I will admit that I started writing this blog because we were working on responding to a Request for Proposal (RFP) and I had strong feelings about it. Now that the experience is behind us and we were awarded the project my harsh feelings have subsided somewhat. However, I stand by the words written below because the cost is still high considering the risk involved.
Every year we receive several RFPs from existing and potential new clients. The cost of responding to those RFPs is greater than it would appear. And in many cases is not a fair shot at landing a project. The motive for such proposals is somewhat clear; it is used as a platform to help avoid corruption or favouritism. Having said that, what is wrong with favouritism? If you, as a company, have provided excellent customer service and quality products and have proved yourself time and time again why are you then forced to put together a bid for larger projects? Is this world so corrupt and dishonest that there is no other choice but to put the larger projects out to tender? Could favouritism not be due to outstanding performance and a relationship built on mutual trust?
Some RFPs go so far as to ask for free designs. Would that not be considered unethical? I do not work for free and I don’t’ believe that the company I work for should be asked to potentially work for free either. Designs, or should I say – good designs – stem from creativity, experience and the knowledge and understanding of materials, how they work and fit together and not to mention longevity. After all no one wants to pay tens of thousands of dollars on a product that won’t stand the test of time, especially with the fluctuating and at times harsh Canadian weather. All of that knowledge and experience comes with a price tag and we are continually asked to give that information, our resources, and at times trade secrets, away for free. Is that ethical or just a cost of doing business? Good creative comes from experience. Anyone can slap together a cookie cutter design for a donor wall or area recognition and naming opportunities but distinct, thoughtful design takes a lot more attention and a different approach. Asking a company to provide that as part of the submitted bid somehow doesn’t seem fair and yet if a company decides not to submit then they lose out on a potential job. It just does not seem ethical. Considering that we primarily work in the philanthropic industry, with codes of conduct and ethics stipulated and enforced within the philanthropic world, it seems hypocritical to ask vendors to work for free.
Responding to RFPs is a considerable undertaking for a business and at times draws on the strengths of many working at the company, especially when creative is part of the bid. The business is responsible to take the financial hit which is easy to justify when you are awarded the job, but what about the projects that a company is not awarded, who pays for that? I guess you can only hope that the amount of projects that are awarded to other companies is far less that the amount of bids your company wins. One thing is for sure, until other companies in our industry stand up and say we are no longer responding to RFPs then we will collectively be offering our submissions begrudgingly. At the end of the day I suppose it can be chalked up to the cost of doing business, whether it is fair or not.