David, as a board member of the Northampton Arts Council, has recently been helping prepare a RFP for a public art project that will replace a mural at the entrance to the downtown.  During the course of developing the RFP a number of suggestions were floated amongst the Committee about how we could create a public call for proposals that would result in a high quality of submissions, but also be fair to the artists that we are tasked with supporting knowing the non-billable time and effort that goes into a quality submission.  We came up with two ways that we believed would accomplish these goals: a two-step submission process and a stipend for the finalists selected for the final, complete proposal.

Two-step submission process
We decided to employ a two-step submission process; the first step would be to complete a short-form proposal submission that was more akin to a “Request for Qualifications” or RFQ. In the first step artists are asked to submit a short proposal that provides the selection committee with an overview of the project’s concept, approximate budget, artist’s qualifications, timeline, and sketches of the proposed concept.  The selection committee will then review these proposals according to a pre-established scoring criteria and invite the top 3 to 5 submissions to create and submit a comprehensive proposal for the project.

Finalist stipends
The Committee wanted to explore ways of making the process more artist-friendly, and knowing that it is asking a lot from a group that we are both tasked with supporting that is traditionally economically challenged, we investigated ways we could compensate the artists for the time spent preparing a proposal.  We found that, while not exactly customary, it is a common enough practice in public art call for proposals to offer a stipend to pre-qualified submissions. With this in mind finalists will be invited to submit comprehensive proposals to the Committee and will receive the stipend for their comprehensive proposal development.

The Question: Should stipends be provided for a pre-qualified RFP response?
Working with the non-profit Arts Council and offering this stipend had us wondering: should stipends be customary for a pre-qualified RFP response? Is this done in the corporate world?  One of the most common complaints heard from businesses is that they feel cheated by RFPs, that RFPs are a way for an organization to get dozens of companies to provide them with free consulting and spec work at the cost of thousands of dollars of non-billable time per company. After some quick research we found that yes, there are some organizations out there that compensate submitters for their pre-qualified proposals with a stipend, but apparently this was deemed a questionable practice by some.

So what are your thoughts? Should more organizations that issue RFPs be encouraged to run their competitive bidding opportunities this way?