The Myths and Facts of What a Fundraising Consultant Can Do for Your Nonprofit
Taking large institutions out of the equation, we know the fundraising landscape changed profoundly last year. One of the results of the pandemic was that many nonprofits took their fundraising virtual. As we work collectively to recover, many small to midsize nonprofits are looking to measure fundraising performance. Fundraising professionals have lots of pressure to perform, and organizations are turning to fundraising consultants.
Sure, money's tight, but nonprofit leaders understand that they have to invest in their organizations to survive. In many instances, there's been a lot of outreach to expert nonprofit fundraising consultants. I can attest to that as my phone has been ringing a lot more since we moved away from last year's events.
I’m happy people are calling and emailing me about fundraising coaching. Nevertheless, in the conversations I've had with some nonprofits and consulting peers, something seems to be a common thread: Some nonprofit leaders and board members think that because a fundraising consultant has raised millions or billions of dollars, that person will make it rain money.
Unfortunately, that's a myth. Speaking from my own personal and professional experience, I've raised more than $1 billion in my years of experience. Still, because I've done so, it doesn't mean I will walk through a nonprofit's doors with $100,000, $500,000 or $1 million gifts. That's not how nonprofit consulting works. That's not what fundraising consultants do — and you don't want it to be that way. Allow me to explain.
Pull The Plug on This Myth
Now that you know what the fundraising consultant myth is, let's discuss why you want to help your board understand a consultant's role when you work with them. Let's say you hired a fundraising consultant. However, you’ve never discussed the process of fundraising, and you expect them to make well-placed calls to their acquaintances and friends so you can make millions. Here’s what’s going to happen: not much.
Any credible fundraising consultant will not call on people they've built connections with through their work to ask for money. Remember, fundraising is about building, creating and maintaining relationships and friendships. As a fundraising consultant, if I built connections with your top donors, and then I worked with another nonprofit (maybe even your competitor), and asked your top donors for money for the other nonprofit, what would you think? At best, you would think it's unethical. And at worst, you might speak to your attorneys about how to end your contract. This is why you need to consider why you need a fundraising consultant and what they can do for your organization. Let’s take a look at that more carefully.
The Way Fundraising Consultants Will Help You Raise Money
Excellent fundraising consultants are rainmakers, but not in the way you may have initially thought. If you decide you need outside expertise, you should hire an expert fundraising consultant with a proven track record. As I mentioned, that person is a rainmaker, but it’s because that person empowers you.
- An excellent fundraising consultant will work closely with you to determine who among your donors and prospects should be prioritized — and how.
- You will get trained on how to communicate with your donor prospects. Moreover, if you have a major gifts program, you will learn how to frame your discussions with your prospects to maximize the money you raise.
- A fundraising consultant could go with you when you make a prospect call or visit and coach you, or even steer the conversation in the necessary direction.
- Your fundraising consultant will bring with them the breadth of experience that person has gained through years of work with other donors and organizations. In other words, practice makes perfect. The more you ask, the more you learn how to ask.
- When you partner with a fundraising consultant, that person could help with some of the asks for your campaign, which helps you gain more confidence for eventually doing it for yourself.
Proven fundraising consultants with experience bring a lot to the table and have a lot to offer you. They can certainly help your nonprofit raise more money than you may have done in the past. Still, it's not going to come from them opening up a little black book of donors from other organizations. It's going to happen by working closely with you and showing you how to “fish.” In short, coaching on the art and science of fundraising.
Editor's Note: This column was originally published in the May/June 2021 print edition of NonProfit PRO as “Fundraising Consultants: What You Need to Know.”
Paul D’Alessandro, J.D., CFRE, is the author of "The Future of Fundraising: How Philanthropy’s Future is Here with Donors Dictating the Terms." He’s the founder and chairman of High Impact Nonprofit Advisors (HNA), and also D'Alessandro Inc. (DAI), which is a fundraising and strategic management consulting company with more than 30 years of experience in the philanthropic sector.
He has worked with hundreds of nonprofits to raise over a billion dollars for his clients in the U.S. and abroad. In addition, as a nonprofit and business expert — who is also a practicing attorney — Paul has worked with high-level global philanthropists, vetting and negotiating their strategic gifts to charitable causes. Paul understands that today's environment requires innovation and fresh thinking, which is why he launched HNA to train and coach leaders who want to make a difference in the world.