Hiring a Consultant
by Kim Klein
There are times in the life of almost every group when a fundraising consultant can be helpful. These times are characterized by one or more of the following situations:
Consultants must know what your organization can learn from their teaching, guiding, and advice giving, and what it can only learn from experience. They must know what they can do for an organization, and what an organization can only do for itself.
Fundraising consultants can:
There are no standards or guidelines for how much to pay a consultant. Most consultants charge by the day or the hour, but some charge by the job. Consultants also charge for all their expenses: hotels, meals, telephone, photocopying, and travel are the most common.
Establish clearly just what you are paying for. For example, you pay for the consultant's time. But when does that time start when the consultant arrives at the job or when they leave home to travel to the job? Find out if the consultant charges for phone calls, and at what rate.
If you are hiring a person for several days or months of work, build in evaluation points. This benefits the consultant also, who may need to re-estimate the time involved, or may have run into some unforeseen obstacles. It is important to have a written statement spelling out your understanding of the consultant's role, fees and expenses, which you both sign. For the same reasons listed in the last issue's column on hiring a development director, do not pay the consultant on a contingency or commission basis.
How to Choose a Consultant
Once you have decided that your particular situation may be helped by a consultant, what do you look for in that person?
Track Record. Ask how much fundraising he or she has done, and with what success. Has the person worked with organizations similar to yours both in purpose and strategy, and in similar locales? If questions of gender, sexual orientation, race, class, or disability are very important in your organization, ask the consultant what experience they have working on these issues as well, or with diverse groups of people.
References. If you don't know the person by reputation, ask for the last three groups she or he has worked with. Then call those groups and ask about the consultant. Was the person helpful? Did the consultant listen well and really understand the situation? Would this group hire this consultant again?
Compatibility. If you envision a relationship with the consultant involving more than a one- or two-day training, you may wish to meet the person to see if you like the person and would feel good taking his or her advice. Sometimes an excellent fundraising consultant is not the right person for your group because the personalities will not mesh. If the organization dislikes the consultant, both the person's advice and your money are wasted.
Confidence. Ask what the consultant will do for you, or what he or she recommends. Avoid asking for long written plans. Elaborate "work plans" or proposals are often standardized; each one is essentially the same as the next, with the name of your organization substituted for the name of the previous organization. You can ask for a resume, but by the time of this meeting, you are not looking so much for proof of fundraising knowledge as for ability to put that knowledge across.
Belief. Finally, the consultant must be able to articulate the mission of your organization and believe that your group should exist. Out of conviction as well as needing a job, he or she needs to care about what you stand for and want to help you. This is particularly important if your group is controversial or has a "troublemaker" image. Avoid consultants who advise you to "tone down" your message or broaden your goals "to make everyone feel included."
Kim Klein is publisher and editor of Grassroots Fundraising Journal. This article is excerpted from Fundraising for Social Change, Third Edition. For copies of the journal or book, contact Chardon Press, 3781 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94611; 510-596-8160;