What to Look for in a Fundraising Consultant

How long has the consulting firm been in business? While longevity is not a guarantee of quality, no company can remain in business for long unless it meets the needs and expectations of most of its clients most of the time. Longevity is both an indication of past success and an assurance of future probability that the firm will not only meet your needs, but will also be around to help you after contractual services have been completed.

Fundraising consultants come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Some are one-person, “bedroom” operations; others are large corporations with multiple offices in this country and abroad. In choosing a fundraising consultant, it is important that you engage a firm with depth sufficient to meet your requirements, without paying for services that you do not need.

The expertise of your consultant is a key factor in the achievement of your goals. Your consultant must be qualified to meet all of your needs. This involves much more than knowing how to run a fundraising campaign. The best consultants also understand how organizations like yours work. They understand nonprofit management, trusteeship, finance, marketing, public relations, communications, information technology, grantsmanship—in short, the myriad disciplines that impact the effective operation of a nonprofit organization. It is this broader knowledge that enables the consultant to function effectively within your “corporate culture” and to provide needed services as cost-effectively as possible. Successful fundraising requires expertise well beyond an ability to raise money.

Track Record
In evaluating a consulting firm, you should look carefully at the firm’s track record. How many clients does the firm list? What did they seek to accomplish with the help of the consultant? Did they succeed? How many did not succeed, and why? Every consulting firm experiences failure, often through no fault of its own. It is important that you understand both the successes and the failures of any consultant that you are considering. Talk to the clients. Find out what the consultant promised to deliver, what was actually delivered, and how the client feels about the consultant now. The track record of a consulting firm is very important. Someday your organization could be a part of it.

Your Impressions
Evaluating a prospective consultant involves more than purely objective analysis. Your intuitive impressions are also important. The quality of a consulting firm, regardless of size, is only as good as the person who manages your account. That person must be able to relate effectively to you, your staff, your board, your volunteers, and the wealthiest and most influential people interested in your organization. In interviewing prospective consultants, have you met the person from each firm who would manage your account? How did you relate to that person? Has he or she spent enough time with you to understand your needs, and not simply to sell the firm’s services? The chemistry between you and your account executive can be a key ingredient in your ultimate ability to raise funds.

Detailed Proposal
Before entering into any contractual relationship with a consultant, you should have a detailed written proposal describing all of the services that the consultant will provide, the length of time over which services will be provided, the fixed cost of consultation, reasonable estimates of all major associated costs, and the consultant’s expectations of you. You should not expect commitment to an amount of money to be raised, as this is usually determinable only through a well-administered feasibility study; and you should expect no guarantee that your goal amount will be raised. The consulting fee should be fixed in advance and clearly specified in any contract. No reputable fundraising firm works on percentage. The consulting fee should be based on the amount of time projected for the work, and not on any percentage of either the goal amount or the amount actually raised. The client-consultant relationship in a fundraising campaign is necessarily very close and must be characterized by trust, enthusiasm, and honest communication. The basis for such a relationship is a good contract; and the basis for a good contract is a detailed proposal from a reputable firm with expert consultants.