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How do you know that a fundraising consultant is worth the money? 💰

Are you wondering if your nonprofit fundraising consultant is worth the money? This is a partially loaded question. In a perfect world, both you and the consultant should be well aware at all times if they are making the impact that you and nonprofit need. Neither of you should be wondering very long if signing with them was a good choice. In order to know this, the best way to start out a consulting relationship is with an up-front, carefully written scope of work. The deliverables in the scope should be measurable and clear. Then both you and the consultant in partnership should track them closely on a regular basis. An easy way to do this is to make the scope of work the agenda topics for your regular check-ins (and if you don’t have regularly scheduled check-ins with all of your contractors, we highly suggest it!).

Afraid your consultant is a waste of money?
Neither you nor your fundraising consultant will perform well if it is not clear what they are supposed to do or when they need to do it in order to meet and exceed expectations. Consultant scopes of work are exactly like job descriptions for employees. You want to hold your consultant to what they were hired to do, and have incentives (or disciplinary action) in line when performance is superior (or when it is subpar).

At the same time, the best consultants should demand written, measurable scopes of work upfront. If you think about their perspectives, they are most profitable when they hit (or exceed) your specific targets rather than spending a lot of time, energy, and resources trying to follow an unclear mandate. If you or your board find yourself wondering if the nonprofit fundraising consultant you hired is really a good investment, it’s a good time to stop and inventory what you put in writing as part of your relationship with the consultant. And to review what they demanded when they agreed to work for you. Had they verbally agreed to a vague, unwritten arrangement? Or did they send a written contract for signature before they would start work that you both created?

If you do have measurable, clear, and written goals for your chosen consultant and they are still not being met, here are some next steps to make sure you and your nonprofit organization make the most of your investment. In this case, you can:

  • Retrieve any written emails, documents, or other information that defined the consultant’s role, pricing, etc. from the beginning of the relationship
  • Call for a check-in meeting to collaboratively revisit the above items and check in on how each party feels things are going. Once complete, update (or create) a written plan that both parties sign and promise to track moving forward so there is accountability
  • Discuss results together with your consultant as they compare to the written scope you had both agreed on. Have a candid conversation about accountability. Both of you should own any part of the work that was not performed that was due to your actions. For example, many times we find friction when the client promises accessibility but is impossible to find once a contract is signed. Be on the lookout for issues like this that may be yours since they can severely hinder the progress of a consultant’s work
  • Set up a process to regularly receive and archive all documents, research, and other deliverables provided by the consultant in a shared drive on your organization’s server. You should always have your consultants’ work safely kept where it belongs–to you, the client. Many clients forget to proactively ask for and/or retrieve any work that has been done by consultants and that can be really uncomfortable if you are unhappy with their work and have to ask well into the contract and when tension is high
  • Engage your board, senior leadership, and other advisors in the process of determining how to move forward with your consultants if you feel you are at a crossroads. Many times, this outside perspective and support is just what you need to find the right answer. This is why boards, advisors, and senior leadership teams exist and many relish the opportunity to help you work through any consultant hiccups. They can be more objective than you imagined while keeping the organization’s mission in mind.

What to do if you and your consultant realize it’s not a good fit
When it’s not a good fit, an excellent fundraising consultant should self-identify that they are not filling your needs. Further, many of us will offer up other consultants or firms as options, or agree to help you find and train a replacement. We may also offer written manuals and instructions on what to do as you seek a different option.

If you aren’t that lucky, it’s OK to admit that your latest consultant was not your best. Be honest and vulnerable and try not to write off all of the others. Revisit what you really want and put it in writing. Put out feelers to your network that you are ready for someone new and share the written expectations. Include anything you failed to mention with the last consultant.

Just because your chosen consultant wasn’t “the one” does not mean that either of you are an epic fail. Like any other relationship, it’s usually a matter of experience, core values, and strengths of each party that signal a winning, long term relationship. We’ve all had jobs or friends that didn’t work out in the long run, but that doesn’t mean we can’t leverage it as a learning experience on both sides and promise to make better choices next time. It’s a teachable moment for any nonprofit organization or consultant, and will enable both of you to have a better fit the next time around.

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Founded and led by veteran nonprofit fundraiser Olympia Ammon, The Olympia Collective specializes in non-profit revenue generation, board & staff support, and data & insights. We empower our clients to deliver maximum impact to the communities they serve.

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