Selecting a Professional Fundraising Firm

Posted by David G Phillips on Aug 9, 2018 4:43:44 PM

Professional fundraising services are generally provided on two different levels: resident counsel, with constant project direction; or part-time, on an outside consulting basis. You will need to decide which is more appropriate for your situation and budget.

The resident Campaign Director plays the role of a consultant, but also does much more. Working in concert with the firm’s professional staff, he or she will plan your campaign strategy and carry out that strategy by providing experienced, expert, step-by-step guidance to your staff and campaign leaders.

The part-time Campaign Consultant generally puts a structure into place and assigns tasks and responsibilities to your staff. When not “on-site,” the consultant is available to answer questions and provide guidance.

This brings us to the key question: Which best matches your need, structure and budget: a resident consultant or an outside advisor? Obviously, the answer depends on a variety of factors specific to each organization.

The intensive, resident campaign direction is almost always appropriate for a community-based development program that emphasizes volunteer and board involvement.

At the same time, there are many organizations that have well-staffed development departments that follow a comprehensive long-term solicitation strategy with heavy staff involvement. They may have broad geographic areas and a much wider constituency. Volunteer involvement may be more limited, with most donor contact conducted by staff alone, or a combined effort of both staff and volunteers. Situations such as these may require only outside, periodic consulting—yet it is not unusual to find an “outside” director on-site, guiding an intensive capital campaign on the organization’s behalf.

The key factor in such a decision is this: for your local situation, what is the best way to ensure that the right things will be done, in the right order, at the right time, by the right people?

For successful results, you must have at least one individual whose primary task is the management of the campaign. If it is someone from your own staff, make sure he or she has capital campaign experience, authority and responsibility in the position, so the process is not stalled.

Prior to conducting a campaign, you should always do a Campaign Feasibility and Planning Study. We highly recommend that you hire an outside firm to do this. They will be able to get honest answers to sensitive questions because of the confidential nature of the interviews. You should also understand that when selecting fundraising counsel for a Study, you are choosing your counsel for the campaign. It would be an incredible waste of resources (and your effort) to change consultants after the Study. You should select the firm that is the best choice for long-term potential.

Preparing for discussions
In order to analyze your situation and give you the benefit of their preliminary thinking, prospective fundraising counsel will need to get some information from you:

  1. For what purposes do you want to raise funds?
  2. How much do you want to raise?
  3. Do you think you have sufficient volunteers available to you?
  4. Do you think you have sufficient donor prospects available to you: If so, who do you think they are (Board Members, past donors, local foundations, corporations, etc.)?
  5. What can your board, staff and constituents contribute to the success of this campaign? Are they willing to work on it? Do they have the time? Do they have the resources?
  6. What is your timetable for raising the funds?
  7. What is your posture in the donor community? Would you say that you are well positioned for success?
  8. What were the results of your past fundraising efforts? What results are you expecting from your current efforts?
  9. What other significant fundraising activities are planned or underway in your community?
  10. What do you expect from the fundraising counsel?
  11. Have other significant fundraising efforts in the community been successful?

Some questions may touch on sensitive areas, but counsel needs honest and complete answers in order to evaluate your situation. The client-counsel relationship needs to be built on good communication, mutual trust, and rapport from the beginning. It is ultimately self-defeating to hold back unpleasant facts from counsel. Clearly, a firm can design effective solutions only if the full extent and background of the strengths and weaknesses of your program are known.

You will also want to talk to other organizations that have just gone through a capital campaign to find out their experience with outside counsel.

In these early discussions you will be asking each firm for specific information about its history of successful capital campaigns, staff size, list of other clients and organizations they have worked with, their approach, and methods of operation.

Interview Process

  1. Invite several vendors for the Selection Committee Presentation (this is a committee made up of selected Board members, the Executive Director and the Development Director).
  2. Each firm should make a presentation within an allotted time frame (allow at least an hour) which allows for a question and answer period. After each firm has made their presentation, tell them you will contact them by mail or phone to inform them of your decision. Phone calls allow them to learn from your feedback.
  3. At the end of the presentations, take sufficient time to discuss the options with your board and organization’s leadership to determine the firm best suited and experienced for your Feasibility Study and Capital Campaign.

Questions to ask the vendor in the interview process

  1. How does your firm conduct a Feasibility Study?
  2. Can you provide us with a sampling of the questions you would ask in your Feasibility Study?
  3. What would be the role and responsibilities of the Study Director/Capital Campaign Director?
  4. What would you expect from the board and staff during the Feasibility Study? How would you work with us?
  5. Would periodic consulting be an option, given our situation? What would be the advantages and disadvantages?
  6. What was your best campaign? Why was it so successful?
  7. What was your worst campaign? Why did it fall short of the goal?

You might have additional questions to ask, but the above questions will separate the professionals from the inexperienced firms. By following this process, you’ll be able to choose the right firm to help you achieve your goals.


Custom Development Solutions, Inc. (CDS) is among the most sought after fundraising consulting firms specializing in the strategic planning and tactical execution of capital campaigns for non-profits throughout the United States and Canada. If you have a fundraising question, please call CDS at 800-761-3833 or send an email to info@cdsfunds.com.

Topics: Campaign Feasibility and Planning Studies, campaign director, Capital Campaigns, Communications and Networking, fundraising consultants, Fundraising Principles, General Articles, strategic planning

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