In our weekly column, consultants with decades of nonprofit experience answer your questions about fundraising, boards, strategy and more. To ask a question and be featured (anonymously!) in the column, email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week’s question will be answered by Heidi Waltner-Pepper.
We are hiring a firm to help us with our fundraising program. How does one decide on how to select a firm?
This can be a challenge if you’re not looking at your organization’s trends in detail. Once you do this work, it’s easier to maintain moving forward.
During my years as a chief development officer, I worked with various consultants on a variety of projects ranging from strategic planning, campaign counsel, and help with marketing a planned giving program. I must admit I was a bit of a skeptic as I always felt that working with consultants translated to more work for me, and whenever a consultant suggested a “new idea” or approach that I had already come up with, everyone all the sudden thought it was brilliant!
Now that I have had the opportunity to be on both sides of the table, I do think there are a few things to keep in mind when working with consultants. When it comes to selecting a firm, keep in mind that different firms have different philosophies. Some will send in consultants who will literally do the work and then leave while others will work with staff to help strengthen the fundraising program internally.
Based on your resources and the needs of your organization, you will need to figure out what type of firm will work best for you. When organizations are trying to figure out how to decide, I like to recommend that they ask for a proposal from a large firm, a mid-size firm, and a sole practitioner in order to compare what you can get for your money.
Many times, organizations do not want to take the time to develop a Request For Proposal (RFP), but this is an important step in the process. Being able to articulate the scope of work you want done and the deliverables will result in stronger proposals from a firm. An RFP should clearly outline your fundraising needs, deliverables, and timeline. In response to an RFP, a good firm will follow-up and ask to either meet in person or schedule a phone call to ask more questions and gain a better understanding of your organization before they write the proposal. Open communication throughout the process is important as well, and you should not be afraid to ask questions or have the consultant explain something you don’t understand. This is a good sign that they’ll be supportive once you hire them, too. Checking references is also a critical step in selecting a firm and gives you the opportunity to find out about what another organization’s experience was like in working with the firm.
Keep in mind that there can be both pros and cons to each type of firm, but what it really boils down to most of the time is the actual consultant you will be working with. Do they have the type of personality that will work well with you and your staff? Do they have experience with your type of organization and the kind of project you will need their counsel on? These are all questions to keep in mind when selecting the best type of counsel for your organization. Good Luck!