December 6, 2016

Should You Have An On-Call Fundraising Consultant?

Growing up, one thing my parents liked to tell me was: “You are never fully settled until you have found a good banker, a good handy man, and a hair dresser.”

Based on that statement you might conclude two things: we moved around a good deal when I was younger, and my parents were very practical people. In both cases, you would be right. I find that their advice has served me quite well, although I am not quite as picky about my hair dresser as I perhaps should be.

Later in life, I heard from some professional mentors a similar suggestion: when running a business, find a good attorney, a good accountant, and a person you trust with your marketing and external relations.

Those recommendations are very much worth following whether you are running a for-profit enterprise or a non-profit. I would go as far as saying that for most people it is simply understood that you have to have someone you can call on the spot for legal advice, regulatory advice, or during a public relations crisis.

That same attitude does not usually apply with fundraising consultants.

Most non-profits fall into the rut of “we are doing what we have always done” without consideration for trends, a solid understanding of their own data, or proper testing. They tend to carry out their usual activities without much of a push to build upon their own successes, or willingness to adapt to changing environmental factors.

On the other hand, there is generally no hesitation to bring in a consultant when there is a need for a major fundraising campaign.

I believe there ought to be a “happy medium” in how non-profits engage consultants.

Imagine a scenario where your organization only ever brings in an independent accountant after an audit letter from the IRS arrives. Or you only ever take your car to the mechanic after it has turned into a smoldering husk by the side of the freeway. You would not pursue this all-or-nothing approach with regard to your books and financials. Yet the majority of non-profits do just that with regard to their fundraising efforts.

I would suggest a change in philosophy. Instead of bringing on a fundraising consultant only for the very big projects, consider having one on call. Talk for an hour or two before preparing your next mailing. Meet for an afternoon to review your overall fundraising strategy for the upcoming year. Strategize with them before your next board meeting.

You will find that these frequent “tune-ups” of your fundraising operation will be very cost effective, and can lead to significant returns in the long run.

About Marc Huber

Marc Huber is a fundraising professional with over seventeen years of experience, including strategic messaging, board development, annual giving, capital campaigns, and volunteer consultation and training. He's also the author of The Fundraising Co-Pilot.

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