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December 3, 2021
Questions to Ask a Fundraising Consultant
By Bob Happy

Bob Happy
Bob Happy
Nonprofit organizations that are considering hiring a fundraising consultant, whether for an annual fund campaign, capital campaign, or just for overall fundraising assistance, owe it to themselves to choose that person wisely.

Here are four questions to ask a prospective fundraising consultant.

1. Do they have a history of serving nonprofits in your sector?
Think of two well-known nonprofit organizations, for example, Ronald McDonald House Charities and Pets for Patriots. These two organizations, despite both being nonprofits, couldn’t be more different from one another. From their supporters to their messaging to their budget, the two organizations have little in common.

When you’re considering a fundraising consultant, ask them about the past clients they’ve worked with. Do they have any clients that overlap with your mission? Or, perhaps clients of a similar size and scale as your organization? If so, ask for references to speak with those clients yourself.

Fundraising consultants who are comfortable with your mission, constituency, and scale— to the point of successfully achieving results with similar organizations in the past— are often the best choice to partner with. A consultant can increase your organization’s efficiency and ROI, but only if you choose the right one. Checking their references is one way to ensure you do.

2. Do they know the local philanthropic landscape?
While this may not be as applicable to larger, nationwide organizations, it’s crucial for a consultant to understand the local philanthropic landscape if your organization is operating in a specific area.

Just as nonprofits vary greatly across the board, so do different geographic locations. Whether average household income, the general local philanthropic affinity, or even local rules and regulations, it’s important that the consultant you choose is familiar with your area.

When they understand your local constituents, consultants are better able to advise you on reaching that audience. There’s no understating the power of hometown support, so choose a consultant who understands your local landscape!

3. What are their consulting methods?
Just as two nonprofits might vary in how they contact supporters, different consultants will have unique ways of providing their services.

It’s crucial that the potential consultant’s teaching style aligns with the ways in which you receive information best. Do you do better with hands-on, in-person meetings, or once-a-week phone calls? Or, maybe your organization needs less personal and more technical assistance, such as emails full of supporter research data and insights.

It’s up to you to decide which type of consulting would best help your organization. Beyond just the delivery method, consider the frequency of contact. Will you be able to contact your consultant between consulting sessions when questions arise?

Even further, what is their approach to giving constructive feedback? If you’re more receptive to gentle nudges and you’re working with a “tough love” consultant, things might be difficult. All of these questions are important considerations when hiring a consultant.

4. How are their fees set up?
Many nonprofits are unfamiliar with the costs associated with hiring a fundraising consultant. While it’s an investment that will be worthwhile for your organization in the long run, staying on budget is essential to making the most of this partnership.

Fundraising consultants are typically compensated in one of two ways:
  • A flat fee. This method involves paying the consultant a flat fee at the start of the engagement. A flat fee works best when you’re working on a short-term project or even when completing a specific task with the consultant.

  • An ongoing retainer. This is when you make regular payments to a consultant over an extended time to retain access to their services. A retainer works best when you’re working on a long-term fundraising campaign that requires maintaining an ongoing relationship.
If you encounter a consulting firm that wants to charge a percentage of money correlating to how much you raise over the course of a campaign, avoid working with that firm. This is a practice prohibited by the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Instead, go with one of the two options in the list above to ensure payment is agreed upon and finalized before the partnership begins.

Bob Happy, president of Averill Fundraising Solutions, has nearly 35 years of experience providing expert leadership and direction to clients across the nonprofit sector and has mentored hundreds of professional fundraising practitioners.
May 2020
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