Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Proposal Etiquette?

The Golden Rule really does matter.

And I don't mean the one about "S/he who has the gold, rules."  I mean the one about treating others in the way you'd like to be treated --- especially when it comes to sending out RFPs (Request For Proposal) for people to respond to, or if you're the institution or person crafting a solicitation.

Several years ago, I edited the Spring 2007 issue of NAME's (National Association for Museum Exhibition) journal, The Exhibitionist, called "The RFP Issue" which was (you guessed it!) all about writing and responding to RFPs.  In addition to a wide range of articles, the issue also included several boilerplate examples of RFPs, contracts, selection matrices, etc.  (Lucky you, it's all online now to download for free at the NAME website.)

In the months I spent re-reading and editing the articles for The RFP Issue, it was disheartening to keep coming back to variations on two common themes:  1) Institutions that sent out literally dozens and dozens (if not hundreds) of solicitations, and 
2) Institutions that never notified respondents after a final selection was made.

Even if you don't feel, like I do, that for the most part, the RFP process is an archaic, legalistic waste of time, why would you treat potential creative partners in this way? (And don't even get me started about the wasteful notion of requiring multiple hard copies of a proposal in addition to digital versions ...)

In the first case, by requesting a large number of people to respond to your RFP, you know that you are wasting many people's time, but even worse, you will not be able to carefully and thoughtfully review such a large number of responses. (Ideally, you should be striving for the smallest number of "best fit" responses possible to your solicitation, not a cattle call.)

In the second case, if people spent their limited time and resources to craft a response, couldn't you or your institution display the common courtesy of sending out a boilerplate email to the groups or individuals who weren't selected?  (For example, "Thanks for submitting, we're sorry you weren't selected, but we look forward to opportunities to work together in the future ..."

This lack of civility happens much more often than it should in the proposal process, especially given the relatively small museum/exhibits community.  Perhaps it's no wonder that one of the articles from The RFP Issue was entitled, "Why We No Longer Do RFPs"

In any event, I hope the next time you might find yourself in charge of an RFP or proposal process, or something similar like a hiring/internship process, that you remember that there are real people involved, and even if they aren't selected, they'd like to be treated with professionalism and respect.

Thanks for considering this.

And thanks for reading ExhibiTricks!