Working With a Fundraising Consultant

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By F. Duke Haddad

Fundraising consultants are individuals who provide independent advice and support in developing and/or executing strategic, operational plans, according to Fundraising Crossing. Their main goal is to achieve fundraising targets, objectives and aspirations. Fundraising consultants may be individuals, employees of a company or individuals belonging to an association of individuals. The ideal consultant will have a degree in business, arts, marketing or communications; previous fundraising experience; strong communication skills; and proven experience in budgeting and managing money, plus strong organizational skills.

Zippia Career notes that many consultant skills involve working with corporate donations, capital campaigns, annual funds, databases, major gifts and general nonprofit organization administration. In its research of consultants, 45% had bachelor’s degrees and 41% had master’s degrees. Many consultants started their careers working as an executive director of various nonprofits, development directors or as consultants. Females represented 53% of the total survey respondents.

When thinking about working with a fundraising consultant, understand that these individuals should be professionals with the knowledge, abilities and experience to help you reach a variety of fundraising goals. According to Fundly, a fundraising consultant can help your nonprofit by finding fundraising software, give you a fresh perspective and ideas, help to research your supporters, train your board of directors, map out your fundraising strategy, create a donor stewardship plan, conduct an executive search and audit your development program. Consultants know what questions to ask and answer. A fundraising consultant can help direct a strategy and provide plans to enhance your fundraising performance.

When determining when and how to hire a fundraising consultant, Averill Solutions advises you to search for the right fundraising consultant. You will need to determine what type of services you want the consultant to deliver to you. Ask peers for recommendations, do research and build a list of possible consultants. Choose a fundraising consultant who can meet your team at its experience level. Pick a consultant with experience conducting prospect research, directing capital campaigns, directing annual giving programs and understanding the moves management process. The consultant must have a successful track record working with organizations of similar size to yours. Choose a consultant who is the best fit for your team and design a comprehensive selection process.

Aly Sterling Philanthropy provides 12 essential tips when hiring a fundraising consultant. These are as follows:

  1. Determine your nonprofits needs and goals.
  2. Understand the services fundraising consulting firms offer.
  3. Get familiar with the process of hiring a fundraising consultant.
  4. Use your network to ask for fundraising consultant referrals.
  5. Research fundraising consultants online.
  6. Choose consultants who mesh with your nonprofit.
  7. Request a fundraising consulting firm proposal.
  8. Ask for and check a fundraising consultant’s references.
  9. Review fundraising consultant proposals and make changes.
  10. Sign a contract that meets your expectations and excites your team.
  11. Make regular communication a top priority.
  12. Trust your fundraising consultant’s advice.

A consultant is a partner to your organization, and you should work together to achieve your common goal. The Fundraising Authority suggests three tips for successfully working with a fundraising consultant: figure out what you want, be open and honest with your consultant and find a great consultant and trust them. If you are paying them for their knowledge and ideas, use it.

Salsa Labs suggests that you should answer several internal questions before racing to hire a consultant. You need to weigh the pros and cons and decide if the cost of hiring a consultant is worth the expense. Make sure when hiring a consultant, you determine if you want to hire a local or remote professional. Local consultants have additional value in knowing the local landscape and having connections. Understand that each consulting firm is unique and has different capabilities. Some firms have numerous consultants while many firms consist of one-person shops.

I have worked with many consultants through the years. I must say my track record is mixed. I have worked with small, medium and large firms. I worked with local, regional and national firms. I have also interfaced with several consulting firms as an employed consultant. For the past 11 years, I have been president of my own consulting firm.

As a result of my experience, here are my tips for working with fundraising consultants:

  1. Be concerned with the “bait and switch.” The seasoned professional may make a beautiful pitch to your organization for consulting services. When it is time to have a consultant work with you, a young rookie is assigned to your organization. This eventuality provides little value to you and costs you plenty, as you think you are paying for the senior professional.
  2. Consider hiring locally if possible. These consultants know your organization and understand the community you serve. They should know the community players of wealth and how to deal with community foundations. They can give you a value add.
  3. Use the time for a consultant wisely. Do not sign up for long-term contracts. Make sure you are getting value for services. Have the consultant train your staff, administration and volunteers on fundraising principles. If you are the CDO, you especially want the consultant to have a great relationship with the CEO of the organization.
  4. Make sure you are ready for a capital campaign and challenge the consultant feasibility study results. You may need more time for a campaign or want to divide the campaign in phases so you do not bite off more than you can chew. Do you really have the top five to 10 campaign gifts in your pocket?
  5. Make sure you have the dedicated time to work with a consultant on a continuous basis for a specific duration of time. Always ask yourself, especially if you are seasoned and experienced, do you know more than the consultant. Ask yourself if you are continuously obtaining new knowledge and insight from them. If the answer is no, quit paying them.

Working with a fundraising consultant is complex. Be careful what you wish for and employ the use of consultants wisely. Not all consultants are created equally. Do your homework and thoroughly research a consultant and their firm before agreeing to work with them.

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