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When Fundraising Consultants' Superpowers "Fail"

Updated: Feb 14, 2022

Creating a realistic nonprofit-consultant partnership


I wrote about the 12+ roles of a fundraising consultant to help #nonprofit organizations leverage the opportunity of hiring counsel and working with a professional #fundraising consultant. It is equally important to talk about three exceptions to the various roles a fundraising consultant might take on during the engagement with your nonprofit.


Clarity about what superpowers a fundraising consultant cannot bring to their work with your organization reduces the risks of misunderstandings, unmet expectations, disappointments, and, unfortunately, financial losses.


Fundraising consultants are amazing. But there are three roles (superpowers) that professional fundraising consultants are ill-equipped for: Miracle Maker, Rainmaker, and Gift Solicitor. In short: don't expect miracles, rain, or asks.

Close-up: Miracle Maker, Rainmaker, and Gift Solicitor

Miracle Maker

A miracle is, according to Merriam-Webster, an "extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing, or accomplishment". In fundraising terms, it is the moment of absolute bliss when, for example, an unexpected and unsolicited large gift arrives in the mail - out of the blue.


Many of us have these stories and remember the event. Sometimes these gift miracles are the unbeknownst outcome of years of good work and donor stewardship and sometimes occur for reasons unconnected to the nonprofit. In reality, true fundraising miracles are rare. Instead, such large gifts are the fruits of thoughtful and dedicated donor relationship building and following best fundraising and nonprofit management practices.


How does this relate to a fundraising consultant? Fundraising consultants have honed their skills over many years - often decades. But professional training and experience did not include a course at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. In fundraising terms, do not expect the fundraising consultant to have divine powers or wizard skills to intervene on your behalf and get you fundraising results (and dollars) overnight.


You can get an immediate ROI on your investment in retaining fundraising counsel - not in dollar amounts, but in defining clear objectives for your fundraising program and increasing your organizational capacity and fundraising muscles. It will allow you to get better and better at raising funds for your nonprofit.


Fundraising consultants work in partnership with you. They cannot fix ills without the buy-in and support of the staff and leadership. They are unable to overcome obstacles without leadership commitments and organizational resources. Miracles "ain't gonna" happen simply by hiring a fundraising consultant. They will happen when you listen to the consultant and pull together to do the work.


Ask yourself, "what are we looking for in hiring fundraising counsel"? And "are WE ready to do the work?".


Rainmaker

Merriam-Webster describes a “rainmaker” as a person “who brings in new business” or “a person whose influence can initiate progress or ensure success”. In our fundraising environment, the dominant association of a “rainmaker” is somebody who brings in new donors and funds - and ideally, within a very short timeframe.


As much as fundraising consultants did not graduate from Hogwarts, neither did they learn the ancient rituals of causing rain (aka dollars) to fall. The image of a fundraising consultant as a “rainmaker” is wrong for three reasons.


1-A fundraising consultant doesn't walk around with a bag of donors or a contact list to distribute to their clients. Prospects and major donors rarely transfer their contributions from one organization to the next, certainly not overnight. Charitable fundraising is not angel investing or political fundraising, which tends to be transactional because there is a clear ROI or quid pro quo involved.


2-Fundraising has its distinct rhythm. It represents the balance – and tension – between the nonprofit's timeline and the prospective donor’s one. Donors are not ATMs – they don’t just give because you need to close your fiscal year or because they are “due” to making a gift according to your organizational records or solicitation plan. Donors give when THEY are ready. A fundraising consultant cannot “ensure” success in dollar amounts and guarantee the “rain”. Fundraising is a process, an art and science, and the result of a thoughtful team effort.


3-A Fundraising consultant complies with ethical standards set forth by the Association of Fundraising Professionals and conducts business according to The Donor Bill of Rights. Donor confidentiality is paramount. Just think about how you would feel if a fundraising consultant would later take your donor list and offer your donors to another organization.


Occasionally, and here comes the big disclaimer moment, a fundraising consultant might step into the role of matchmaker and make an introduction to an individual donor or philanthropist. Keep in mind that this may occasionally be the case but cannot be expected.


Think of a fundraising consultant as a resource who can discover the people within your extended network who might be ready to give and are capable of major gifts. Most importantly, a consultant supports the Board and leadership with tapping and leveraging their existing networks to connect to prospective donors.


Gift Solicitor

Back to Merriam-Webster. The reference dictionary defines a solicitor as "an agent that solicits contributions" for a charity. The word "solicit" takes on a distinct meaning in fundraising, as it not only refers to "asking" prospective donors for a donation but often suggests the "closing" of the gift as well.


Truth be told, very much like the rainmaker, a professional fundraising consultant does not directly solicit funds by themselves, nor do they have access to contributions or receipts from solicitations.


Laws and regulations, professional standards, and best practices govern how a professional fundraising counsel works. Of course, some do not adhere to these standards and will say, "I'll do all the solicitation for you”. While this may sound like a big relief, the dangers are that they are likely to a) not deliver what they promise; b) not respect your donors' privacy; or c) take advantage of your charity (yes, they can actually walk away with more of the money they raise than they leave you with). If it sounds too good to be true, it is.


The bottom line is that you cannot completely outsource soliciting funds for your charity. The responsibility and the privilege of building community through fundraising remain with the organization's leadership - volunteer and executive.


The consultant doesn't have the relationship with your donors or the credibility to make an effective ask. The fundraising consultant's main responsibility is to provide counsel and help you raise the funds needed to fulfill your mission.


A fundraising consultant will coach you in soliciting gifts from individual donors or institutional funders and may assist you with face-to-face solicitations. If you don't have fundraising staff already, you may need to hire a part-time staff to work with the volunteer and executive leadership to support their solicitation program.


Sometimes the fundraising consultant may be willing to engage in gift solicitation in partnership with the executive or volunteer leader to jump-start the effort, especially when your organization lacks professional staff. The point here is that the organization leaders "own" the solicitation role.


CONCLUSION:

Hiring a fundraising consultant establishes a well-defined partnership between your nonprofit and a fundraising expert. The goal is to empower you, the professional leaders, fundraisers, and board members to build genuine and lasting relationships with prospects and donors to ask for and close meaningful philanthropic gifts.


Read about the 12+ roles a professional fundraising consultant might take on in the blog post “12+ roles of a fundraising consultant’.


Synergies in Philanthropy Consulting (Synergies) provides strategic and team-centered solutions to increase nonprofit innovation, revenue, and effectiveness in a changing and competitive 21st-century philanthropy and fundraising environment. Synergies specializes in major gifts | fundraising campaigns | donor engagement | transatlantic fundraising | virtual events and programs | facilitation | impact planning | board development | leadership training and coaching.

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