz and I are in the process of arranging additional opportunities to learn more, including a webinar with Association Insights in Old Town in April of 2023 – more information to follow.

In the meantime, get your free copy at https://bit.ly/3SYJiAO, no divulging of information about yourself required.


Formality Is Not Always Good

Formality Is Not Always Good

Associations tend to default to a formal tone in communications. It feels safe. It can be hard to nail being appropriately funny, and no one ever got in trouble for being excessively formal, right?

Well, no.

A colleague recently shared some “tips” that had been sent to presenters for an association virtual event by the virtual event provider. The goal appears to have been to help the presenters look and sound good, and at least some of the points they made were useful ones about lighting and keeping your energy up and reducing distractions. All valid.

The problem was the tone. In an effort to sound “professional,” the vendor sounded condescending.

Further, as any Black woman can tell you, “look professional” has often been weaponized in racist ways to criticize hairstyles that are protective for natural hair and to “other” anyone who isn’t a cis white man. Also, “ladies, wear makeup.” C’mon, man!

The backlash caused a large problem in a small organization, with at least one board member resigning, people pulling papers from the event, and calls to stage a competing crowd-sourced event on Zoom.

What if they’d made the same points with a little lightness of tone?

For example: “Unless you’re going for an ‘I’m in the witness protection program’ vibe, make sure your lighting is coming from in front of you (not overhead or behind).”

Or: “It can be hard to keep your energy up in an empty room. Maybe invite your pet to be your audience?”

Or even just a simple: “We’ve all been in the situation of thinking something was out of camera range when it wasn’t. Remember to do a visual check before presenting to make sure all appears as you’d like it to.”

Or, even better: “We know a lot of you now have a lot of experience with presenting in a virtual environment. Share your tips to help your fellow presenters have a good experience at….”

In short (something I write and talk about a lot): be a real person with your members, not Business Writing 101 Bot.

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

On Resolutions

Writing goals planning worksheet

It’s that time of year, when we all think about what happened last year and what we’d like to do differently in the next.

Two observations:

First, 17 years ago, I realized that “lose 10 pounds and become a better person” was a terrible resolution to make, which is why I never kept it.

So I resolved to resolve differently, choosing resolutions that are fun and about something I want to learn or try. I even wrote and performed an IGNITE session about it.

Since then, I’ve always kept my resolution, and I’ve added a bunch of fun things to my life and repertoire. I’ve seen and done a bunch of cool things. I have my motorcycle license. I know how to mix a damn fine cocktail and bake a damn fine loaf of bread. I can play poker, and I know how to box (and am starting to train to spar).

This year, I’ll be learning Spanish. Not necessarily “reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez in the original” Spanish, but I’m hoping to get to “conversing at a second-grade level” Spanish. Classes start in a month.

Second, taking time out to assess is critical for your career and your association, too.

Every January, even though it’s just me running Spark, I leave town for a formal business review and planning retreat. I look back at the previous year and how the business performed against the goals I set for it and for myself, thinking about and measuring what went well, what didn’t, and what I need to do differently in the coming year. I then set the goals against which I will measure myself the following year.

Organizationally, associations are perpetually short-staffed and under-resourced. Because of that, we’re bad about setting aside time to debrief, to review our efforts after a project or campaign concludes, to see where we succeeded and where we failed, think about why that happened, and document what we want to do differently next time.

(This is why, even when clients don’t opt to keep me on retainer for campaign implementation, I always include a post-campaign debrief meeting in client projects. Just call me your accountability buddy. Even if you opt to run it yourself, we are going to sit down at the end of the campaign and talk about – and document – what you learned, so you can improve the next time around.)

This “short-staffed and under-resourced” situation affects our careers, too.

Busy association execs can get so caught up in running from one fire to the next that we never stop to think about our own career goals and path. It’s important to have goals for yourself, for your own career, whether they are short term (“I’m going to attend at least one conference just for my own professional development this year – no speaking, no presenting, no committee work, just learning”), medium-term (“This year, I’m FINALLY going to earn my CAE/PMP/CMP/etc.”), or long-term (“I want to be an association CEO, so I’m going to find a current association CEO who is willing to be a sponsor for me to help me move closer to achieving that goal”).

January might not be the right time for you to do this, either personally or organizationally. But you need to find the time that works and make this a regular practice. You won’t regret it.

Photo by Isaac Smith on Unsplash

What REALLY Drives Success for Your Association?

Information overload – we all experience it personally, every day, with our emails and social media feeds and online media and print media and broadcast media, and that’s hard enough to manage. But in 2016, our associations ALSO struggle with information overload. We have many rich sources of data about our members, our other audiences, and our operations that we can mine in a dizzying variety of ways, so many, in fact, that it can be almost impossible to separate the signal from the noise.

On July 19, Trevor Mitchell (American MENSA) and I had the opportunity to address this topic for DMAW’s Lunch and Learn series, presenting “Defining and Using KPIs for Measurability and Success.”

We started the hour-long webinar by talking about the importance of discovering what REALLY drives success for your association. It’s not always the most obvious thing. For instance, in associations, we often focus on member count, and up is always good, right? But if you have a limited universe of potential members, or you’re recruiting marginal members that lead to a lot of churn, maybe constantly increasing membership isn’t actually a KPI for your association – maybe something like market share (that is, what percentage of your overall universe is involved) or member share (that is, how involved are your existing members) would be a better choice.

We also covered the four key categories of KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), the siren song of vanity metrics (and how to avoid it), and the importance of measuring what really counts, all illustrated by Trevor’s stories of MENSA’s journey toward identifying their KPIs and using them to drive decisions and create change.



I’ve Looked at RFPs from Both Sides Now – Part 2

Reposting this (slightly edited) Thanks for Playing classic, because this topic has come up recently on ASAE’s Collaborate online community.

Clients aren’t the only ones who could use some advice to make the Request for Proposal (RFP) process go more smoothly. Over the years, I’ve seen plenty of good, bad, and ugly in vendor responses, too. To that end…

RFP Dos & Don’ts – For the (Potential) Vendor:

  • DO proofread! The client is probably not going to discount your proposal because of one or two typos. Probably. But one or two typos per page or serious grammatical problems lead people to question your attention to detail, your competence, and frankly, your intelligence. Even small shops usually have at least one person who’s a good editor. Have her give all your proposals a once over before they go out the door. If you’re the one in a hundred shop that doesn’t have anyone on staff who can copy edit, hire somebody.
  • DO call the client. The RFP process is kind of like dating. Signing the contract is kind of like getting married. You should get to know each other better before making that commitment.
  • DO be accessible. When the client contacts you, take her call. Answer her email. Call her back. And do it quickly – not two weeks from now. Yeah, you’re busy – she’s busy too. But don’t make her call out the FBI to find you if she has a question. However…
  • DON’T hound clients. If she tells you she’ll be letting all the vendors know one way or the other on Friday, don’t call her Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and twice on Thursday “just to check in and see if you have any questions.” Just don’t.
  • DO respect the process. Assuming the client read part one of this two part series, she probably wrote a pretty good RFP that includes information about the timeline and decision criteria. Subverting the process by going around her to her boss or her staff is a BIG no-no. If she says the proposal deadline is Friday at 5 pm ET, have it to her by Friday at 5 pm ET. And if that’s going to be a problem, don’t wait until Friday at 4:53 pm ET to ask for an extension.
  • DON’T talk about what your competitors do or don’t do. Nine times out of ten, you’re wrong. Even that one time that you’re right, it’s petty and doesn’t reflect well on you or your firm. When a client is reading your proposal or talking to you, she cares about what you can and can’t do. She’ll worry about your competitors if and when he talks to them.
  • DON’T send the LONGEST possible proposal. DO send the SHORTEST possible proposal that answers the client’s questions and addresses her needs. She’s probably reading four to six (or more) of these things. If they’re each 50 pages, that’s 200-300 pages. She’s not even going to remember who’s who by the end! Edit, edit, edit!
  • DO skip the boilerplate marketing fluff. She’s seen it. Everybody says they’ve got the greatest widget since sliced widgets were invented. It just pads up your presentation and wastes trees and time.
  • DO have good references in the market. Sure, the client’s going to call your reference list (aka, Your Carefully Chosen Group of Only Your Most Blissfully Happy Clients EVER), but if she knows what she’s doing, she’s also going to ask around. Three glowing references don’t help you if the ten other clients she finds through her own network all hate you. Remember: as long as your price is in the ballpark and the client is confident you can do the work, she’s buying based on relationship, personality, and reputation. Make sure yours is sterling.
  • DO make sure the client can open your files. You know what doesn’t cause problems? PDF. And if you send over your proposal and don’t receive an acknowledgment that the client got it, drop her an email without attachments or give her a quick call to make sure it arrived. She asked for your proposal. She wants to get it. If it’s stuck in her spam filter, she wants to know. It’s OK to check. Really.

What’s the common theme? Relationship. We’re about to enter into a relationship. You don’t start a dating relationship by refusing to talk to the other party, withholding information, and putting them through a lot of silly, unnecessary tests (and if you do, odds are you’re single), and you don’t want to start a vendor relationship that way, either.

I’ve Looked at RFPs from Both Sides Now

Reposting this (slightly edited) Thanks for Playing classic, because this topic has come up recently on ASAE’s Collaborate online community.

In 18+ years in association management, I’ve been on both sides of the Request For Proposal process more times than I can count. My very first Big Task at my very first association Real Job way back in 1997 was to complete an association management software system selection. Which, of course, included writing an RFP (after I met all the vendors, but that’s another post). As a consultant from February 2007 – May 2009 and running Spark since August 2012, I’ve seen it all: the good – the bad – the ugly. You name it, I’ve written it, seen it, or responded to it.

I’d like to think I’ve learned a few things along the way. The MOST IMPORTANT THING I’ve learned is don’t do an RFP unless outside forces (i.e., your boss or board) are conspiring to force you. If you’re on board with that, you’re done. Skip the rest of this post and go get yourself a margarita, with my compliments.

Much like a heavily scripted demo, RFPs take a lot of time and energy to write, you invariably forget important elements, and you make it too easy for vendors to make it appear like they fit your organization and needs, whether they actually do or not.

However, if you disregard my warning or can’t opt out and go ahead with an RFP anyway, there are some steps you can take to make the process less painful for everyone involved.

RFP Dos & Don’ts – For the (Potential) Client:

  • DO allow vendors a reasonable amount of time to respond. If you send out an RFP and demand a response in 3 days, non-desperate-for-business vendors are probably going to pass. That’s not nearly long enough to read and absorb all your information, talk to the internal team who would be involved in your project to get their input, schedule a call with you to confirm that we understand your needs, and write and edit a coherent response. So the only responses you’re likely to get will be from vendors who aren’t busy. You know how they always say, “If you want something done, ask a busy person”? Same thing holds for choosing a vendor.
  • DON’T send out a 50 page RFP. Give your prospective vendors some background on your organization, the problem you’re looking to solve, key requirements of the solution, your time frame, your decision-making process, your ballpark budget (more on that below), and your contact information. Finito. If that takes 50 pages to convey, you have bigger problems. And DO make your proposal easy to read and process. You love bullet points? EVERYONE loves bullet points.
  • DON’T forbid vendors to contact you. You’re just shooting yourself in the foot. The best vendor/client situation is a partnership that develops into a long-term relationship. “You aren’t allowed to call me, and if you try to, I’m going to disqualify you,” is a fairly adversarial way to start. And you’re going to receive lower-quality largely boilerplate proposals as a result. Or a bunch of proposals that completely miss the point.
  • DO share the questions that one vendor asks with all the vendors who received the RFP. Just because one vendor didn’t think to ask it doesn’t mean knowing the answer won’t help them create a better response.
  • DO focus on your needs and problems, but allow the vendor to propose the solution. This will help you evaluate how well the vendor thinks through your problems rather than just parroting your solution back to you.
  • DO your homework. DON’T send your RFP to 37 vendors. There’s no way 37 different vendors are even potentially a good fit. Send it to four to six carefully chosen vendors who are REAL candidates. Yes, that means you need to pre-qualify your vendors. Yes, that also means you’re actually going to have to talk to people. But if a given vendor starts pestering you mercilessly, doesn’t that tell you something important about her? And wouldn’t you rather know that now than six months into a project that’s rapidly going south?
  • DO be realistic about your project time frame. Maybe that means you have to stand up to your board or take some heat from your boss, but vendors really have done enough of your type of engagement to have a good sense of how long it will take. If a vendor tells you it’s going to take six months to complete your project, she probably knows what she’s talking about. Trying to force it into three months only results in a sloppy process, shallow research and thinking, and rushed decision making.
  • DO acknowledge the responses you receive. How else will your prospective vendors know their carefully crafted documents didn’t get stuck in your spam filter?
  • DO be up front about your process and keep your prospective vendors informed. If you’re running behind in your specified schedule for vendor selection, let them know (that way they don’t start pestering you if the vendor notification deadline comes and goes and they haven’t heard anything from you). If you chose someone, let the losers know (that way you don’t stay on their weekly tickler list FOREVER, with the result that you end up afraid to answer your phone). Yes, these can be difficult conversations to have, but we’re all supposed to be grown ups here and this is business.
  • DO try to provide a ballpark budget. And if you don’t and a prospective vendor asks you about it, DON’T get huffy. She’s not trying to cheat you – she’s trying to make sure the level of effort she’s proposing matches your expectations. “Research” can mean two hours on Google, or six months flying all over the country to meet in person with all your members. Those don’t cost the same amount of money. Sometimes, she’s even trying to figure out whether she should propose at all. If her normal budget for a particular type of engagement is $20K, and your ballpark is $100K, you’re probably looking for a bigger firm. This isn’t an attempt to spend every last penny of the budget you’ve allocated. Really.
  • DON’T just automatically throw out the low bid and the high bid. Yes, that is a decent guideline, but before you discount those vendors, talk to them and see if there’s a good reason they’re high (you were thinking Y level of effort and they proposed Yx2) or low (they really want your particular organization as a client and are discounting their normal rates).
  • DO make sure your team is lined up in advance. Most vendors don’t have a huge bench of staff just sitting around waiting for your project to go/no go. They have to schedule their people, too. And if you’re telling a vendor you’re going to start a huge project on October 1 and you want to move fast and get it done, she’s going to reserve time with all the relevant staff and turn down other work for them. And if you then on September 30 tell her that, oops, you forgot to check schedules and three of your four core team members are going to be out of the country for the next three weeks and then after that, your key internal stakeholders will be fully booked because it’s four weeks from your annual meeting, she’s going to be annoyed. That is not a good way to launch a partnership.
  • DON’T hide information. Yes, you want to represent your organization in the best light and you don’t want to air dirty laundry before strangers, but if there are significant internal political considerations or there’s about to be a major re-org, your prospective vendor need to know. You’re not going to want to put that in the RFP, but it would be a great topic of conversation when she calls you to discuss your RFP and your needs. And DO include baseline information, particularly if the engagement is about more (members, website visitors, volunteers, donors) or less (processing time, costs, use of staff resources).
  • DON’T make vendors jump through dumb hoops. Don’t tell them what fonts, margins, etc. to use. If you really need five printed, bound copies of all the proposals FedExed to your Executive Committee, fine. But don’t make vendors do that just to see if they will.

Got anything good I missed? Leave it in the comments.