So You Want to Be a Fundraising Consultant?
In my career I have worked or have known a very long list of fundraising consultants. These individuals come in various shapes and sizes. Some are very young in the profession while others proudly point to the color of their hair, which is code for "I am very experienced." Many consultants work for large firms and have specialized functions. Others are solo practitioners and have to be super generalists. In many cases, consultants have an interest area such as religion while others focus on an area such as Boys and Girls Clubs. If you ask consultants how they became one, their answers cover a spectrum. I find it interesting that many practitioners believe they can easily step from an institutional role to consultant role. What do you think the requirements are to be a good consultant?
Research shows that in order to be a fundraising consultant you should have at least a bachelor's degree. You should have width plus broad functional experience in all facets of the development department, from the front of the store to the back of the store. You should have volunteer experience with organizations like the Association of Fundraising Professionals. A Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE) designation would be a plus with clients. One must be prepared to work with various types of clients and understand what techniques, culture and types of organizations provide different challenges. Is your personality flexible, and do you have the ability to understand and absorb research?
According to Silas Reed in "What it takes to be a Fundraising Consultant," a fundraising consultant works as an expert in the domain of understanding the specific concern of society to a particular fundraising drive and which specific group of society could be most involved with it. It is essential to know what inputs an individual needs to become a successful fundraising consultant. A good consultant should work on a long-range vision of his or her objective rather than just trying for an overnight success. He or she should be good at public relations and, of course, sales. The clients should be able to feel the confidence the consultant radiates with his experience and the knowledge to effectively guide the organizers to the success of a program.
Bernard Ross and Sudeshna Mukherjee, in their June 13, 2012 article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, laid out the "10 Traits of a Great Consultant." They obtained this information from their interviews with a variety of professionals at an AFP Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia.
According to their findings, to be a great consultant you must:
- Have self-confidence and be adept at delivering bad news as good
- Have a good understanding of the business and of themselves
- Have transferable skills
- Have the ability to simplify and explain a problem
- Have more than one solution to a problem
- Be a good listener
- Be a team player
- Be able to market
- Gain client trust
- Remember who's the star
Before you run off and become a consultant tomorrow, you have only captured the positives of being a consultant. Having been a consultant, I can also share a few possible negatives with you. These items are not in any particular order:
- Uncertainly of income from month to month
- The stress of travel across the country
- Time away from family and home routine
- Tremendous competition as there are many consultants
- You must turn it on when you feel like turning it off
- Can you handle negative perceptions of consultants?
- Get ready to work very long hours, nights and weekends
- You better have updated technical and computer skills
- You are in trouble if you are not a good writer and speaker
- The need to be flexible at all times to changing situations
Think twice before you jump into the "I want to be a consultant" pool. It is definitely not for every professional. If you are a practitioner and that is your day job, you might pick up one client at first in a consulting role. Try being in that scenario and do a SWOT analysis of yourself. Become friends with other consultants and be a mentee to seasoned consulting professionals. It is a wonderful role, but it is not for the faint-hearted. So you want to be a fundraising consultant? Look before you leap!
Duke Haddad, Ed.D., CFRE, is currently associate director of development, director of capital campaigns and director of corporate development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis. He also serves as president of Duke Haddad and Associates LLC and is a freelance instructor for Nonprofit Web Advisor.
He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO since 2008.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis on education administration plus a dissertation on donor characteristics. He received a master’s degree from Marshall University with an emphasis on public administration plus a thesis on annual fund analysis. He secured a bachelor’s degree (cum laude) with an emphasis on marketing/management. He has done post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
Duke has received the Fundraising Executive of the Year Award, from the Association of Fundraising Professionals Indiana Chapter. He also was given the Outstanding West Virginian Award, Kentucky Colonel Award and Sagamore of the Wabash Award from the governors of West Virginia, Kentucky and Indiana, respectively, for his many career contributions in the field of philanthropy. He has maintained a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) designation for three decades.