Today’s article topic dives into best practices for nonprofits bringing in fundraising consultants. It’s such an important topic for nonprofits to ensure they make the most of what can be a very fruitful collaboration. Thankfully, there are experts like Aly Sterling at Aly Sterling Philanthropy, who’s been working with nonprofits to raise funds, grow missions, and engage leaders.
Your nonprofit is full of competent, effective leaders and contributors to your important mission. These passionate team members drive your mission forward every day. But even with a strong team in place, you might not have all the tools and knowledge necessary to carry out major overhauls of your fundraising strategy.
This is where a fundraising consultant can be incredibly impactful for your organization. A fundraising consultant can help with everything from creating data-driven steps to complete your fundraising goals to devising a strategic plan for a large-scale project like a capital campaign.
Bringing on a fundraising consultant to help develop and refine your nonprofit’s strategy is a powerful investment in your organization’s future. But it’s just that — an investment. Make sure your collaboration with a fundraising consultant results in a fundraising boost for your nonprofit so that you get the greatest return on this investment.
To make the most of this relationship, you must establish a strong, communication-focused partnership with your consultant. Here are the five key steps you’ll need to collaborate effectively with your fundraising consultant:
- Determine if you’re actually ready for a consultant.
- Get your board on board.
- Choose an experienced consultant who understands your requirements.
- Establish guidelines for regular communication.
- Respect the consultant’s recommendations.
Here at Aly Sterling Philanthropy, we know the importance of choosing the right nonprofit fundraising consultant. Consultants should be effective, close partners who work side by side with your organization’s top leadership to achieve a common goal. To reach this outcome, there are a few steps to take before you bring a consultant on board as well as during the engagement. Let’s take a closer look at how to set your organization up for success with this collaboration.
Determine if you’re actually ready for a consultant.
It’s important to enter the consultant research and hiring journey with the right mindset. Before starting the process, you must determine if your organization is open to coaching and can commit the time and budget necessary to bring a consultant on board. Without this initial clarity of purpose, you may not be ready to receive and make the most use of all the advice a specialist has to offer.
Sit down with your team to figure out what’s not working for your organization. Your organization could be dealing with problems like:
- Not raising enough money from your fundraising efforts.
- Having a dysfunctional board that isn’t aligned on strategy.
- Facing difficulty in the hiring process
- Needing help conducting an annual fundraising audit.
- Lacking guidance regarding an upcoming capital campaign.
- Facing crisis situations that require an enhanced communications strategy.
Rather than having specific problems in mind, you might see untapped opportunities within your organization that could be explored with the help of an expert. These opportunities might include:
- Expanding your physical facility to serve more constituents.
- Developing diverse funding sources to help weather crises.
- Creating a bold plan to maximize future fundraising efforts.
These are all areas where a consultant can step in and provide guidance. Make sure your team can verbalize the problems you face, as well as your vision for the future of your organization.
Remember, however, that you don’t need to have all the answers right now — that’s why you’re considering hiring a consultant in the first place! They can help diagnose your organization’s issues and work with your team members to create clarity and set goals.
If you’re already set in your strategies and simply looking for someone to help carry out your pre-determined plan, this probably isn’t the right time for you to bring on a consultant.
But if your nonprofit is truly looking for guidance and ideas, this is where a consultant can do the most good for your strategy. Be sure to figure out where you stand before spending funds on consultant services to gain the most benefit from the collaboration.
Get your board on board.
If you decide your nonprofit is prepared to take on the consultant hiring and collaborating process, you’ll need to also gain your board’s support. Your board members are some of the top decision-makers within your organization. According to Boardable’s overview of board member responsibilities, one of your board’s top duties is to “steer your organization toward a sound future by ensuring that it’s fulfilling its mission in the most effective way possible.”
To that end, it’s important to work with your board and involve them in every step of the consultant collaboration process. And since your board also authorizes your budget, getting their buy-in early on is even more critical.
Consider introducing the concept at a board meeting and offering your thoughts about the advantages a consultant could bring to the table. You may want to discuss the option with your board chair or ask the fundraising committee to look into options beforehand, so you have other perspectives and research to share with the group.
Getting your board’s full support up front will give your consultant relationship the support it needs to be successful and ensure your entire organization is on the same page.
Choose an experienced consultant who understands your requirements.
As your consultant research process gets underway, be sure to take a deliberate, thoughtful approach to investigate each of your options. Look for a consultant who not only offers the services you’re looking for but who also understands your mission and meshes well with your nonprofit’s values. Your consultant will be working with you or your team on a regular basis, so it’s important to find someone you trust and with whom you can build a strong relationship.
Aly Sterling Philanthropy’s guide to hiring fundraising consultants recommends asking questions throughout the hiring process such as:
- What are the consultant’s guiding principles? Inquiring about each consultant’s philosophy can provide insight into their core values. You can determine if their values align with those of your nonprofit.
- What is their area of expertise? Consultants represent a wide range of specialties and different experience levels. Find someone who specializes in the aspects of your project that require a consultant’s advice.
- Are they remote or local? Remote consultants can offer a refreshing outside perspective, while local consultants can provide on-site support. Determine which type of relationship would most benefit your project.
- Do they offer testimonials or referrals? Client testimonials demonstrate customer satisfaction. You can specifically search for testimonials from similar organizations to get an idea of how these relationships played out. Also, referrals allow you to directly speak with previous clients to learn more about their experience and get an authentic picture of the consultant.
Ultimately, you want to choose someone who will get along with your nonprofit team and create a strategy and framework that will create lasting benefits for your organization. Finding a consultant who aligns with everything you’re looking for will set the relationship up for success from the beginning.
Establish guidelines for regular communication.
Frequent and clear communication throughout a consultant engagement is critical. Each team member has to ensure they’re following the agreed-upon guidelines to streamline communication as much as possible.
As you develop your consultant communication plan, consider the following questions:
- What platform will you use for ad hoc communication updates?
- What is the expectation for sending timely responses?
- If you’re not hosting in-person meetings, what platform will you use to host virtual check-ins?
- How often will you formally check in with your consultant?
- What would you like to receive updates about during each check-in?
- Which team members will attend these meetings?
Also, to have the greatest success with your consultant relationship, be sure to address concerns as soon as they arise. Your consultant should be open to discussing your concerns without taking it personally and making adjustments as needed to ensure you can move forward in a way that feels good to everyone. This will ensure you don’t let any issues or problems go unaddressed, which could potentially lead to a misunderstanding or miscommunication.
Respect the consultant’s recommendations.
Our final piece of advice is to trust and respect your fundraising consultant’s recommendations. Your organization hired this person for a reason — their expertise fills in your team’s knowledge gaps and provides your nonprofit with a new perspective.
This collaborative relationship requires input from both sides to be successful. Your consultant develops recommendations based on their expertise, but it’s your job to listen to them and start taking action. If you choose to ignore their advice, you won’t receive all of the value possible from your consultant investment.
Of course, at the end of the day, it’s your call, and you need to make final decisions based on what you think is best for your organization. But remember, whether your consultant is providing insight into how to retain donors based on their knowledge and experience or giving guidance about how to communicate effectively during a crisis, this isn’t their first rodeo.
As this overview of top nonprofit consulting firms states, fundraising consultants are familiar with tackling common challenges that nonprofits face. They can help your organization not only remedy current issues but also create blueprints for handling any future challenges because they’ve done it before.
Keep in mind that this cooperative relationship is meant to benefit your organization and help you work toward your mission more effectively over the long term. If you’ve established clear expectations and communication guidelines from the beginning, you’ll be able to create a trustworthy relationship with your consultant and reap the greatest benefits from their advice.
Your nonprofit’s partnership with a fundraising consultant will be successful if you can establish a close working relationship right from the start. Be sure to complete the necessary preparation, such as defining your needs and goals and securing the support of your board, before bringing a consultant on board. Then, maintain frequent contact with them, ask questions and trust their knowledge to lead your organization to future success.