This article originally appeared on CSRWire Talkback, as part of a series related to the annual Charities@Work Summit on Employee Engagement in Corporate Citizenship, happening this week in New York City. Director of VolunteerMatch Solutions Seth Thompson shares some tips drawing on his years of experience helping companies navigate the process of purchasing software to help manage their employee volunteer programs.
So it’s finally time to start looking into software solutions to help manage your volunteer and giving programs.
Have you been putting it off due to how much work you think it will be to evaluate and buy a system? Think it’s easier to continue with your Excel program approach than go through a purchasing process at your company? Maybe it’s been a while since you were in the market and you remember not being impressed many years ago with the sophistication and capabilities of the solutions available.
Times have changed and today there are many viable software solutions on the market that can help make your job easier while enhancing and adding value to your program.
One common approach that many companies take toward purchasing software solutions is an RFP (Request for Proposal). RFPs are designed to help companies review what’s available in the market and make a better-informed buying decision. Typically, RFPs for software solutions are structured to ask questions that identify everything from the vendor’s company structure, services available, customer support, security policies and cost.
Making a Plan to Balance Costs and Needs
However, one size doesn’t fit all for today’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs. And if you have never participated in an RFP before it can be difficult to articulate on paper the specific needs you have. You need a plan.
One of the main challenges in the RFPs I have participated in is that often CSR professionals let someone from the procurement department take ownership over and write the RFP questions. That person typically has very little knowledge about what your department’s needs or goals are when it comes to buying a software solution. Their primary concern is making sure a certain number of vendors are reviewed and finding the lowest cost solution.
However, just like hiring someone to do work on your home, the lowest quote you receive is not always the best person to hire. Finding a balance between your budget and feature needs is critical, which is why you must play an active role in the RFP process from start to finish.
Eight Tips to Ensure a Successful RFP Process
- Make sure that you and your team are involved in every detail of developing the RFP questions, format and criteria. Don’t be afraid to push back internally and assert yourself in the process.
- Spend some time speaking with your peers at other companies to find out about their experiences with different vendors. This will help to decide whom to invite to participate by understanding how they work with other companies. You may be able to eliminate some vendors based on the feedback you receive right off the bat.
- Before you begin writing the RFP questions, sit down with your team and identify the top five or 10 must-haves (the non-negotiables) when it comes to a software solution. No one provider will be able to meet every specific need so you have to make sure you understand what is most important to your program. I also recommend speaking with your IT team to learn about any specific requirements they have related to integrating a software solution within your company.
- Once you begin the RFP process, focus on finding the best solution to meet your team’s needs and not be swayed by internal pressures that may arise. Selecting vendors who are best in class for your different CSR programs is vital to your long term success.
- Invite the service providers participating in the RFP to a short introductory call so that they can learn more about your CSR program before they begin their reply. Giving them the courtesy of being able to understand and ask questions about your program will better inform their RFP responses.
- When reviewing the RFP responses, make sure you are making an apples-to-apples comparison of the different providers. Each service provider offers different features and strengths. For example, some vendors charge additional set-up and support fees, while some offer exclusive features and content. All of these can contribute to different price points and value. Create a comparison spreadsheet to make sure you understand what you are getting from each vendor.
- After reviewing the RFP responses and narrowing it down to your top two or three finalists, call some companies you know work with each vendor that they didn’t list as references. These conversations will give you a realistic picture about what to expect and make you more confident in your decision making process.
- Lastly, before making your final decision, take some time to get to know the finalists and their products and don’t be afraid to ask tough questions. A flashy product demonstration is not a good way to evaluate whether or not a product is right for you. Look to find a sales representative who listens to your needs, shares ideas and best practices, provides input, and helps support your buying decision. It’s their job to not only help you understand their product, but to be your guide to making an informed buying decision.
An RFP process can be time consuming and challenging. However, if you put the time into the process you will be rewarded with a vendor that fulfills your service needs and helps achieve your company’s CSR goals.
What are challenges and successes you can share when it comes to the RFP process for volunteering and giving program software solutions?