Hiring a Fundraising Consultant 101: The Nonprofit’s Guide
Whether you’re trying out a brand new kind of fundraising campaign or are in need of ways to refresh your tried-and-true tactics, a fundraising consultant can be the objective perspective you need to enhance your nonprofit’s strategy across the board (and achieve goals that might ordinarily be out of reach).
With the help of a professional fundraising consultant, there’s no limit to what your organization can accomplish. Even so, searching for the right consultant can be a challenge in and of itself.
To help you streamline the fundraising consultant hiring process, we’ve got 5 foolproof steps to finding the right fit:
- Understand your organization’s needs.
- Outline your upcoming project.
- Find your top candidates.
- Meet potential picks face-to-face.
- Develop a plan for your partnership.
The right consultant can help you bring in more donations during your upcoming project, but more importantly, they can also bring a new energy to your organization that shakes up your strategy and rejuvenates your team’s dedication to the cause.
Ready to find a consultant that holds the key to a happier nonprofit? Read on!
1. Understand your organization’s needs.
Consultants can do a lot, so you’ll need to determine what exactly you need your consultant to do for you.
Taking an approach that’s too general during your search will not only make it difficult to find the best consultant for your specific needs, but it will also make it much harder to actually accomplish substantive goals during your time with the consultant.
Before you start looking for a consulting firm, take some time to understand your organization and decide where a consultant should fit in by answering these questions as a team:
- What are your nonprofit’s strengths and weaknesses? Look at past projects to see where you traditionally shine and where you fall short. For example, if you consistently plan packed fundraising events that bring in major dollars, it might not be the best use of resources to find a consultant who specializes in event planning.
- What are your nonprofit’s short- and long-term goals? After you’ve identified areas where you could improve your operations or strategies, form actionable goals around them. You’ll need primary goals (such as a dollar amount for your annual fund) as well as secondary goals that serve as benchmarks along the way.
- Is your nonprofit prepared to work with a consultant? A consultant might seem like the magic fix, but working with a consulting firm is just that: work. Make sure you have time to a lot to this partnership, as well as the budget and board-backing to support bringing on a new team member.
You should come out of this Q&A session with a rough sketch of your consultant strategy—that is, what you want to do and how a consultant can help you do it.
This strategy will serve as the jumping off point for your consulting partnership and can point you in the right direction as you search for the perfect choice.
2. Outline your upcoming project.
Now that you have a general idea of the areas where a consultant can lend their expertise, it’s time to put pen to paper and actually develop a plan for your upcoming fundraising campaign (or any other project you’ll need consulting on).
Fundraising strategies can be complex, but here are the basics of what your outline should include:
- Depending on the scope of your project, your timeline might span a month or several years! No matter how extensive your calendar, make sure that you have clear objectives set at manageable time increments.
- Every project has expenses, including the cost of a fundraising consultant. Outline how much your project will cost (with padding for unforeseen expenses) and determine how you’ll offset those costs through fundraising or other income sources.
- More than likely, your project will have a lot of moving pieces at once. The best way to make sure every element stays on track is to delegate key responsibilities to different task forces and team members.
- What technological tools will you use to take on your upcoming project? Will you need to purchase new software, train your team on how to use any products, or work with a technology consultant to build out custom development for your software?
- Once you’ve got goals in place, you need to determine exactly how you’ll see them through. Decide which metrics you’ll use to measure your primary and secondary goals and check that your fundraising software can help you generate these reports.
Knowing the ins and outs of your goals up-front will help you identify the points where a consultant’s support is most needed. Then, you can narrow your search by looking for firms with specialties in those areas.
And don’t worry—if you’re struggling to develop a clear strategy, make notes on any challenges you foresee. That way, once you have a consultant on board, you can circle back to potential issues and seek their help working these problems out before launching your project.
3. Find your top candidates.
You’ve got your plan in place, and now it’s time to find the right partner to help make it happen. For best results and maximum efficiency, try using these strategies:
- Search by consultant specialty Just like each nonprofit has its cause, each consulting firm has an area of focus. Tailor your search criteria so that you’re filtering for keywords that line up with your goals. For example, if you need help with software implementation or training, a nonprofit technology consultant will be your best bet for success.
- Reach out to your network. Even if you’ve never worked with a consultant before, chances are, you know someone who has. Ask your nonprofit peers for their success stories or check out some nonprofit job boards. Just make sure to look for case studies that line up with the kind of consulting work you’re on the hunt for.
- Location-base your consultant search. If you’re in need of a consultant who can be in-office at your organization on a daily basis, it might make sense to narrow your search to just those firms located nearby. Thankfully, there are plenty of location-specific consultant lists, such as this resource from Double the Donation.
We suggest coming up with a shortlist of no more than 5 potential consulting firms that make it to the next round of your search.
It can be tricky to make cuts to prospective consultants, but try to be as discerning as possible during this phase of your search. Outline your top priorities in a consultant and run each contender through a checklist or ranking system to determine who will move forward in the interview process.
While you want to get a range of opinions from your search committee, key staff, and board members, you should also understand that your team’s preferences will vary. Don’t focus on pleasing everyone; focus on achieving your nonprofit’s goals!
4. Meet potential picks face-to-face.
Now that you’re on track to make a selection, you should reach out to your top candidates and set up a meeting, preferably in person or (if you’ll be working with your consultant remotely) over the phone or via video conference.
During this meeting, you’ll have the chance to:
- Discuss their project proposal. Prior to the meeting, present your goals to each candidate so they can propose their solutions. Then, ask follow-up questions about their approach and have them explain why they would be the best choice for the job in the own words.
- Explore past projects (and secure references). You’ve likely already perused the candidate’s past work to some extent, but now is your chance to dive into relevant projects and discuss strategies that have worked well in the past. Don’t forget to ask for references and follow up directly, too!
- Determine if there’s a personality match. By having your development director, executive director, or another point person on your staff meet one-on-one with the candidates, you’ll get a feel for which personalities will mesh well with your own (and spot any potential red flags for those that won’t).
The in-person meeting is critical, as it allows your team to begin developing an idea of what your consultant-nonprofit relationship would be like.
Following these conversations, your nonprofit should have a pretty clear next step—make your top choice and begin the finalization process!
And don’t forget: while you can only select one consultant for this project, you should still thank your other candidates for their time and proposals.
Just like you’d never forgo a donor thank-you letter, sending notes of appreciation to the candidates you’ve met shows that your organization is professional and courteous (and potentially open to a future partnership for other projects).
5. Develop a plan for your partnership.
Once you’ve settled on a top choice, you’ll need to meet again (before signing any contracts) to establish guidelines and expectations for the relationship.
It’s best to handle this conversation over the phone or in person, if possible, rather than via email, which can lead to miscommunication or misinterpretations. Clear communication is vital to getting your consultant-nonprofit partnership started on the right foot and optimizing the strategy you create together.
On the same note, it’s vital that your nonprofit team is completely clear on internal expectations for your consultant, too. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, and don’t set yourself up for a confusing relationship that’s built on mixed messages!
When you meet with your top choice, here are a few topics you should make a point to cover:
- The consultant’s main responsibilities. Set forth a very clear set of long-term goals and daily or weekly objectives for your consultant and reinforce which aspects of the project your nonprofit will tackle on your own.
- How hands-on the consultant will be. Make sure your consultant knows how often you’d like them to be in the office, if they’re expected on the ground at fundraising events, or if they’ll be working within your nonprofit software.
- An exact time frame for the consultant’s involvement. Communicate the expected timeline for your overall project and any secondary benchmarks. For some projects, the consultant’s work will have a clear end date, but for others (specifically tech- or software-related endeavors), the consultant may stay on in a smaller capacity long-term.
If you’re unsure what to cover, keep in mind that it’s better to cover more ground at the beginning of the relationship rather than figuring it out along the way.
Clear expectations from the very beginning will all but guarantee that there are no crossed signals along the way, leading to a smoother partnership and greater success for everyone involved.
A nonprofit consultant can be a valuable piece of your organization. They’ll provide short-term guidance throughout a fundraising campaign and set your team up with lasting skills you can transfer to a variety of projects and situations.
Now that you know how to conduct your search for a fundraising consultant, you can start to reap the benefits of these amazing team members. So get out there, find a top consultant who meets your needs, and get to fundraising!