As you get ready for a capital campaign, you’ll probably consider hiring a consultant. And if you’re like most people, you’ll be under the somewhat misguided impression that you’re totally in the driver’s seat.
You may think that because you are a paying client, consultants will be happy to parade their wares to you and be eager to work with you. But in reality, just as you will be considering whether or not you wish to work with one consultant or another, most consultants worth their salt are considering whether or not they wish to work with you and organization.
How Campaign Consultants Decide to Work With You
When you engage a consultant to work with you on your campaign, you’re undertaking what is likely to be a long relationship that must sustain through challenging times.
And while consultants are happy to get great clients, they are not eager to work with clients who aren’t good partners.
You see, a consultant’s reputation hinges on their ability to guide campaigns to successful conclusions. So clients who don’t follow through or aren’t willing to take and use the advice a consultant doles out are problem clients.
A failed campaign may well be blamed on the consultant rather than the organization.
During the course of my long career as a campaign consultant, I had a strong track record of successful campaigns. But the truth under that winning streak wasn’t that I am so good at what I do. Rather, it’s that I chose the right clients and was generally “too busy” to take on the others.
But most consultants look for more than just the potential for success.
What are consultants looking for in potential clients?
I canvased some of my favorite consultant colleagues to ask them what they look for when selecting the clients. Though their answers were varied, they all pointed to important things.
Here, in a nutshell, is what they said. Take a careful look at this list and think about whether your organization would appeal to some of today’s most effective consultants.
- Consultants want to work with people who function well.
- They want clients who are responsive and thoughtful.
- They are looking for people who are both flexible in their thinking, but who also are steadfast in their commitments to their vision.
- They are looking for clients who are realistic in both their expectations about their fundraising goals
- They want clients who understand and are realistic about the roles of a consultant.
- They want to work with high-functioning boards. In particular, they want to know that at least two or more board members are willing to lean in and work hard on the campaign.
- They want clients who are ready and eager to get the job done…clients who serious in their commitment to the goal.
- They are looking for clients where they sense there will be a personal and professional reward far greater than the fees they will earn.
- They want to work with organizations that have high ethical standards that play out at every level of the system.
- Many, though not all consultants, look for clients whose missions align with their personal values.
How do I vet a potential client?
When I am talking to a potential client, I often ask them to jump through some small hoops, just to see how they function.
- I ask them to do something simple.
- I might ask them to send me something or to write an answer to a question.
- I might just email them two or three times about things I’d like to know.
Each of these, in my mind, is a little test to learn how people function.
After years in this business, I’ve found that watching how people respond to these little tests will tell me just about everything I need to know in making my decision about whether or not to work with a client.
What happens when I decide that a client isn’t for me?
I’m quick to say that I’m too busy. And really, no matter how many clients I have or don’t have, I’m always too busy to work with the ones that won’t function well.
Always Put Your Best Foot Forward
So when you start looking for a consultant, remember that just as you are vetting them, they are vetting you. Make sure that you put your best foot forward!
My thanks to my friends and colleagues Peter Heller of The Heller Fundraising Group, Xan Blake of Blake Partnership, Bob Demont of Demont Associates, Joe Tumolo, Gail Perry of Fired Up Fundraising and Richard Quinn of Quinn Consulting Associates for taking time out of their busy lives to share their thoughts on this important topic. These consultants are thoughtful, effective people who have years of experience in the field. They know the challenges of working with clients who don’t perform!