The Consultant and the Association Exec Should Be Friends

Eons ago (actual time: four years), I wrote two  blog posts on the topic of consulting and RFPs. They’re still among my most popular posts ever.

I got thinking about this topic again recently for a few reasons:

  • I just got my shiny new ASAE Buyers’ Guide, which includes an article on the RFP process.
  • There’s been some chatter lately on some of the Collaborate communities about the RFP process.
  • I just submitted a proposal in response to an RFP that asked for my “project management methodology,” aka, my approach to managing the consultant/client relationship (which I thought was a damn fine question).

As the title of this post states, the consultant and the association executive should be friends (bonus points if you get the Oklahoma! reference). One side has expertise to offer, the other side needs that expertise periodically (but not continuously, which is why you’re hiring a consultant rather than another staff person), what’s the problem?

The problem, often, is that we fail to follow the golden rule. Rather than treating each other as we ourselves would want to be treated, we behave badly.

Consultants can be overly aggressive and too “sales-y.” We are sometimes guilty of hounding execs, acting boorish, discounting organizational culture, and being far too convinced of our own brilliance.

Association execs have been known to issue “spray & pray” RFPs to everyone under the sun, a huge waste of time and energy on both sides. They waffle. They refuse to talk to consultants and withhold information. Some of them have been known to steal consultants’ intellectual property, or give (higher priced) Consultant A’s (perhaps overly detailed) proposal to (lower priced) Consultant B to implement.

People! We have to work together here!

And that’s that point: the consulting relationship is just that – a relationship. A partnership. The proposal process is like getting dating. Signing the contract is like getting married. And you both want your marriage to work, right?

Consultants provide a lot of the intellectual capital in association management, some of it for free, some of it for pay. Association execs are our clients, and our partners in creating change. And both sides are vital members of the community we all love. Because, as Jamie Notter is fond of reminding us, it’s all about love.

Or to quote myself, from that ancient RFP blog post:

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 consulting relationship that way, either.