Open your files and fatten your RFP to receive proposals that accurately diagnose your association's service needs.
     Associations that send comprehensive, informative and uniform RFP packages to qualified association management company (AMC) candidates are more likely to get quality over quantity in the proposals that come back. Withholding information, on the other hand, could be a prescription for disaster. After all, you wouldn't expect your doctor to give you an accurate prognosis if you neglected to mention troubling aches and pains.
     AMC owners understand and appreciate the sometimes confidential nature of information that is being shared. If you feel it will help to clarify, just ask that they put that understanding in writing. Then you can focus on developing an accurate and detailed RFP package and save a lot of time in the process.
     AMCs tend to ask lots of questions in the absence of adequate information. This helps them  determine whether to submit a proposal and, if they do, to ensure those proposals full address your association's strengths, weaknesses, challenges and opportunities.
        If you want to avoid repeating the same answers over and over again for 50 separate AMCs, start by providing one FAQ sheet that satisfies most everyone's basic "need to know" questions. Next, narrow the playing field. Otherwise, you may find yourself wading through 100 boilerplate proposals rather than the 10-15 from companies that match your preferences in terms of location, staff size, scope of services and type of clients currently served.
What to include and why:
        * Association RFP Background Information form from ASAE. You can download this form from ASAE's web site. Once completed, it will serve as your FAQ sheet, providing answers to those frequently asked questions and a bird's eye view of your association.
        * Governance documents, including your articles of incorporation, bylaws, board policies and procedures, duties or job descriptions of officers, board members and committees. Governance documents reveal a lot about an association's corporate culture, purpose, and traditions. They also define the relationships and obligations that exist among board leadership, staff, and members. They may also suggest what role the AMC should assume to ensure fulfillment and compliance.
        * Financial documents, such as your 990, most recent year-end financial statements, current budget, chart of accounts, and so forth. Numbers don't tell the whole story, but they do help fit the pieces of the puzzle together. Don't leave them out. Financial records, properly analyzed, can yield helpful information about an organization's options and challenges. Don't deny yourself the opportunity to gain the insights of experts who crunch association numbers regularly and may well have successfully resolved financial issues for other clients that are similar to yours.
        * Planning documents, reports and summaries, such as the marketing plan, strategic plan, code of ethics, annual reports, and executive summary from most recent membership survey. These documents provide a historical perspective of the association's goals, objectives, core values and member services, particularly crucial to the AMC that may assume responsibility for their implementation.
        * Scope of Work. Spell out the work and services you require. Knowing what special staff competencies or experience may be required and the time involved will ensure the AMC is able to formulate a complete reckoning of your association's needs.
        * Annual work program and calendar. A clear picture of the workload with its time tables and seasonal peaks will enable AMCs to determine whether adequate staff are available to handle the work flow. You may also see interpretations of how these variables will interact in the transition checklist or flow charts provided in proposals.
        * Minutes and committee reports. The most pressing issues confronting an organization are often revealed by its books and records. Sometimes it takes an outsider to recognize them. Be sure to include these important documents. They will add dimension to the analysis the AMC develops of your association's current condition.
        * Board, Committees and Management Staff contact information, including names, telephone numbers and email addresses. Only so much can be gleaned from documents. AMCs will also take into consideration the individual insights of the association's key contacts.
        * Sample copies of your membership materials, including membership application, member prospect kits, new member orientation packets, and program brochures. AMCs will need to determine how extensive or underdeveloped your current membership recruitment and retention programs are. Providing these materials gives AMCs an opportunity to offer suggestions and observations about your marketing strategies and programs.
        * Samples of publications, such as newsletters, magazines, conference programs, membership directories, and so forth. Knowing the quantity and caliber of your current publications will help AMCs determine how to address your publishing service needs. Comparing the ratio of editorial to advertising content in one or more newsletters, for example, may shed light on whether to focus on developing more original copy for articles or beefing up the advertising sales campaign.
        This covers the basic ingredients to include. You may think of other items that would be helpful. In any event, expect at least a few calls from AMCs with additional questions or requests for information. The RFP has done its work, however, if it leads to thoughtful, productive discussions about the association's management service needs. Plus, you have effectively minimized the risks created by misunderstandings and surprises later by providing good information now. And that's a prescription for a healthy relationship with your future management provider.
        By Sammi Soutar, founder of Able Management Solutions; first published in the 2002 AMC Directory by ASAE