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Request for Proposal: You Asked for What?
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Minnesota Community Living July/August 2011

Request for Proposal: You Asked for What?

By Sara Lassila, CPA

As the Chair of the Home Owner Training Track Committee, I would like to share a few thoughts with you about the topic of Request for Proposals (RFPs), which is the topic for our August Bare Bones Basics for Boards program.

Let’s face it, human relationships change hands primarily for one reason: someone does not feel appreciated. The problem becomes finding the right fit to replace the old relationship with one that will be better. Although money is always an important element, if you do not receive the services you bargained for, you probably paid too much. Low price and low cost are not interchangeable terms.

This is a lot like dating after a divorce. For example, I recently received a RFP that sounded a lot like this.

"Dear CPA,” it started. If the person sending the RFP cannot even learn enough about me to know my name, how do you think this relationship is going to turn out? It’s like a guy who decides to send a love letter to 100 different women addressed, "Dear Woman…” and then he crosses his fingers hoping one of them is actually desperate enough to keep reading.

The RFP referred to me as a "bidder.” Of course that tells me that I was specifically selected for my abilities, reputation, people skills and good looks. Based upon this endearing first impression along with the generic greeting, I imagine every CPA firm listed by the State Society of CPAs got the same letter. So now I think my new client is not all that picky. Wrong again!

There are disclaimers. The proposed client reserves the right to accept some, all, parts or none of my proposal. Of course, the client may also add additional work such as bi-weekly progress reports to the Treasurer and separate "fraud, waste, illegal acts” (or indications of any such activity) including all documentation which I shall submit to them in a separate written report, for free. Also included in my duties as their new auditor would be to provide a replacement reserve study, for free of course. And no mention is made about whether they’ve considered if I will still be independent to provide an audit opinion if I am performing these various non-attest services for their Association.

I was also expected to perform other tasks that were clearly outside the scope of an audit engagement and frankly the lawful ability of a CPA – such as reviewing signed contracts to establish clear goals and unambiguous terms with their contractors. It isn’t my job to fix all the poor management decisions the client may have made because they are unwilling to pay those who could have helped them avoid problems before signing contracts. In addition, new bids for my services will be solicited no matter how well I perform, every five years unless they decide to go out for bids sooner. And of course to win this prize of a client, I must be willing to work for less money than everyone else and under a timeline that was severely limiting. So limiting, in fact, that the limitations could have been considered a scope limitation so that an audit could not performed properly.

Did I mention that the RFP did not include any financial information about the Association? I couldn’t even determine if the financial statements were auditable or not. Can you imagine if my husband had presented me with terms such as this as his good idea of a Pre-Nuptial agreement, thinking it will help to court me into a serious relationship with him? The closest he would have ever gotten to holding a bride in his arms would have been at a dollar dance at some friends’ wedding.

The fact is, we enter into professional relationships in much the same way we enter into personal relationships. Although there are more reasons a professional relationship may dissolve, the number one reason both relationships change hands remains the same. Either one or both parties feel unappreciated. There is a right way to approach a prospective business partner so expectations of all parties can be managed and everyone can be reasonably satisfied with each other. However, if you send an RFP that is not written well for your specific Association’s needs, is too demanding of services, dictates the time allowed to complete the work, or includes freebies you think you deserve from the recipient, your RFP will go in the trash.

A well written RFP can be a great way to find the right professional fit for your Association if you should need to replace a relationship. CAI-MN is offering you an opportunity to learn what information to include in an RFP to gain you more positive responses from potential service providers. I invite you to attend the next Home Owner Training Track Meeting at the Sheraton Bloomington on August 17, 2011 at 6:00 p.m. The topic will be how to create a great request for proposal that explains your business needs while communicating the benefits of doing business with you. Your RFP should draw good people to your Association instead of repelling them away. Pre-registration is required; this seminar is free to all Association homeowners and Board members.

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