8 Questions Fundraising Counsel Shouldn’t Be Afraid to Answer
To achieve victory, a capital campaign must be won on paper before launched on the streets. Hiring fundraising counsel to conduct a campaign feasibility study is a proven and prudent way to ensure campaign success.
The search for study counsel raises the inevitable question: “Given the plethora of firms that exist, how do I know who to choose?”
Below are the eight fundamental questions you should ask before signing on the dotted line.
Note: Be sure to ask these questions either before the opening slide of a firm’s PowerPoint or the first page of their handout. That way, you’ll get to the heart of the matter immediately and not run out of time during Q&A at the end.
1. Identify three ways your firm is different from the competition.
Differentiating features are often buried or overlooked in the explanation of the study process during a consultant’s presentation. Ask this question straight off. You will get valuable information and spare yourself the boiler plate monologue of most presentations that regurgitate study timeline, steps, deliverables, etc.
2. Tell me about a study you conducted that failed and why? A follow-up is: What was your remedy?
Beware of any firm that tells you, “We have never lost a study or campaign.” Such a firm is either short on experience or long on fiction.
3. When can we meet the person(s) who will be conducting the face-to-face interviews before the study begins?
The consultant interviewer is your organization’s ambassador to people in your community. Is your organization reflected positively by this person’s personality, appearance and manner?
4. How many face-to-face interviews will you conduct and why?
Firms differ in the number of face-to-face interviews they recommend. Ask why a firm interviews the number of face-to-face interviews it does. The major cost factor of a feasibility study is the number of interviews.
5. Provide examples of when you recommended that a client NOT conduct a capital campaign.
Just as everyone is not ready to buy a house, not every organization is ready for a capital campaign. Be sure to probe and ask why clients were not ready.
6. If not ready for a capital campaign, do you provide a remedial plan for the client to get positioned for a successful capital campaign? What does that look like?
Legitimate, conscientious firms you can trust will provide a comprehensive action plan in your study report that describes the steps to be taken to get your organization campaign-ready. This should be an automatic deliverable, not an extra expense.
7. If the study recommends the launch of a capital campaign, what are the fees your firm charges for campaign management?
Beware of the firm that says, “We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.” An overwhelming majority of the time, the firm that conducts your campaign feasibility goes on to manage your campaign. This is a significant investment on your part, and judicious organizations get a handle on complete cost projections up front.
8. How do you define campaign victory?
This question opens the door for an engaging discussion of everyone’s expectations. Is victory just reaching a monetary goal? Some campaigns reach goal but adopt a “scorched earth” policy that creates lasting acrimony and bitterness among donor investors. Or, does it include raising awareness, good will, increased volunteer participation, board growth, etc.? If so, how are these measured?
By focusing on honest facts minus the fundraising jargon, these eight questions will propel you forward to your desired destination. Good fundraising counsel will help you navigate the peaks and valleys that accompany every capital campaign. The first step of your fundraising journey is selecting counsel. How you start will determine how you finish.
Lee Mikell, CFRE, is a professional fundraiser with 30 years of experience—half as a staff member for five nonprofits and half as a consultant for three firms.