Peter Heller

The Top 5 Tips for Working with Fundraising Consultants

By Peter Heller

Contributors: Derry Derringer, Gary Friedmann, Kim Gerstman, Jeffrey Lischin, Lisa Mantone, Ross Mudrick, Bruce Temkin, & Mieke Vandersall.

I have worked as a fundraising consultant for almost two decades. I love what I do – witnessing nonprofits surpass their fundraising goals never gets old. 

The relationship between a nonprofit client and their fundraising consultant has the potential to be a true gamechanger. The most successful engagements I have witnessed have one thing in common: the client took full advantage of our working relationship. The client was communicative, clear, honest, brave, patient, hard-working, and at the end of the day genuinely enjoyed working with the Heller Fundraising Group. 

The Heller Group operates with five staff and approximately 20 collaborating consultants. I believe one of our great strengths, and differentiators, is our ability to provide nonprofits with highly skilled hand-selected teams. We believe that bringing a small group to each organization not only allows for multiple intelligences to work on challenges, but also accomplishes fundraising goals quickly and efficiently. The Heller Group’s highly skilled consultants are all hands-on, trustworthy experts. 

These experts have incredible insight, and I am thrilled to feature their voices on the Heller Group Blog. They know exactly what makes the most successful relationship with a consultant.  

Perhaps you are thinking about hiring a fundraising consultant or are currently contracted with one — take a moment to read their advice below.

And if you are wondering whether you should hire the Heller Fundraising Group, follow this link to read my blog on the subject!

Without further ado, I present to you the Heller Group’s Top 5 Fundraising Tips for Working with a Consultant:

  1. Be Clear. Communication is Everything!

There’s nothing wrong with needing expert advice and additional hands-on help – two of the most powerful things consultants can offer nonprofits. What makes the consulting relationship go well is communication from both sides of the table on needs and expectations. Here’s what our consulting team says:

Be sure to set up clear expectations and deliverables. – Kim Gerstman

Be clear about your goal. – Derry Derringer

Communicate with your people. Transparency about our process is critically important for success. – Mieke Vandersall

Don’t be shy — communicate often! – Gary Friedmann

Be clear about your needs and capacity. – Jeffrey Lischin

Schedule a few “big picture” check-ins fairly early in the engagement. These conversations shouldn’t focus on specific deliverables, but instead on whether work styles are meshing and whether you’re getting what you need. Often problems can be prevented through proactive communication. – Ross Mudrick

 

2. Honesty is the best policy

What aren’t you saying about the challenges at your nonprofit? These things will eventually come up. Fundraising brings everything to light – trust me on this. So, let’s start our consulting engagement with all our cards on the table, even the uncomfortable ones. Our team agrees with me: 

Be truthful about the strengths and weaknesses of your organization and fundraising program – Kim Gerstman

There are no dumb questions. – Bruce Temkin

Make your needs known, even if it’s painful to admit that some things aren’t going well. The sooner we can get to the root of the problem, the sooner we can solve it. – Ross Mudrick

Give frequent feedback to your consultant about how they are meeting the objectives of the contract. – Kim Gerstman 

Be honest with us. The only way that we can work together is if you are honest and truthful with us about your reality. We are able to keep confidentiality and talk through sticky dynamics, and… often…[that is when] we are able to make change.  – Mieke Vandersall

 

3. Take Risks

Look, we’ve all got different levels of risk tolerance. But here’s the thing, no one ever raised more money by staying in the safe zone. Our team knows this from experience…

Be open to change. Take more risks while you have an experienced advisor by your side.  – Derry Derringer

You bring the passion, and we’ll bring the fundraising expertise. – Bruce Temkin

Try something new. We are working together to try new things–and those new things are based in how we think about, talk about, and raise money. We might recommend scary things, but they might just help unlock blockages. – Mieke Vandersall

As much as possible, be open to suggestions.  You have hired a consultant for their expertise and there may be ideas, while new to the organization, [that] could be impactful to fundraising in the long run. – Lisa Mantone

4. Do the work and trust the process

We’ve seen so many nonprofits raise more money when they engage in the best practices we teach them. We understand, however, it can be hard to believe in the money before you see the money. So, what do you put your trust in? THE PROCESS. It works.  

Put in the work. – Derry Derringer

There’s no silver bullet for fundraising success – it takes time. – Bruce Temkin

Provide all needed documents, boilerplate writing samples, documented outcomes. – Jeffrey Lischin

Make sure that you set aside time in your schedule to work with the consultant. – Kim Gerstman

Think about your engagement as being term-limited. If you have questions about why the consultant is doing something the way they’re doing it, ask, so that by the end of the engagement you’re ready to continue the work on your own. – Ross Mudrick

Trust us! We only work well together when we have a culture and relationship of trust. – Mieke Vandersall

5. Chemistry is Key

When you select a company to support your fundraising base the decision on the proposal AND the chemistry. Choose the people who can get you to your goal. People are the secret ingredient. 

When selecting a consultant, focus on culture fit. The consultant should be someone you feel comfortable with, that you trust, that you feel gets you and cares about your work. If you like working with the consultant, you’ll get a lot more out of the engagement. – Ross Mudrick

The chemistry has to feel right from the beginning. The consultant should be able to connect viscerally with your mission and articulate the case for support with ease and fluidity. – Gary Friedmann

Communicate with us. Tell us when things aren’t resonating in a particular way to help us learn your own unique culture.  – Mieke Vandersall

Enjoy the relationship with the consultant – it is an opportunity to test new initiatives and especially those that may have a great impact on fundraising results.  It is a partnership! – Lisa Mantone

To learn more about the incredible fundraising team at Heller Fundraising Group, please visit: www.hellerfundraisinggroup.com/our-team

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