This is part two of a three-part blog series: Warning, There’s a Gap in your Fundraising Knowledge and Experience.

I may get into trouble for this post, but I’m going to be honest with you in what you should look for if you are considering hiring a consultant to help you in your work.

As I said in my last post, I believe that alongside non-profit leaders and managers, consultants are crucial to help non-profit organizations and fundraisers to be successful. There is a role for all three in our industry to help manage, provide solid strategy, and set up the discipline and focus required to build fundraising programs and relationships with donors.

Unfortunately, there are too many unqualified consultants advising non-profits. They may have good intentions, but they end up wasting many organizations’ time and resources because they are ill-prepared to provide the necessary guidance, advice, and strategy that the non-profit is seeking.

You should not hire an outside consultant if any of the following are true:

  1. They have never worked at a non-profit organization.

    Richard and I have seen too many non-profits get lured by consultants who have all kinds of business credentials except one: They have never worked for a non-profit. Why is this important? Because to have empathy, one must be able to walk in another’s shoes, and if you don’t have experience with the unique structure, goals, and metrics at a non-profit, how will you know that your advice is relevant? A consultant with non-profit experience has more credibility since they have experienced what you are going through and what challenges and obstacles you face.

  2. The consultant has only been involved in one type of organization for their entire career.

    Many times I’ve run into consultants who, for example, have worked their entire career in higher-ed. Then, they go out on their own to consult with other higher-ed institutions, or even worse, non-higher ed clients. They try to “fit” their one experience into their advice for their client. In the example of the higher-ed consultant, the problem with working with someone without any broader experience is that they bring no new strategy or ideas, perpetuating the same dysfunctions that are common to higher-ed. For example, why do you think colleges and universities continue to not qualify donors and instead hand over caseloads of hundreds of alumni to MGOs based on wealth rating scores? It’s because the same people and the same consultants never challenge this strategy. So, it continues to live on.

  3. The consultant doesn’t have experience or knowledge of the entire donor pipeline.

    I mentioned this in my last blog a bit, but there are plenty of consultants who have experience in only one aspect of fundraising, i.e., A background in major gifts, but very limited knowledge about the beginning of the pipeline with acquisition and cultivation of lower-end donors. Why is it important to have full knowledge of the donor pipeline as a non-profit consultant? Because all these fundraising areas work in concert with one another. I’ve heard some horror stories from our clients about advice they have received in the past from planned giving consultants who gave them terrible advice on how they should acquire donors at events, and only send out 3 appeals a year so as not to upset donors. It’s terrible advice and it makes the consulting profession look bad.

  4. The consultant has never published or produced any content.

    There are so many consultants out there who give you no idea how they approach their work because they haven’t taken the time or effort to tell you in words, video, podcasts, webinars, etc. And I’m not talking about throwing up a website to somehow legitimize their consultancy. I’m talking about having the time and discipline to develop and share meaningful content that creates value for the industry… for free. This is important because if you’re hiring an outside consultant, you should know how their mind and heart works. You should have a sense, through their content, whether their philosophy resonates with you. A good consultant will share unique content and insight that sparks your interest and builds your trust in their approach.

If you can avoid consultants with any of the above red flags, you will better serve your organization and ultimately get better advice and results.

Honestly, the non-profit community will be better served if fundraising consultants always lead with: “How can I help this industry do better, so that more donors will experience the joy of giving?”


This is Part 2 of a three-part blog series: Warning, There’s a Gap in your Fundraising Knowledge and Experience

Read Part One: To Be a Great Leader, Know Every Aspect of the Donor Pipeline
Read Part Three: Your Inexperience Is Hurting You — A Cautionary Tale