There may come a time when you need a little help, so you decide to hire fundraising counsel.
Fundraising consultants provide all kinds of services – campaign feasibility studies, development assessments, annual giving plans, endowment and planned giving strategies, prospect research, and so much more.
Being a fundraising consultant myself, I could actually write a book on this subject, but today, we’re going to focus on the five key factors for deciding which consultant to hire.
The first thing to do is really narrow down what you’re looking for. Not the specifics of the services so much, but the outcomes. What do you want to have achieved after you’ve worked with a consultant?
You can find good consultants online, through word of mouth, or at professional conferences.
It’s not easy making a selection. And it’s often complicated by the fact that you and your boss and the board may not agree on who is the right consulting firm for your organization.
Before you go too far with soliciting proposals and trying to make a decision, we suggest you reach out and really talk to potential consultants. The best ones often don’t respond to cold requests for proposals (RFPs) anyway. They want to know about your situation in detail and they also want to know they have a true shot at being hired (no one wants to write a custom proposal for you if you’ve already decided on someone else!).
But, most of all, consultants want to know if you are a fit for them, as much as you want to know if they’re right for you.
Whether you issue an RFP and get multiple bids, or just ask the firm that you think is right for you to go ahead and give you a proposal, the ultimate decision comes down to five things:
ONE: The consultant must have relevant qualifications and experience for your project.
You need to be rigorous in understanding the consultant’s expertise in your specific area of need and their ability to provide useful guidance. Their client list, bio, and linked-in profile can help with this. But, the best way to really know if a consultant can deliver is to check references. Ask for 2 or 3 and call them! Have specific questions about the consultant’s style and efficacy. Make sure you ask about the outcomes of the work and whether the reference would use the consultant again.
Tip: Make sure the consultants you’re interviewing are actually the ones you’d be working with if you hire that firm!
TWO: The project scope must make sense for your organization.
There are many ways to skin a cat. You may think a feasibility study or development planning process is pretty straightforward, but different consultants will approach them in different ways. Take the necessary time on the front end to really educate your potential consultants about your needs so they can determine the best approach. Then review their proposal(s) carefully to make sure the work promises to deliver the outcomes you’re looking for.
THREE: You must feel that you’ll get a return on your investment.
Value can’t be measured just by comparing rates and fees. The best consultants aren’t cheap – for a reason. If you have well-qualified consultants with an equally well-defined scope, your organization will be better positioned to achieve its goals and raise more money. In the end, the return should be far greater than what you spent on your consultants. Like any investment, that might not happen in a matter of months, but it should certainly happen over a period of time. Assuming you implement their recommendations, that is! For more on investing in fundraising, check out Leslie’s recent blog.
FOUR: You should have confidence that the consultant will be a straight shooter.
There’s no room in fundraising consulting for sugar coating the realities of what it will take for your program to be successful. You need a consultant that will tell you, your boss, and the board what they need to know, not what they want to hear. Ask your potential consultants for examples of when and how they delivered difficult news.
FIVE: And last but not least, the consultant must be a cultural “fit” for your organization.
It’s simple. You should like your consultant. You should trust them. You should feel comfortable putting them in front of your donors, your staff, your board. They should understand the unique needs of your organization and be able to adapt to them. It should be fun to get together and work on finding solutions.
In the end, a good consultant becomes part of your team. Take your time in selecting the right one for you and your organization.
Oh, and please make sure that the person on your staff who’ll be working most closely with the consultant has a real say in which one is hired!