Preparing Your Organization for Outsourcing
Preparing Your Organization for Outsourcing
Feb. 28, 2006
By Abny Santicola, associate editor, FundRaising Success
Lots of organizations rely on consultants as part of their fundraising team. But chances are most, if not all, of those organizations handled their fundraising efforts on their own at some point and made the decision to transition their fundraising from a wholly in-house operation to one involving consultants. Reasons for shifting to using a consultant or consultants are varied.
For the University of Wisconsin's Parkside campus, a regional, primarily undergraduate campus of the University of Wisconsin system serving Kinosha and Racine counties and founded in 1968, it came out of a desire to institute the university's first comprehensive campus-wide benefit campaign after a number of successful solo efforts.
Len Iaquinta, director of major gifts for the institution and a fundraising consultant himself, says there's been a lot to do in terms of building the infrastructure of personnel, defining the institution's core messages and pulling together a list of its top prospects for the campaign. In preparation for working with a consultant, the institution now is in the process of preparing detailed prospect lists and information on current and past board members, honored alumni and graduates. The institution also will perform what Iaquinta calls mini campaigns, to test its ability to do a major campaign.
The consultants then will evaluate the institution's prospect pool and the mini campaigns' success and give the university advice on what it can achieve.
"That's why we want to hire some outside expertise," Iaquinta says. "We need to have an objective look at our infrastructure now that we've gotten the basics put together. We also need to have some third-party people come in and interview some of our key prospects, board members and other stakeholders to get some really objective feedback as to how ready we are, and what themes will be most responded to when we talk about the need for building programs and giving scholarships to our students here."
Another important element to have in place when working with consultants is a core message, Iaquinta says. The institution is focusing on defining three main pillars it wants to convey to prospects. It also is working to come up with messages that correlate to those pillars that work for all its constituents, whether it be prospective students, parents or graduates. Iaquinta says this will be a good starting point and then, through interviews and perhaps even focus groups performed by the consultants, the institution can fine-tune its message to get the best results. Doing this type of work in advance of working with a consultant is key, Iaquinta adds, if you want to avoid unnecessary costs.
"If you haven't done a lot of that work in advance, you're just going to pay a lot of money in order to get there," he says. "You can bring in a consultant from day one, but we're trying to make sure that we do as much of the work as we need to do on our own before we bring the consultant in, so that we're ready to make maximum use of their resources and not waste money on things that we should do ourselves."
Some of the benefits Iaquinta sees in working with consultants are:
- An organization or institution can work with people who know similar organizations' or institutions' benchmarks. "One of the benefits that's often overlooked by boards until it's pointed out to them ... is that by hiring an expert firm that does a lot of this work with agencies, universities or independent schools is that ... you get the benefit of what's working elsewhere, and benchmarking from their experience as to whether you're on track," Iaquinta says. "That's very helpful. It's reassuring to you and your board that you're using best practices."
- It holds you to a schedule. "My experience is having an outside consultant, the deadlines and the mileposts that that creates, in terms of getting your internal data ready, and your prospects, visits, calls, evaluations and strategy planning for the really top-level prospects -- there's nothing like having that external pressure," Iaquinta says. "Not that there isn't always plenty of pressure from your organization, but having an expert consulting group help hold your feet to the fire is, frankly, very helpful."
As a final point of advice, Iaquinta says organizations should make an attempt to garner as much knowledge from consultants as possible.
"I think it's wonderful when there's a transfer of knowledge into the organization so that you, your volunteers and key staff can help support the continuation of [a campaign]," he adds. "After a campaign is done, you should be at a new plateau. If you want to maintain that plateau, you want to learn as much as you possibly can. That's why I like to advise people to involve their own staff, and do as much of the work in house as you can, working closely with consultants. It not only minimizes costs, but helps with the transfer of knowledge."
Len Iaquinta can be reached at email@example.com.