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Investor Strategy

Higher Education RFPs: 5 Strategies for Finding the Right Proposal

All institutions have acquired services and products through a proposal of some kind, but in many cases, institutions may be required to set up a request for proposal (RFP) competition to create a fair basis for comparing vendors and solutions. You likely have a good idea of what you want—you’re just trying to validate that decision and/or find the best provider. Or maybe you’re unhappy with your current provider’s performance and you’re looking for a better approach.

Higher Education RFPs
Finding examples of RFPs can help you create a stronger RFP and receive better proposals.

In any case, the bidding process is often accompanied by
more groans than cheers. In my time with RNL, I have never come across a campus
colleague who has been excited or looking forward to the RFP process. From
public universities to private colleges, the RFP process can be long and
arduous—full of paperwork, forms, and yet another committee. Evaluating
proposals and selecting a partner is more often the “fun” part. Writing the request
in order to receive those proposals? Not so much.

Avoid creating a Frankenstein RFP

In my decade of working on higher education RFPs and their numerous counterparts (e.g., RFQs, RFIs, etc.) I’ve managed the process to prepare responses to nearly 1,000 requests. As challenging as it can be to prepare a response, I have come to realize it is perhaps more difficult to develop the RFP itself to:

  • Clearly articulate your business problem.
  • Establish the rules you expect all bidders to follow.
  • List the requirements you need bidders to address to solve your problem.

Doing that takes a lot of time and coordination—but a lot of
resources have gone into the process by this point, so institutions often feel
rushed to issue their RFP.

Like any large-scale project, an RFP is often broken down into parts and written by a committee. And because no one wants to start with a blank page, many RFP creators repurpose previous ones. I call them Frankensteins, because it’s easy to tell when sections of the document were pieced together from different sources. Without careful editing, RFPs can quickly become disorganized, ask redundant questions, and have contradictory requirements. As a result, efforts to prescribe a structure to easily compare various approaches to solve a problem often leave bidders scratching their heads, wondering exactly what you need to make an informed decision.

Remember: The quality
of the proposals you get is commensurate to the quality of your request
, so
you can’t make it too time consuming or cumbersome for bidders to decipher.

Five strategies for receiving better proposals

As former higher education practitioners, many of us at RNL
have been responsible for leading or contributing to an institution’s RFP
process. We’ve learned a thing or two from these experiences with higher
education RFPs as well as in helping our industry colleagues navigate the unique
processes in place at nearly every institution type across the country.

1. Be specific about what you want so you find the right provider

Start by describing the type of companies you’re hoping to
work with on the project. For example, saying you want to work with a
consulting firm isn’t very specific. Saying you want to work with a higher
education consulting firm that specializes in marketing and student recruitment
strategies for regional public institutions? Now that’s specific, and you will
receive proposals from better-fit companies.

Take this one step further by articulating what you want in
a vendor. Most experience? Single source? Lowest cost? Fastest delivery? Highest-quality
staff? Tell bidders what you care about so they can align their proposals with
what matters most to you.

2. Focus on the big picture instead of drowning in the details

It’s important to articulate what you need in the RFP, but
too much detail will lead to proposals awash in minutia of how the work will be
done but that may lack the strategic vision of how the proposed solution will accomplish
your goals. Let the bidders describe their solution—don’t focus on how they
should perform the work. There also may be numerous ways to solve the
issue—encourage bidders to think outside the box and suggest solutions you may
not have thought of yet.

3. Make your timeframe clear

Be up front about your timeline—both for the RFP process and
the project. Mention all key dates from the release of the RFP to the vendor
selection process to project implementation. Give bidders the opportunity to
scope comparable solutions that will be completed within an acceptable
timeframe. You don’t want to spend time evaluating proposals that won’t be able
to accomplish the work when you need it.

Make sure you give interested firms an opportunity to submit
questions. Better yet, host a pre-proposal Q&A conference call, webinar, or
meeting—but not too close to the deadline for proposals. Provide answers to all
questions in the form of an RFP amendment or addendum available to all
interested bidders.

4. Be transparent about your budget

By disclosing information about your budget for the project,
you won’t waste your time and that of the vendors’ with proposals way out of
your range. Providing your budget allows you to get more comparably scoped solutions
that are easier to compare. Your bidders will be competing for what they can
each offer at the same or similar price.

5. Leave time for review and proofing before you submit

Last, but certainly not least, have a third party on campus review, edit, and proof your RFP before you issue it. Check and double check your dates—make sure you’re consistent. Find someone removed from the process who can more easily identify any inconsistencies or issues that will help reduce confusion from interested bidders. And if you are interested in discussing your RFP with the RNL proposal team, please contact us.

Invest in your RFP and you’ll reap the rewards

A well-articulated RFP sets the stage for stronger proposals and more confidence in your vendor selection. Higher education RFPs that address these common pitfalls will alleviate bidder frustration while showing them you are serious about the project, its success, and a partner aligned with your goals and the values of the institution.

Find 60 higher education RFPs in our library

The RNL RFP Library is a great resource if you need to create an RFP. You’ll find actual proposals from campuses on undergraduate and graduate enrollment, fundraising, student success, and campuswide projects. Search for RFP examples that match your needs and make your RFP process a major success.

RNL RFP Library

The post Higher Education RFPs: 5 Strategies for Finding the Right Proposal appeared first on Ruffalo Noel Levitz.

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