Do your fundraising strategies need a little freshening up? Is it time for some spring (or fall, summer, or winter) cleaning to get your organization’s operations back on track?
If your nonprofit is taking on new challenges or experiencing changes,¹ a consultant might be the expert hand you need to guide your team to success no matter what lies ahead.
The search for the right consulting firm can be a formidable task all on its own, so we’ve decided to outline the 5 most important tips every nonprofit should keep in mind when hiring one:
- Let your goals direct your consultant search.
- Look for a consultant in your area.
- Ask your nonprofit peers for recommendations.
- Find a consultant who is comfortable with your software.
- Request a proposal (and references).
Trust us—you’ll be grateful you took the time to conduct a thorough search when you end up with a consultant who feels like a part of your team from the start.
Let’s not waste time. On to the tips!
Your nonprofit has its own strengths and weaknesses, and consultants do too.
For the best partnership, you’ll want to identify what your goals are and then search for a firm with specialized expertise and experience in the areas in which you need the most guidance.
Let’s explore some of the specialties a nonprofit consultant might have:
- Capital campaign consultants can lead the charge during your nonprofit’s most large-scale fundraising campaigns.² These consultants can help you with the ins and outs of your capital campaign, from developing a strategy to training staff and more.
- Nonprofit technology consultants help you improve your fundraising strategy and operations by working with you throughout the software implementation process. They’ll handle elements such as data migration,³ website or software development, and training.
- Executive search consultants will work with your team during the hiring process, including recruitment, interviews, and onboarding.⁴ As you bring on key staff members or develop new roles, a consultant can provide an objective (experienced!) perspective.
- Event fundraising consultants are more than just professional party planners; they’re experts in using fundraising events to increase donations and engagement.⁵ Fundraising events are a challenge for many nonprofits, so these specialists can be game-changers.
Of course, these examples are only a snapshot of the many different types of consultants you’ll encounter. Some consultants might have specialties that overlap, and others might provide general fundraising counsel that can guide you in a number of different areas.
This Tip at a Glance: Knowing what your nonprofit hopes to accomplish will help you identify what you need in a consultant. Searching by specialty will not only narrow down your prospects; it will ensure your consultant can provide the help your team needs most.
When it comes to starting your search for a consultant, you have plenty of options for how you’ll filter through the wide net of top-notch firms.
Aside from area of expertise, probably the most important way to narrow down your prospective candidate list is determining whether or not you’ll hire a remote or local consultant.
While both in-town and out-of-town consultants can get the job done, working with a consultant who is locally based comes with a number of key advantages:
- They can be more hands-on. Whether you’re interviewing potential new hires or mobilizing volunteers at your charity gala, sometimes you’ll want your fundraising consultant to be physically on-site. A local consultant can be in-office (or wherever you may need them) without the concern or expense of travel.
- They’re familiar with your community. If you’re looking to secure local sponsorships, attract publicity or awareness or your cause, or plan a community event, having someone who knows your city and state can pay off. Plus, your consultant may already have connections in your area that you can leverage.
- They can work with your team members one-on-one. If your consultant will be interacting with multiple departments or team members (such as during software training workshops), there’s a major benefit of having them in-house, where they won’t be restricted by the limitations of phone calls, emails, or video conferences.
The obvious downside of looking for a local consultant is that you won’t have the full range of options that you would if your search were worldwide. Luckily, there are plenty of location-based resources on trusted nonprofit sites as well as nonprofit job boards that can point you in the right direction!⁶
This Tip at a Glance: If you’re looking for a consultant who can be hands-on with your team and community throughout the duration of your fundraising campaign or project, we recommend searching for a firm that’s based in your city or state.
Even if you’re only looking for firms within a 50-mile radius, you still might be overwhelmed with the number of choices at hand, especially if your organization is located in a major city.
A great way to refine your research? Reach out to nonprofits in your network to get their take on consulting firms they’ve worked with.
While consultants will all have websites detailing their past projects and basic information, you can glean a lot from having conversations with other organizations who’ve worked with them, such as:
- Philanthropic interests. In addition to specialties, consultants may also have specific types of organizations they’re most experienced in working with. Ask organizations who support similar causes which consulting firms they’ve worked with to get the best jumping-off point for your search.
- Work style. Does this consultant take the lead or focus on empowering staff to handle challenges themselves? Does this consultant like to be in-office every day or only when necessary? Nonprofit peers can answer these questions so you don’t spend time interviewing candidates whose approaches clash with your own.
- Budget. Of course, fees for a consultant will vary based on project timeline, scope, and other elements. That said, for a rough sketch of how much a firm’s services will set you back, you can ask other nonprofits who’ve worked with them (as long as they’re comfortable disclosing that information).
When you talk with other nonprofits (especially those with similar constituencies, missions, and projects), you’ll be able to get a more unbiased, authentic feel for the consultants you’re considering than any online research could give you.
This Tip at a Glance: Asking for recommendations from peers will help you get a real-world picture of what it’s like to work with your candidates. Make sure you’re asking organizations that are similar to your own, as they’ll have the most relevant opinions.
Nonprofits of all shapes and sizes rely on different forms of nonprofit software to manage their day-to-day operations, fundraising campaigns, and donor stewardship efforts.⁷
If you were hiring a new member of your team, you’d likely prioritize candidates who are well-versed in the software your staff is already using. The same principle applies to your search for a consultant.
The more comfortable your consultant is with your technology, the less time you’ll have to spend familiarizing them with the tools that are vital to your everyday tasks, including:
- Donor management or CRM software. Your consultant has to get to know your donors, volunteers, members, and other supporters, and their data lives within your CRM. Look for a consultant that has experience navigating whatever database you’re using. (Bonus points if they can help you with CRM integrations and development!)
- Fundraising software and online donation platforms. Though your consultant won’t be the one actively soliciting gifts from your supporters, it’s still important that they understand what tools you’re using. That way, they can provide insight into improving your fundraising strategies through software optimization.
- Event management software. If you’re planning a fundraising event, you need to be using some sort of event management platform to streamline the process.⁸ There are specialized solutions for every kind of event, but no matter what you use, it’s vital that your consultant is confident helping you manage event logistics with your software.
A consultant who has worked with your specific software before will be familiar with its quirks, limitations, and standard processes. They may also have a greater understanding of best practices (or hidden tips and tricks) that you’re not aware of.
This Tip at a Glance: Find out which vendors and products your candidates are experienced in using. The more they know about your software, the more knowledge they can share with your team!
As you move from your initial search into the final stages of consideration, you should reach out to your top candidates to discuss your goals and request a proposal.
A proposal provides a general idea of the approach your candidates would take to manage your fundraising campaign or other project.
In addition to a strategic overview, the candidate should also provide an expected timeline for meeting your goals, an estimated cost, and specific outcomes they’ll plan to provide for your organization.
However, a proposal can take many shapes, so it’s up to your nonprofit to create guidelines around what candidates’ proposals should look like. You’ll need to establish:
- General parameters. Would you prefer an in-person presentation at your offices, a formal report, or a simple one-sheet? Letting each firm know what the proposal expectations are will even the playing field among candidates and make the consideration process easier for everyone.
- A deadline. You need to make your decision in a timely manner, and setting a hard deadline will help you get the hiring process underway faster. Plus, candidates who are punctual with their proposal submissions reinforce their interest in working with you (and their professional behavior across the board).
- Your submission process. You should make it clear whether you’d like proposals to be submitted in person, via mail, or through email. That way, consultants won’t have to bother you with questions about small details and can instead focus on what matters—completing their proposal!
Another final step that goes hand in hand with proposal review? You should ask your top candidates to provide a short list of references from nonprofits they’ve worked with in the past.
Not only will these references verify that your candidates are who they say they are, but they’ll also give you a chance to talk more with organizations who’ve used their services. The clearer your picture of each candidate is, the easier your decision will be!
This Tip at a Glance: Outline a clear request for proposal from your top candidates so you can get a better idea of their strategy for your project. Don’t forget to follow-up with the references they provide, too.
Hiring a consultant might seem complicated, but with these tips in mind, you shouldn’t have any problems finding a firm that can lead you to your most strategic (and successful) fundraising endeavors yet.⁹ All that’s left is to start searching!