How to Choose a Fundraising Consultant
Like any other industry, not all fundraising consultants are created equal. So how do you find a consultant/firm who will be a great fit for both your organization and the project?
From a macro level, the best fundraising consultant for your organization will not only deliver on their scope of work, but will also teach your nonprofit organization new strategies to make fundraising sustainable in the long term. That way when the engagement ends, your staff and board feel empowered to carry on.
The best fundraising consultant will also recognize that your organization has its own unique culture, mission, and structure and will create customized solutions that make sense for your nonprofit.
Starting the search for the best fundraising consultant for your nonprofit can be daunting, especially if you’ve never done it before. Here are some tips to help you get started:
Determine your needs Before you begin your search for a fundraising consultant, it’s important to have a good sense of what your organization needs from a consultant - even if it’s to help you figure out what you need! This is where details really matter. Do you need help with strategy and planning? Implementation? Are you looking for a 6 month engagement, a year, or longer? Does the consultant need to have specific skills or experiences in order to understand the work? Thinking these things through will help you develop criteria for evaluating consultants that are right for your needs.
Develop a budget It may sound obvious, but you should have a budget for a fundraising consultant before you start looking for one. Ask peer organizations for guidance on this if you don’t have a sense of the prevailing rates in your area.
The good news is that you definitely do not need to hire the most expensive firm to get great results. In fact, when you work with a large firm, you sometimes pay top dollar to work with junior consultants, and will also be paying indirectly for their overhead. On the other hand, you also don’t want to hire the cheapest consultant. And don’t expect to pay your fundraising consultant a percentage of what is raised! This is not considered ethical, according to the Association of Fundraising Professionals.
Whatever your budget, remember that a fundraising consultant is an investment in the long term growth and sustainability of your organization. A great consultant will be honest about what they can do within your budget and help you prioritize to get the highest return on your investment.
Network A great way to find a fundraising consultant is to network - with your staff, board, and peer organizations to see if they have recommendations. This will also help you get a sense of how much to budget for the engagement. You can also look on the resource pages of your local nonprofit association or do a Google search of fundraising consultants who serve your area. Well-established consultants will have a website.
Create a process Before you launch your search, you should develop a process for how you’ll conduct your search. Who will help make the decision? How many consultants will you interview? What criteria will you use to evaluate the pool? What is your desired timeline?
Some nonprofits use a formal RFP (request for proposal) in their search process, but if you have several good referrals, you can have a discovery call with them, ask them to submit a proposal for the scope or work, and then invite two finalists to have a formal interview.
If your organization chooses (or must) use a formal RFP, in it you’ll want to provide a brief overview of your organization, the project, the scope of work to be performed, the process, and any specific information you require. Be prepared to have discovery calls with interested consultants before they submit a proposal. And be respectful of everyone's time. If your RFP format is too rigid or onerous, many in-demand consultants won’t respond.
Evaluation Ideally, you’ll have an opportunity to connect with consultant candidates twice - once when you have a short discovery call to discuss the scope, and again when they are interviewed for the engagement. During these interactions, we recommend evaluating:
Direct experience/expertise in the work to be performed
Years in business
Approach to the project
Organizational fit and commitment to your mission
Experience working with organizations similar in size or mission to yours
Don’t forget to check at least 2 client references when you identify a finalist! This is a great opportunity to learn more about the firm/consultant you want to hire from the client perspective.
Remember, each fundraising consultant is also evaluating YOU. How you manage the process says a lot about your organization and what you’ll be like to work with. Make sure you are respectful, your follow-up is timely, and that all parties are informed of your decision once it’s made.
There is no “perfect” consultant, but there is definitely a consultant who is perfect for you.
In part 3 of our blog on consultants, we’ll talk about how to effectively work with a fundraising consultant. If you missed the first blog in this series, you can find it HERE.