Congrats! You’ve gotten board approval to purchase new Association Management Software (AMS) and it’s time to start the selection process. Writing a request for proposal (RFP) can be a daunting task, but it can be done internally.
There are several key benefits to crafting an RFP before diving into the selection process. An RFP allows you to organize everything that you need in a system in one place. The vendors can answer all of the questions you have in the document, allowing you to see what they do well and where they might fall short. Put simply, it takes the emotions out of the process and ensures that the AMS you partner with checks all the boxes.
RFPs allow you to create clear expectations and get straight answers.
An RFP can be a useful tool for navigating difficult internal conversations around process and strategy by demonstrating all of your organization’s needs in a single document. RFPs create buy-in across departments, allowing everyone a seat at the table to highlight the key wins for their team.
Key Elements That Go Into Writing an RFP
With a document as detailed as an RFP, formatting is key. We recommend a spreadsheet - Excel, Google, your choice. By using a spreadsheet, you can organize each section according to the needs of your association which typically present as departments or programs. Each section should include a space for each of your requirements and a place for the vendor to respond accordingly. Creating your RFP in a spreadsheet also gets rid of the headache of receiving proposals in multiple formats which will make comparing the responses easier.
The Cover Letter
An effective cover letter for an RFP should start with a brief description of what your association does and its mission. Giving the AMS providers insight into your association allows them to contextualize the space you’re in and how you’ll use the AMS.
Next, you’ll want to cover the overall project and goals of switching to a new AMS. Explain what has motivated your association to purchase a new AMS and what organizational goals you are hoping to achieve with the switch. The cover letter is more of an overview, so get to the point. If an AMS isn’t able to help you achieve your goals, they will know from the beginning of the RFP.
Illustrate your overall timeline for the process and next steps. Include the date you’re sharing the RFP, when responses are due, and when you’re going to review the RFP responses in order to make a decision. Make sure to include when your current contract expires so the providers can determine if they are able to successfully implement your project by that date. Including a timeline ensures that everyone is on the same page and keeps the search on track.
Finish out the cover letter with the best email address to send proposals to and the date by which they should send it.
For many, the most overwhelming part of writing an RFP is deciding what to put into it. An RFP should be as detailed as possible, so lay everything out on the table.
Association management software is central to your organization’s operations and a big investment, so it’s important to select a suitable partner that you can trust. Here are some important questions to cover:
- How many years have you been in business as an AMS provider?
- How many clients do you have?
- What does your implementation process look like at a high level?
- What kind of technical support is offered?
- What does the training process look like? What types of training do you offer?
Alongside the organizational questions for the providers, you’ll also want to ask more specific questions about the system:
- How does the AMS handle updates?
- Is there an additional cost to upgrade when new features are added?
- What are your service level agreements?
- How do customers participate in shaping the product roadmap?
- How often do you release fixes and new functionality?
Next, you’ll want to do a deeper dive into your association and the features that will benefit you. Start by outlining how many members you have and if your association has chapters or committees. Share any events or programs that your organization hosts as well. By including this information, the potential providers will be able to better quote you on a price and understand how you’ll be using the software.
Make sure to ask about the system’s ability to integrate with the apps and tools you are already using. Create a list of all the apps you want to be integrated - homegrown and third-party - then confirm with the vendor on the price to integrate. Some providers charge for integrations, and some come built-in.
From there, craft a list of “must-have” functionality in an AMS. These are non-negotiables that an AMS has to provide for your association to run. Go through each business function for your organization and include everything that you need in the system to complete that job and best serve your members. This is a great time to assign the requirements-gathering to the heads of each business function so you can understand the needs and nuances deeply. By involving more members of the team, you’re really building that buy-in by representing their needs in the search.
After you’ve identified the must-haves, write down your nice-to-have features. These are functions that you could live without, but might make your processes easier nonetheless. AMS providers can differentiate themselves when they not only check off all of your must-haves but include some of your nice-to-haves as well.
By ranking your requirements in order of importance, your team can better prioritize needs throughout the search.
So they’ve answered all the questions about functionality, but how much is all of this going to cost? Make sure to request a quote for the purchase. To get as detailed of a quote as possible, ask for all fees such as implementation, licensing, and integration to be included.
Be sure to consider additional costs such as customization fees. If a provider cannot meet one of your requirements and offers to build a custom solution for the need, ask for the project to be scoped out before accepting the quote.
If the quote includes a multi-year contract, note the percentage increase in licensing fees year-over-year.
Sending the RFP
Now you’ve done the hard part. It’s time to sit back and wait for potential partners to come back with their proposals. Then, you can get your team together to review them and decide which platforms to further evaluate.
Emma is the Marketing Manager at Rhythm. When she's not thinking about all things content-related, you can find her traveling or shooting 35 mm film.