It’s in the best interests of most nonprofit organizations to hire a capital campaign consultant.
Why? First, because you may not have worked on many such campaigns yourself – and second, because the stakes are so high.
A quality, experienced consultant can help shape your campaign and will give you something invaluable: an impartial observer’s advice.
Last week we talked about the five things you should do before you start the search for a consultant.
This week it’s time to talk about what you want to look for in the professional you eventually hire. After all, capital campaign consultants come in many shapes and sizes – so to speak – and you want be make sure the one you choose is a perfect fit for your specific needs.
Without further ado, here are the five guidelines to use when searching for your capital campaign consultant:
1. Experience, experience, (and more) experience
You hire a consultant to help with your capital campaign because your organization lacks the collective experience to succeed completely on your own, so make sure to hire someone with a long track record of guiding successful campaigns.
As you do your research you’ll be amazed at the number of people who market themselves as capital campaign consultants despite having only a modicum of experience. That’s fine for them, but it isn’t your job to provide your consultant with on the job training! In our opinion, one or two campaigns’ worth of experience simply isn’t enough to warrant the big fees you’ll pay.
2. No “bait and switch”
Get an agreement in writing stating exactly who from the firm you choose will be working with you. It’s not uncommon at large consulting firms to have the head honchos market the firm’s services – and then send in a junior consultant to actually do the work. This is a particular risk for small organizations planning relatively small campaigns. Be sure you find out very specifically who will be by your side and that the person has the experience you require.
3. You can’t escape doing the important work yourself
Tempting as it is to put all the worries of a capital campaign in someone else’s hands, no consultant can make your effort successful by him or herself. In fact, the more a potential consultant promises to do for (as opposed to with) you, the more worried you should be. The very essence of capital campaign fundraising is the opportunity for staff, boards, and other volunteers to learn and grow together while doing the work. Not only that, but your relationships with your largest donors will become stronger when you work with them yourself – something that simply doesn’t happen when you send a consultant to their door. If your consultant plays a very strong hands-on role you’ll miss the vital, transformative features that are among the prime reason for doing a capital campaign in the first place!
4. Your consultant should be accessible
Depending on where you’re based and the geographic reach of your organization, you may or may not have access to an experienced, effective consultant in your area. If there is a local consultant who has an excellent reputation and the experience you require, you may be well served to select that firm. They will come to your project with a great deal of background knowledge about your community and its largest donors, and that can be very helpful!
But if there’s no one with a stellar reputation in your area you’ll need to look farther afield. Keep in mind, however, that the longer the travel time, the higher the cost – not only for the cost of their travel, but also for their time spent on the road or in the air. Consultants can’t afford to travel over long periods of time for free.
No matter where your consultant is located, though, be sure that you will have ample access — not just in person, but also by email and phone. You won’t want to “sit” on your pressing questions until your appointed on-site consulting day!
5. Make sure the consultant’s fee structure gives you the access you need
This may sound like it belongs in Guideline 4, but this factor is important enough to warrant separate mention because comparing capital campaign consultants’ proposals can be like comparing apples and tomatoes — or even worse! Some charge by the hour, others by the day, and some charge by the project or aspect of the project.
These different fee structures can have both a conscious and unconscious effect on your willingness to contact your consultant when you need them. If you’re paying by the hour, for example … well, just think about how careful you are about deciding to call your attorney.
That said, your campaign consultant won’t do you as much good as they might if you wait until you have a problem to call them! Ask every consultant you interview about this aspect of their fee structure to be sure you’re getting the accessibility you need at a price you can afford.