At a large and growing number of schools, procurement departments now play an important role in commencement preparations. As a graduation professional, it’s important to be familiar with the procurement process at your institution and be actively engaged when products or services needed for your ceremonies are subject to competitive bidding.
What is the purpose of competitive bidding?
Bidding is the process of searching for and securing the most qualified vendor to provide a desired product or service. In rare instances, the phrase "most qualified" simply means the vendor offering the lowest price. More often, however, the phrase also takes into consideration the vendor's experience, references, and methodology towards the work to be done.
How do school procurement policies affect the vendors I need for commencement?
The answer to this question varies from school to school, and is generally based on the financial value of the contract. Many public institutions require at least informal quotes from prospective vendors whenever the contract value is expected to exceed a threshold set by state law or school policy. For high-dollar contracts, a tightly controlled, formal bidding process may be mandated.
As an example, at many schools the cost of diploma covers is higher than what is allowed to be purchased without competitive bidding. As such, their procurement departments may be involved in selecting a vendor to provide this product.
Almost every commencement coordinator relies on one or more vendors to varying degrees. Whether it’s equipment rental, professional photography, the supply of caps & gowns, or even catering, music, and flowers, it’s important to seek assistance from your procurement department whenever there’s a question about the contracts you’ll need for your school’s commencements.
What methods will my procurement department use to solicit bids?
This is where you, as the commencement coordinator, must be proactive. When services and products related to graduation are subject to bid, there are two primary methods used by most procurement departments.
An “Invitation for Bid” (IFB) or "Request for Quote" (RFQ) will be issued whenever:
- You know precisely what you need, and can clearly articulate those needs in writing with no ambiguity; and
- You believe there are no meaningful differences between vendors; and
- You believe the product or service will be the same regardless of the chosen vendor; and
- The best price is the most significant factor in determining a winning bidder.
Rentals for fixtures needed at commencement such as chairs, tents, tables, and platforms are good candidates for the IFB process.
On the other hand, a “Request for Proposal” (RFP) should be used whenever:
- You are unsure of exactly how a need can be met, or it’s important to understand each vendor's methodology; or
- There may be important differences in vendors; or
- The quality of the product or service could be different depending on the vendor; or
- Lowest price or highest rebate at the expense of performance would not be acceptable.
For things like commencement photography, diploma covers, video production services, and even flowers, there can be significant differences between providers. These are highly visible aspects of your ceremony, and their performance is a direct reflection upon you and your hard work. So for these types of services it’s important to evaluate more than just price.
Therefore, if a bid is necessary, spend some time with your procurement department and help them understand your expectations of the vendor and what’s important to you in terms of qualifications and experience.
Make sure your procurement department knows who you are.
Even if the products and services needed for your ceremony are not subject to competitive bidding, it’s still wise to make sure your procurement department knows you, your responsibilities, and is aware of the vendors you currently use.
For starters, some services you may need for your ceremony could fall under pre-existing contracts your institution already has. As an example, if your college has established contracts for large volume printing, your commencement programs may be part of those arrangements. Your procurement department would be aware of that.
Next, many schools have stringent rules on who may contractually bind those institutions. For example, at a small university in North Carolina, contracts are not valid unless first approved by the Legal Department and then signed by an executive administrator. This means the commencement coordinator is unable to secure the services she needs for her ceremony without the help of those individuals. If circumstances like this exist at your school, the procurement department will help guide you to the right resources.
Procurement Guide to Commencement Photography
In an effort to help procurement departments better understand what goes into commencement photography, click here for a free PDF download, or click here receive a printed guide shipped directly to you or your procurement department at no charge.