Why Do You Need a Fundraising Consulting Firm?
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12 Needs a Fundraising Consultant Could Meet
by Jeff Jowdy
When and why should you hire a fundraising consultant?
We find that the most successful nonprofits — across the spectrum from higher education, to health care, to social services and beyond — understand the value of strategically securing additional insight, an outside perspective and resources when needed.
Most of these organizations have boards that give appropriate leeway to the CEO and senior staff to engage experts as needed and allowed in their budgets.
Disclosure: If you didn't realize, I am a consultant and lead a team of consultants.
However, I have run a campaign with and without a consultant. After inheriting a campaign without appropriate research, planning and execution, I hired a consultant for the organization's next campaign and saw the incredible difference. Our investment in professional fees was one of the best investments I have ever made.
After working with a large national consulting firm, I returned to the client side to run a major fundraising program. When we looked at campaigns, I hired a consultant. When we needed to jumpstart an endowment, I hired a consultant. These investments paid rich dividends for the organization.
Recently, a good and well-meaning friend asked me why someone would hire a firm like ours. This friend had led a significant capital firm and served in higher education leadership roles.
Then, another friend at breakfast lamented about consultants who just hang on forever.
I did not take this personally; I've seen it myself — consultants who do not realize or aren't competent enough to drive campaigns to success or who put their self-interest before the client's interests. A properly planned campaign needs to have an appropriate timeframe — from sunrise to sunset.
For example, last year I was visiting with a friend who led a foundation at a medical center. Their consultant had been in a campaign with them for about five years. The goal? Only $10 million. She had recently convinced them to extend the campaign by several years and raise the goal to $12 million when they had yet to meet the original goal! A few months ago, I wrote about throwing a fundraising penalty flag. This was one of those times.
So, why hire a fundraising consultant?
1. You need an outside perspective. Research should be a vital part of any planning process, especially fundraising planning. Research conducted internally, by its nature, is biased. You need unbiased, third-party research.
2. You need a plan. I am amazed at the lack of planning I see — even for major campaigns. A fundraising plan should be appropriate for the project. As projects grow in scope and sophistication, you will benefit from the expertise of an experienced consultant.
3. You need expertise. Expertise can be classroom or other intellectual knowledge, but it needs to be honed with real-world experience. (Note: If you are considering a consultant who doesn't firmly outline their real-world — not consulting/speaking/writing — experience, beware!) Most nonprofit CEOs may only lead one or two campaigns in their career. Some chief development officers may never lead one. Many consultants have years of successful experience. (For example, I have led at least one campaign every day of my life for the past 30 years.) This expertise could be in campaign skills, fundraising communications, planned gifts, grant writing, major gifts, direct appeals, prospect research, board development and more.
4. You need accountability. Everyone needs accountability — I do! I have an incredible coach, plus an advisory board, a wonderful team, many mentors and colleagues, all who help hold me accountable. Focus is magical and without it, fundraising and especially campaigns languish. A great consultant will provide the CEO, CDO and others accountability.
5. You need to get the attention of leaders. I saw it firsthand. Consultants I retained during my time in development have shared with the CEO and board some of the same thoughts I had… but they listened to the consultant.
6. You need to build confidence. This is similar to gaining attention. Sometimes staff and volunteer leadership — and even donors — need to understand that they are capable of raising a lot more money and that there is a strong roadmap to that outcome. This can also apply to circumstances that impact their fundraising, such as giving them confidence to deal with staff or board dynamics that need addressing.
7. You need to re-energize a situation. This can be a plan, a campaign, staff and even a board. Fresh eyes and new energy can be very effective at times.
8. You want to grow exponentially. Many organizations grow consistently each year in fundraising. Sometimes the situation calls for exponential growth and you need an expert to facilitate that growth.
9. You need additional resources. Beyond the insight, there are times when you just need more resources — more staff — and don't want to add full-time employees. By utilizing consulting services, you won't have to scale back staff following a campaign or other major program.
10 . You need strategy. It is all about strategy. Some folks know it, and some don't. I've seen tenured fundraising professionals and even many consultants who just don't understand the big picture or the nuances of strategy. Having the right discernment to analyze data, evaluate circumstances, create a plan, coach on the plan's implementation and knowing how to address those inevitable challenges — and opportunities — requires someone who gets strategy. You may, frankly, need that.
11. You need training. There are so many solid conferences and an overabundance of information on the internet. You and your staff may need training or coaching. If you can handle this internally, do it! If not, bring in resources.
12. You need assessment. Sometimes you need to bring in an outside and unbiased perspective to look at a situation, whether it be to determine appropriate goals, performance, staffing levels or even specific staff or volunteers.
The right consultant at the right time can be transformational for your fundraising program. Utilize them as appropriate and always consider the balance of internal and external expertise and resources. And after discerning the need, be sure that you and your organization are open to following their counsel to maximize your investment.