Wednesday, September 03, 2014

How to help your fundraising consultant help you

How to help your fundraising consultant help you

I recently wrote a post called “Your fundraising consultant is talking about you behind your back,” highlighting some of the things that fundraising consultants (and other types of consultants, for that matter) say about their clients – the good, the bad, the ugly.

Now that I’ve offered you a peek behind the curtain, I humbly offer a few words of advice. What can you do to help your fundraising consultant help you thrive? How can you be a strong partner and get the very most out of the consultant you’ve hired?

Tell the truth

You don’t need to impress us, and you don’t need to evade us. Just tell us what’s what, so we can get down to the business of helping you strengthen your business. Your last fundraising mailing was a total bust? Tell us. Executive director and board chair refuse to ask people for money? Tell us. Your board doesn’t have any bylaws? Tell us. You don’t really trust consultants? Tell us. Not telling us the truth just delays the inevitable – you being frustrated with your consultant, your consultant not delivering on what they said they would deliver, and lots of your organization’s hard-earned money going down the drain.

Ask yourself: “What do we already know?”

In my experience, many organizations hire consultants to tell them what they already know, but they don’t want to say out loud, or don’t want to say themselves. For example, they may already know that they need to fire the founding executive director (the founding executive director herself may already know that!), but no one wants to be the one to drop that bomb. So the organization hires a consultant to do a detailed analysis, co-create a strategic plan, and come up with the same solution that everyone suspected was right in the first place. There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with that path. Sometimes, it is healthier for the organization to bring in an outsider to uncover, and speak, these hard truths. Big organizational decisions can’t just happen on a gut level; they require some deep thought and investigation. If you start your consulting engagement by thinking about what you already know, you may come to some clearer, more efficient, conclusions. You may get to the same place, but you and your stakeholders may understand the decisions more deeply.

Start with real numbers

If you want your fundraising consultant to help you raise more money, you need to tell him how much you have raised. You need to tell him how much you want to raise. You need to know how you plan to sustain and grow your organization, so you’ll know how much money you’ll need, so you’ll know how much money you need to raise. You should tell your consultant how many donors you have now and how many potential donors you have now. And if you don’t have these numbers – real numbers, not guesses – just tell your consultant. He’ll help you figure it out. (see “Tell the truth,” above)

Establish shared expectations and shared accountability

When I start a consulting engagement, my clients know what they’ll be getting from me, and they know what I’ll expect from them. We have a shared timeline for deliverables. So, for example, my clients know that if I’m writing a grant proposal for them, and they miss an editing deadline, I can’t necessarily guarantee them online delivery for the proposal (though I almost always pull it off anyway). And I know that if my clients aren’t happy with a proposal draft, I’ll have a defined number of subsequent drafts to get it right.

I put all of this in writing with my clients before we get started on a project. Some consultants and clients eschew that level of formality, but I find that everyone is more comfortable, and trusting, if we are clear about what’s going to happen.

Of course, life gets in the way! Plans shift, deadlines change, new opportunities come up that we decide to pursue. By laying the groundwork up-front, through shared accountability and expectations, we create an environment where shifts in schedule and priority can happen more seamlessly. And we are better able to hold one another accountable – it’s a two-way street.

Know that, sometimes, hiring a fundraising consultant means more work for you in the short-term

If you hire your consultant with the expectation that she will solve all of your problems for you, and you will not have to do any fundraising, you are in for a disappointment. And if your consultant takes on the job knowing that you have that expectation, shame on her. Here’s another hard truth: sometimes, your fundraising consultant will create more work for you. But it’s better work. Your consultant will help you figure out the logistics and tactics, so you can get to the more important work of building relationships with current and potential donors. Sometimes, with consultants, some short-term pain will lead to a huge long-term gain. If you are matched with the right consultant, and you are a willing and enthusiastic partner, it will be worth it.