To bring your mission to fruition, you need a clear roadmap. However, developing an optimal fundraising strategy can be challenging, especially when there is already so much on your nonprofit’s plate. Luckily, you don’t have to do this alone!

A fundraising consultant can identify opportunities for improvement in your existing fundraising plan and build new strategies to advance your nonprofit. Whether you’re struggling with online fundraising or stewardship, a fundraising consultant will bring a fresh perspective to your operations and help push you one step closer to your mission.

In this guide, we’ll cover five simple steps to hire the perfect fundraising consultant for your nonprofit. Backed by the right partner, you’ll have the support and guidance you need to maximize giving and strengthen donor relationships.

1. Secure your board’s buy-in.

Securing buy-in from your board is critical to hiring a consultant and creating an effective partnership. The right consultant will work side by side with your team, so it’s essential that your board gives the green light to set up a collaborative working relationship. Plus, your board will be involved in fundraising activities, such as stewarding major donors, and will be able to provide helpful insights and next steps for your work with the consultant.

2. Read up on consulting services.

After determining your needs and goals, outlining your project and talking to your board, you’ll need to research possible consulting firms and the services they offer. Your fundraising needs should align with the specific services and specialties of your prospective consultants.

Consulting firms can help your nonprofit with a variety of things like conducting feasibility studies ahead of a capital campaign and email marketing. Some other common services include:

  • Fundraising solutions
  • Strategic planning
  • Communications
  • Board and staff training

Along with the services consultants provide, you’ll also want to consider the following factors:

  • Founding philosophies: Ensure a prospective consultant’s mission and values align with your own. This will lead to the most effective and productive partnerships.
  • Location: If your nonprofit is looking to bring on a consultant with a strong understanding of your community, then a local firm might satisfy your needs. However, a remote consultant can bring a fresh perspective to your nonprofit and pull from best practices seen in other locations and sectors that could benefit your organization. Weigh the pros and cons of both to determine whether a local or remote fundraising consultant can meet your needs.
  • Testimonials and references: Look at a prospective consultant’s website to see if past clients reported having positive experiences with this consultant. This will help you get a strong sense of their working style and whether a given consultant would be a good fit for your organization. You can also request references from your consultant later in the hiring process to get more in-depth insights from former clients, which we’ll discuss in the fourth step.
  • Past projects: Explore a consultant’s past projects to assess if they have the right background and experience to support your proposed project. They should also have experience working with nonprofits similar in size and sector to yours.
  • Chemistry: Once you meet with a prospective consultant or talk to them over the phone, you’ll get a better sense of their communication style and personality. Ensure that your consultant will mesh well with your nonprofit to increase the success of your partnership.

To kickstart your research, you can take a look at Google reviews and consultants’ websites. However, leveraging your professional network is essential if you’re stuck at this initial starting point of your research.

3. Use your network.

There are plenty of consulting firms out there and each one offers different packages, so it’s easy to be overwhelmed; however, don’t forget that you can use the help and knowledge of your network to support this process. Look towards these resources: Ask for fundraising consultant referrals from your respected peers, professional organizations and community-based organizations.

Your respected peers

Your peers from other nonprofit organizations probably have some experience with hiring a consultant (or they know someone who does), so don’t hesitate to reach out.

Look for nonprofits that have similar supporter bases and goals. For example, if your nonprofit is locally focused and has a staff of ten, you may not want to ask a national nonprofit with 100+ employees for a recommendation. Instead, one that is most similar to yours will ensure you find a consultant with the most relevant background.

Professional organizations

Professional organizations like The Giving Institute provide complete lists of trusted and vetted fundraising consultants. This ensures that you’re only considering reputable consultants who have a proven track record in driving success for their clients.

Community-based organizations

Community organizations offer directories of top fundraising consultants specific to certain locations. For example, if you’re an Indianapolis-based nonprofit that wants a consultant who has an in-depth understanding of your community, you might look towards a community-based organization in Indianapolis for their recommendations.

You can also look at web pages that round up the top reputable consultants, like Re:Charity’s list of the leading nonprofit consulting firms. Wherever you start your research, make sure to be thorough and ensure a consultant checks off all your boxes before hiring them.

4. Be thorough throughout the hiring process.

After you’ve used your network to recruit consultant candidates, you’ll want to be thorough in the hiring process. Meeting with your top candidates will probably be the easiest way to get a feel for their personalities and decide if their values align with your nonprofit’s.

Keep the following tips in mind as you interview candidates:

Pick a consultant who fits.

When interviewing potential consultants, keep the following points in mind and feel free to ask them:

  • Do they understand your nonprofit’s cause and goals?
  • Do they have experience working with similar nonprofits?
  • What are their specialty services and do they match your nonprofit’s needs?
  • Will they be able to collaborate easily with your team and board?

Selecting a consultant who understands your project’s efforts and your cause is crucial for your partnership’s success.

Ask for a proposal.

After you’ve met or spoken with the potential consultant, you can ask them for a proposal. A proposal is a document that outlines a consultant’s process and approach to your project, as well as answers any specific questions you have. Aly Sterling Philanthropy’s guide to fundraising consultants explains that a strong proposal will have the following elements:

  • Demonstrates an understanding of your nonprofit’s mission
  • Offers suggestions to fix the challenges brought up in your conversations
  • Provides a projected timeline
  • Lists out any estimated expenses

You can request proposals for multiple consultants that you’re interested in or just one or two of your top choices. The proposal is intended to help you narrow down your choices further and increase your confidence in a candidate.

Check their references.

Speak with past clients that a prospective consultant has served so you can get first-hand insight into their working style and the fundraising results they’re able to produce.

Focus your discussion with references on how your candidate managed their project and collaborated with a team. You can cover if the candidate kept a budget and deadline in mind while working.

5. Communicate and sign.

Keep in mind that your consultants’ proposals aren’t set in stone, and you can always take the opportunity to note any questions or changes you would like to be made. For example, if the timeline seems too short or too long, you can see how a consultant might modify their approach to better meet your needs.

As you finalize your decision and turn the proposal into a more concrete plan, keep these tips in mind:

Establish your expected communication and timeline.

When it comes to communication, you’ll need to establish your expectations and schedule biweekly or weekly meetings. Determine what your consultant should discuss with you and what they can make their own judgments on.

Finalize your timeline so both parties know how long the project will take and how much of your consultant’s time will be dedicated to this account. For example, while an online fundraising project might take just a few months, you might need a consultant for a year or more when planning a capital campaign.

Determine how your consultant will be paid.

You’ll also need to discuss the costs of the contract. How will your nonprofit pay your consultant? You may be paying a flat fee, a retainer or an hourly rate. Make sure both you and your consultant are comfortable with the final decision.

Finalize your goals and responsibilities.

Determine your nonprofit’s goals and responsibilities, along with your consultant’s responsibilities. It’s important to know how your consultant will collaborate with your nonprofit’s internal operations. You’ll also want to discuss what tools you’ll use to track your project’s success, such as fundraising software and CRM platforms like Salesforce, and decide on which metrics to pay attention to.

The relationship your nonprofit has with your consultant will rely heavily on open communication, so make sure both you and your consultant understand your project’s needs and goals from the beginning.

Remember: a consultant is the missing link. You’re hiring a consultant for advice and help, which won’t be effective unless you share the reins. Trust that your consultant knows what they’re doing but don’t forget to take an active role in your fundraising strategy, too. With both parties working together in harmony, you’ll be much more likely to fundraise with a positive return!

About the Author

Aly Sterling

Long before Aly Sterling founded her eponymous consulting firm, she was solving the unique yet similar problems encountered by nonprofit organizations. Her decision to start her own business in 2007 was driven by her belief in leadership as the single most important factor in organizational success, and her determination to work with multiple causes at one time to scale societal change.

Aly’s expertise includes fundraising, strategic planning, search consultation and board leadership development for the well-positioned nonprofit. She is regularly sought for comment by trade and mainstream media, including the Chronicle of Philanthropy and U.S. News & World Report. She has contributed to publications of BoardSource and The Governance Institute, as well as the Toledo Chamber of Commerce and The Giving Institute.


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