The whole point of working with an online fundraising technology consultant is to make your life easier. But sometimes the consultant-fundraiser relationship can be just as difficult and complex as keeping up with all the new technologies themselves.
Thomas Gensemer knows a thing or two about the client-consultant relationship. As managing partner of online technology provider Blue State Digital, he knows exactly what a consultant needs from an organization to make things run as smoothly as possible. And as former director of Internet strategy for America Coming Together — where he managed the organization’s online fundraising, grassroots recruitment and marketing — he knows what fundraisers need from the consultant.
“I have yet to see an organization that responds well to either an external consultant like me coming in or an internal new manager coming in and forcing integration because they’ve been working that way for decades,” Gensemer says. “The piecemeal approach tends to be at least how we see our advisory role being best-suited.”
So as a fundraiser, don’t accept a consultant that forces a complete overhaul to the way you’ve always done things. Instead, look for someone willing to implement the new technology in a more organic way. Gensemer offers more things for fundraisers to look for when working with a consultant:
- Understand your space. Make sure the consultant has an understanding of your sector and your issues. “You can’t go into Autism Speaks without knowing a fair amount about autism and the dynamics of that community,” Gensemer says. “So if you’re just treated as another marketing challenge, that doesn’t work, because in fact there are differences of opinion in that community and there are certain land mines by way of messaging that you can’t use. The consultant needs to understand the subject matter.”
- The platform’s ease of use. “It might be great that a technology comes in and a skilled demo is showing you how deep the product is, but unless you can imagine yourself using all of that functionality, focus on the things you know you need and you need to work well and quickly,” he says.
- Analytics. You must really understand what numbers matter. “Many organizations are plagued by a complete lack of understanding of what the core metrics of an online fundraising program should be. Having that front and center and having your tools built around that analytical framework is important.”
- Flexibility. “We have global nonprofits, some of the largest in the world, that have never tested the layout of their fundraising page because either the tools don’t let them or they’ve just never pushed their vendor to do it. You should be able to do that. You should be able to change the look and feel of your donation page to optimize that experience for your donors,” Gensemer says. “You shouldn’t have to know how to do code; you shouldn’t have to be a software coder to be able to run an online program, be it for fundraising, advocacy or anything else. It should be something that a communications person, a development person and a creative person should do in tandem, and it shouldn’t stand in your way.”
As for being a consultant, “what I ask for is a degree of senior-level access,” Gensemer says. There needs to be cooperation from the CEO on down in implementing an integration strategy for the new technology. Working with people in the communications or development offices creates an organizational divide unless the project is mandated and supported from the top down.
“The role of a consultant to push up to get buy-in for the program that forces change for the organization is incredibly important,” he says.
He stresses to not do this in a pushy way of trying to undermine the staff, but consultants must understand that a development officer has a number at the end of the month that he or she needs to meet, “and changing the way I work, while it might have long-term benefits, doesn’t help me reach that number now [if I’m that development officer]. So I need to have a degree of buy-in. It’s got to be a long-term investment because it doesn’t pay off immediately.”