Fundraising Professional or Fundraising Consultant

Hiring a Fundraising Professional or Engaging a Fundraising Consultant: What to Do and When to Do It?

I receive a number of inquiries each month from directors of non-profit organizations and from volunteer leaders concerning how to increase the number and size of contributions they receive. Often the questions focus on whether they should hire a half-time or full-time fundraising professional for the agency or whether they should engage a consultant to assist them in thinking through a strategy and specific actions they should take to increase the donations they receive during the year. Through my experiences I have found that the organization’s professional and volunteer leadership has to go through a planning process in order to decide if and when a professional fundraiser and/or a fundraising consultant should be engaged to assist in increasing contributions as well as applying for support from other sources of funds including private foundations and government grants.

The issue of engaging additional professional support may be raised by either the director or by the chair of the board, and in either case it needs to be discussed and reviewed in the appropriate forums within an organization. This means the executive discussing it with the existing professional staff and soliciting their perspective on what needs to be done and what is the best way to do it. Often the professional staff will have a perspective that is somewhat different from the director. The discussion may lend clarity to the way the role is formulated within the organization as well as whether an additional staff person is hired or whether a consultant is engaged for a specific number of hours per week.

Simultaneously, the director and the board chair should engage with a group of board members to develop the policies guiding a decision to hire a professional or a consultant. The board members should play a significant role in the formulation of the policies and in endorsing a new program to increasing the agency’s income through a more assertive approach to fundraising. It is most appropriate to vet this with a “resource development committee” (FRD committee) and if such a committee does not exist it should be formed prior to engaging a fundraising professional.

Although forming a “resource development committee” might seem to be obvious, I have had experience with organizations where decisions have been made by the chief executive officer and the chair of the board was then informed of the new addition to the professional team. The board chair then has to convince the board of the rationale for the decision instead of facilitating a process where the board “owns” the decision and authorizes the executive to engage a new person. It is better to build in the support prior to making a decision and to have the board committee in place so they can participate in the decision-making process around the staffing of the fundraising effort.

It is important to develop a strategic plan for the financial resource development of the organization. Initially a consultant may be engaged to assist the agency in defining the best way to begin to fundraise and to establish objectives and benchmarks with the committee. As a result of the consultant’s efforts, and the fundraising committee having greater clarity, a decision can be made whether it makes sense to continue with a part-time consultant or whether a staff member responsible for the “FRD” function needs to be hired by the organization.

The strategic plan is the first step and there should be a work plan that lays out the specific actions that will be taken by the FRD committee and the staff that is working on implementing the plan. It generally defines who is taking responsibility for the variety of activities and events. A time line is developed that includes benchmarks by which the success of the plan can be evaluated and measured.

During the course of the year, the FRD committee reviews the challenges and accomplishments. It should be receiving ongoing reports from the professional staff and from those volunteer leaders who were involved in the planned fundraising events and activities, as well as, the applications to foundations. This process enables the fundraising professional and the committee to have an understanding of what works best and what needs to be done differently in the coming year.

There is no question that some fundraising approaches are more successful than other approaches and what works well for one organization in one city may not work well for another agency in a second location. However, if the leadership of the non-profit does not develop and implement a plan it will never know what is most effective in increasing its voluntary contributions and foundation support.

A fundraising consultant works best to assist in clarifying the board’s role; developing a strategic approach; mapping out potential donors; training staff and volunteer leaders in solicitation; and in clarifying the role of the FRD committee. A fundraising professional on staff becomes part of the agency’s campaign and is an integral part of the organization’s fundraising effort. The decision to hire either one or both depends on the agency’s resources and its staff composition. There is no right or wrong approach and it depends more on what the organization strives to accomplish given their financial and human resources.

In deciding which approach the agency decides to implement it needs to confirm not only the board’s agreement but also their support and willingness to participate in whichever approach is adopted. The implementation of the FRD plan is something “we do” and not something “they do”. This means it is not a matter of voting to approve a plan others will successfully conduct but rather something that board and staff will all support and carry out so that the organization benefits from the efforts of the fundraising consultant or the fundraising professional that has been engaged to increase our financial resources.

Stephen G. Donshik, D.S.W., is a lecturer at Hebrew University’s International Leadership and Philanthropy Program and has a consulting firm focused on strengthening non-profit organizations and their leadership for tomorrow. Stephen is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.