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Consultants Can Grow Nonprofit Fundraising Programs

The following is excerpted from the July/August 2002 Advancing Philanthropy cover story.

THERE ARE MANY POSSIBLE REASONS for going outside your organization's expertise for help. You may need a fresh perspective in evaluating traditional fundraising programs and coming up with new giving options. If staff hiring has been frozen to cut operating costs, a few extra temporary hands on deck may be needed to support an annual special event. Or perhaps you'd like to augment the talent of your staff with the experience of specialists for a high-profile project such as a major capital campaign. These are among the most common reasons for hiring an individual fundraising consultant or a firm.

Consultants acting on your behalf can strongly influence the way your organization is perceived in the community, and it's likely that they'll work very closely with you and your key staff, and perhaps with volunteers and board members, too. Finding the right consultant--someone who reflects well on your mission and works compatibly with you--can seem like a huge task on top of your normal workload. But if you're interested in managing that workload to more productive ends, consultants can be a resource worth exploring.

Here are some pointers from a group of experienced fundraisers, consultants, and leading organizations in the sector, as well as advice from AFP leadership.

The Credibility Factor

Sometimes hiring a consultant can add greater credibility to an organization's fundraising efforts--there's something to the well-known quote from the book of Matthew: 'A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country.'

Ron Carroll, CFRE, executive director of the Boy Scouts of America National Capital Area Council in Maryland, can confirm that. Carroll hired a consultant to conduct a feasibility study and plan the organization's first capital campaign in 30 years. 'I felt that a consul-tant would give the feasibility study more credibility,' he says. 'Bringing in an outside firm can give your board more confidence, and the work can be performed better. And using a consultant can help keep your campaign on track. With consultants, because we're paying a fee for their services, there's a greater sense of urgency.'

And certain tasks are just naturally better suited to an outsider, says Steve Batson, EdD, CFRE, vice president for university relations of Georgia Southwestern State University and AFP chair. 'When we do a feasibility study, it involves interviews with potential donors. It's easier for consultants to ask these people hard questions than for us to do it, because we see them and work with them frequently.'

However, fundraising consultant Tony Poderis cautions that only those closest to a nonprofit's ongoing work should perform certain roles and tasks. He advises against hiring consultants as replacements for staff or volunteer leaders or as fundraisers asking donors for money. 'They [consultants] are an addition to the campaign team, hired so that an organization can move more quickly and aggressively because of their professional experience and judgment,' Poderis writes in his Web essay, 'To Consult or Not to Consult' (

Benefit-Cost Assessment

Consultants can fill many organizational needs, but what would they bring to your organization that you could not otherwise gain on your own? The first thing to determine is whether a project or operational need can be handled successfully with existing internal resources. That's not as easy to do as it sounds, especially in an already busy development office, but try making a list of all that needs doing and match tasks to staff 'champions' who have the skills and time to dedicate as needed. It may quickly become apparent that there's more work than there are hands to accomplish it. Then look at the budgetary realities. You'll have to decide whether it makes more sense to hire a consultant or a full-time staff person.

As you try to quantify whether you really do need and can afford a consultant, a checklist of thoughtful questions to ask about goals and cost considerations found at can help ('Using a Consultant'). Here are some of them:

  • Why do you want to hire a consultant?
  • What are you specifically asking the consultant to do?
  • What issues or problems must the consultant address?
  • What qualifications would your ideal consultant have?
  • What outcome do you seek? How will you measure success?
  • Will the board need to be involved?
  • Does the consultancy carry any risk?
  • If so, how can these risks be minimized?
  • Will the results justify the cost?
  • How expensive are consultants with the required or desired skills?
  • Can you afford the required investment of time and money to start up a consultant's involvement with your operations and follow through on recommendations?

A better way to phrase the final question for a nonprofit with persistent growing pains might be 'Can you afford not to seek outside assistance?'


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