3 Tips for Successfully Working with Fundraising Consultants

I often get asked about best practices for non-profits that are interested in working with fundraising consultants. As a fundraising consultant, I definitely see the value in consulting for organizations both small and large. Yet, far too many non-profits aren’t sure about how to get the most from a consulting relationship. If you’re using a fundraising consultant, or are thinking about it, here are three tips for maximizing the value of the consultant to your organization:

1. Figure out What You Want

If your organization isn’t sure what type of help it needs, a consultant isn’t going to be able to properly assist you. Good consultants will work with you, before you hire them, to narrow down your wants and needs into a defined project.

Spend time thinking through what type of fundraising help your organization needs. Are you looking for someone to help you write a fundraising plan? Do you need a consultant to boost your major giving? Are you trying to find someone to help you with your events, direct mail, or other tactics? Are you looking for a capital campaign consultant?

Next, speak with the consultant(s) you are thinking about using to let them know what you’re looking for. Spend some time on the phone or in person hashing out and refining your goals for the project, and be sure that both you and your consultant have a clear picture before you sign on the dotted line.

2. Be Open and Honest with Your Consultant

Far too many times, non-profits will hire a consultant to help them, and then hide some of their major problems from the consultant, out of embarrassment or fear. Don’t make this mistake!

For example, I knew one organization that hired a consultant to help them boost their major donor giving, but didn’t tell the consulting firm that their most recent development director had soured their relationships with major donors by often flaking out on meetings, not returning calls, and repeatedly lying about the financial strength of the organization.

The consultant spent hours planning a major fundraising campaign based on what she knew about the organization, and didn’t find out about the problems caused by the previous development director until after meeting with the first group of donors regarding the new plan. The plan the consultant wrote had to be scrapped and re-written to accommodate the current state of the organization, which needlessly delayed the launch of the major donor campaign by over a month.

When you hire a fundraising consultant, be honest about your organization, warts and all, so that the consultant can provide you with maximum help in the minimum amount of time.

3. Find a Great Consultant – and Then Trust Him or Her

When you are looking for a consultant, find a great one… someone who knows their stuff, and whom you can trust. Then – let them do their thing. Don’t hire a consultant because they are so knowledgeable, and then poo-poo their suggested strategies at every meeting. If they know what they are doing, let them help you.

Of course, you can discuss the recommendations of your consultant, and if they seem outlandish (or possibly unethical), either reject them or do some more research into the issue. But, for the most part, if you are paying for a consultant’s knowledge, experience, and ideas, use them!

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