We all need suppliers, partners to help us achieve our aims and goals.  And it is important to make sure that you get the right supplier for the job.  To do that you’ve got to make sure that you provide all the information that potential suppliers are going to need to determine whether they want or can do the work that you need done.

© DusanVulic / iStock

© DusanVulic / iStock

Recently in the development sector there has been a trend amongst NGOs to not publish the budget for pieces of work that they need done.  This is apparently to foster greater competition amongst the potential suppliers.  What this means in reality is spending two to three days on a carefully worked out proposal to help a potential client to meet their aims, but not knowing whether your day rate or fee is anywhere near what the client can afford or has set aside for the work.  Together with the trend to not provide feedback, it means that suppliers all over the world are producing proposals in a vacuum.  This is just nuts!

I recently had a few experiences that have led me to believe that both suppliers like myself and clients need to come to a better work arrangement.  I secured a client that really wanted to work with me to improve the quality and focus of their programme evaluations.  They were upfront about how much money was available for the work and reiterated that I was their preferred supplier.  Their budget was much less than I would normally accept for the amount of work and effort that they required.  I worked out a budget that allowed me to maintain the value of my work, whilst fitting within their budget.  It wasn’t easy, but the client was delighted with the results and came back to me for more work.  So it was a win-win.  On another occasion a client would not tell me what the budget was and required numerous budget revisions until I realised the figure and number of days that they were heading for.  It was silly really.  Instead of having an honest, upfront conversation about their constraints, I was led a merry dance until I produced what they wanted.  Needless to say it wasn’t a happy relationship.  Most recently I reviewed a request for tenders for an interesting and important piece of work.  Again the budget was missing.  I requested the budget from the client, only to receive a response that implied that all consultants were dodgy and mislead NGOs in their tenders.  Needless to say I didn’t bother submitting a tender.

So here are a few things that clients and suppliers should keep in mind in this constant dance of proposal requesting and writing:

  1. No supplier worth their salt is going to produce a proposal that does not support the client’s aims and objectives (it’s the supplier’s reputation as much as the client’s that is at stake);
  2. No supplier worth their salt is going to fabricate costs.  Every proposal will be a mix of known actual costs (usually day rates / charge out rates based on known company costs) and estimated costs (usually variables such as flights, hotels, per diems, etc.);
  3. If a supplier does either A) or B) you should not use them, and tell them why you’re not using them.  That’s the only way suppliers will improve (it also gives them the opportunity to challenge you if they disagree, which is only reasonable);
  4. If a client doesn’t release the budget it is trying to drive down prices as low as possible and has no way to measure or understand the value that suppliers have placed on their time, work and experience.  This is just a race to the bottom that no-one wins.

Issuing the budget in a request for proposals means that suppliers know upfront what the financial constraints of the opportunity are as much as the work constraints that the clients.  As one of the authors of Investing in MEL I know that most NGOs never allow enough money to actually do the evaluation that they want or need.  This is not going to change until their suppliers tell them that they cannot tender for work because the budget set aside does not value the skill, effort and experience being brought to bear on the client’s evaluation / strategy / impact needs.

Working with NGOs to help them identify their social impact is exciting, interesting and rewarding work.  When the tendering process (of which I am a fan to ensure everyone gets a fair chance to be considered) is corrupted by unscrupulous consultants and inexperienced clients, then it isn’t much fun trying to change the world.

What are your experiences of tendering for work or sending out tenders for work? What is your best or worst experience of a supplier or a client?  How would you try to change the way opportunities are publicised and awarded?


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