It’s a new year. And you’ve decided you need some help. Maybe your strategies in mid, major, and planned giving did not work as well as you had hoped in 2022. Or maybe you have big goals for the new year. But as you survey your internal talent, you conclude that something is missing – and some outside perspective and input would be helpful.
But where can you get help? How will you decide what help to get? And how will you deal with that nagging feeling that fundraising consultants and agencies are a waste of time – that your money is better spent on internal talent?
All good questions. And we’ve all had that nagging feeling about consultants and agencies. Myself included.
Here’s how Jeff and I think about all of this. I hope something here will be helpful to you.
First, on the subject of outside help, using consultants and agencies: you may be thinking I am biased about this, since I am a fundraising consultant and I belong to an agency. OK, fair enough. But hear me out.
You use outside help in all areas of your life.
You wouldn’t think of storing your cash under your mattress. Well, you might. But seriously, you have your paycheck deposited to your bank. Outside help.
When you are not feeling well, you go to the doctor. Outside help.
If you’re building a house, you are wise to use an architect and a builder to help you do it. Outside help.
Your car breaks down. If you are mechanical, you can take the repair to a certain level. But at some point, you will use outside help.
You need to get your dress or suit altered. Like the car repair, you could do it yourself, up to a point, but you will likely get outside help for more complex tasks.
I could go on and on. You know what I mean. There are good reasons we use outside help in all areas of our lives. Here are a few of them that come to mind:
- They provide technical input and expertise that we don’t have. While we could possibly learn how to do it ourselves, this would cost time and money, and we may not have the skills or motivation to get there.
- They have the experience of others to apply to our situation. This point is often missed or underappreciated. An outsider who works with many others has experienced the very situations we need to avoid. They experience it, then tell us about it so we can prevent it. That is invaluable. It helps us avoid bad situations. It also helps us do the right things that work. And we didn’t have to spend the time and money learning things the hard way. We learned, via the outsider, what to avoid and what to take advantage of.
- They save us time and money. If you objectively costed out bringing all the technical talent in-house, the cost would far exceed the benefit. While it’s true that certain technical work is better in-house, it is also true that using outside consultants and agencies for some technical work is more cost-effective. The questions to answer in this area are this: “Can I get this work done internally?” – “Will the nature and effectiveness of that work bring me the best technical expertise and result I can get?” – “Will the cost be worth the benefit?”
- It works. You have experienced it. When you secure outside help that works, you quantifiably know it does.
These are all good reasons to use outside help. But, as usual, when you are considering using consultants, you will face headwinds internally. There will be inside voices that are against you using outside help. Jeff and I have heard them so many times. Here is what those voices sound like: “There is no need to bring someone in to help. You can do it with the staff you have.” Or “It’s too expensive and it would be a waste of money.” Or, even more personal – “What, you mean to tell me you aren’t able to get that work done yourself?”
All these objections, mostly given by authority figures, will question the wisdom and the cost of bringing in outside help. And the poor and ineffective leaders will make it personal, bringing into question YOUR ability to do your job. Very sad.
The fact is that outside help, properly chosen and managed, is helpful. When it comes to mid-level, major, and planned giving, here is what you should look for in a fundraising consultant. And answer the following questions. Does the consultant/agency…
- Have verifiable experience with other non-profits? There is a lot of hot air out there – people making all kinds of claims about what they can do for you. Is there proof they have done good for others? If so, get hold of it.
- Base their opinions, strategies, and input on an analysis of your donor data? Your donor data should drive everything. Don’t settle for less.
- Consider the economic health of your donor pipeline? Ask your potential consultant or agency how they view the donor pipeline. If they don’t know what that means, or they can’t show you where in your donor pipeline your strategies are working and failing, then eliminate them as a choice.
- Consider your value attrition? Any proposal you get should analyze your value attrition – what the same cohort of your donors gave from one year to the following years. We are not talking here about DONOR attrition. Every consultant/agency can wax eloquent about that. Value attrition. That is what tells you the real health of your strategies and donor file.
- Qualify donors for caseload management? If your potential consultant/agency does not understand that only one out of every three donors who meets a caseload metric wants to relate to your more personally, then move on to another choice for help. You must have outside help that understands and implements donor qualification for a caseload management.
- Create plans that tier donors, sets personalized goals for each caseload donor, and personalizes relationship touch points for each donor based on that donor’s passions and interests? It is critical that your outside help creates personalized plans for every donor on the caseload, plans that tier the donors so your frontline fundraiser knows how to use their time, plans that set personalized goals and personalized plans for each donor on the caseload based on that donor’s passions and interests.
- Have an underlying philosophy of fundraising that is based more on helping the donor do what THEY want to do versus getting their money? If your consultant or agency is all about getting the money rather than fulfilling the donor’s passions and interests, move on. That is not a pathway for success.
- Have a commitment to ongoing management of frontline fundraisers? The proposal for services you receive from your consultant or agency must include a strong commitment to the ongoing management of frontline fundraisers. By ongoing, we mean weekly calls, accountability measures, strategy planning, goal setting, etc. They must know how to do this work and have experience in doing it effectively.
- Include in their proposal specific revenue forecasts based on your donor data? This is a very important element of any proposal to you by an outside consultant or agency. The inclusion of a specific three-to-four-year revenue forecast based on your donor data. If your consultant or agency cannot give you that, they are not qualified to help you.
- Include in their planning a transformational goal strategy? Related to the revenue forecast in the point above is a forecast on transformational giving. Every donor file has donors who can give exceptional and transformational amounts. Those donors must be found and cultivated. Your agency or consultant should be able to forecast a 20-25% bump in revenue, above the forecast they gave you, for transformational giving.
These are just a few of the questions you need to ask a fundraising consultant or agency you intend to hire. And for each one you need a YES in their answer to you.
There is no question we all need outside help in many areas of our lives, both personal and professional. The only question is what kind of help will you get? And that is where you need to be wise and objective.
PS — If you’d like to learn more about how Veritus Group can support your organization in mid-level, major gifts, and planned giving, then we’d love to connect. The first step is to start our free donor file assessment and schedule time to meet with my colleague Amy Chapman. You can get the process started here.