There are many good articles posted on the Internet today that describe the process of hiring a professional fundraising consultant—or a fundraising consulting firm. Although there is no question that a fundraising consulting firm’s experience and track record are important considerations—even primary considerations—I suggest that the skill set of the actual campaign director or fundraising professional is equally important. Thus, if you thoroughly examine the record and references of the professional fundraising firm, I would still investigate the fundraising professional on the scene by ensuring that he or she has a good mix of the following six skills:
- Leadership Skills
- Public Speaking Skills
- Interpersonal Skills
- Writing Skills
- Project Management Skills, and
- Computer and Software Skills
While you will not find many who are experts in all these areas, the top fundraising professionals are going to have a nice blend of these skills, and not be lacking in any one area. The very best people will have significant expertise in at least three of these.
When you hire a fundraising consultant you are really buying a project manager. Yes, a capital campaign is just a unique and highly specialized kind of project to be managed. It has a feasibility and planning phase, an organizational phase, an implementation phase, and a shut down phase just like all projects. In order to be able to excel at running a capital campaign a fundraising consultant must have leadership skills, speaking skills, interpersonal skills, writing skills, project management skills, and computer skills. Let’s take a brief look at why each of these skills is important.
Getting any project off the ground that involves people requires leadership skills. Capital campaigns are no different in this regard. A campaign director has to be able to lead people to orchestrate and implement a feasibility and planning study. If the study results so indicate, a campaign director will need to be able to help lead the management and board forward with a capital campaign. A campaign director has to provide direction and counsel to the campaign executive committee. He also has to prepare, train and rehearse the volunteers when leadership gifts and major gifts are solicited. The list of instances where he or she must lead is long.
Whenever motivating people is involved exceptional speaking skills are a major asset. The campaign director must be able to speak convincingly to groups including the organization’s board, volunteer solicitors being coached on how to do solicitations, or the many various constituencies of the client organization. The campaign director plays a large role in all campaign meetings. Not surprisingly, more effective speakers tend to lead more effective meetings.
Fundraising is a people-business. It’s all about relationships. And how does one develop relationships? Of course, by displaying and using superior interpersonal skills. You want to be successful and, therefore, expect your campaign director to respectfully insist that you adhere to a proper fundraising plan based upon sound and proven principles. But it’s not just you who has to be motivated, orchestrated and appreciated. It’s the board members, the lead donors, the major gift givers, and all the other volunteers who contribute to your organization generally and during the capital campaign. The person with strong interpersonal skills is going to be able to do this for you.
Capital campaigns require lots of writing. There are proposals that have to be prepared. There’s the Case for Support that has to be prepared. There are solicitation letters that have to be written. And there are thank you notes that have to be worded a certain way. There are emails that are going to be written, and there are progress reports and action item lists that are created during the course of a campaign. Both written and oral communication is of paramount importance.
Project Management Skills.
Can your director research your fundraising situation, organize his thoughts, write a campaign plan, and then use that written plan to manage the campaign? Far too many times a campaign director has a sketchy written plan that was created mostly for show. What you need is a director who works the plan when he or she manages. You need a director who actually follows the plan and makes necessary modifications to it as your campaign progresses. You need a director who keeps track of the deadlines for achieving goals in the plan, and who does not ignore those deadlines.
Let’s face it, today so many things have a computer aspect to them. What used to be handled by phone is typically handled by email now. Email is just so much more efficient. Phones are still very important during the course of a campaign, but computers are just as, or more, important. Computers are not just something to use for email. They are also used to manage prospect lists and to prepare action item lists and meeting agendas. They are used for doing prospect research, and writing the Case for Support and solicitation letters. The list goes on and on. It is not wise to hire someone who lacks significant computer skills.
It is certainly advisable to look into a consultant’s past work and professional reputation when you search for someone to run your next capital campaign. But don’t stop there when trying to pick the best person or firm for your campaign. Inquire into his or her ability to speak, write, communicate with others, lead, manage, and use a computer. The better he or she is at these skills the better off you will probably be in your quest to raise the most money in your capital campaign. Good luck to you.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.