Look not for connections they bring, but for capacities they leave.
In the process of negotiating virtually every fundraising consulting contract we have ever had, there’s a moment when a staff or board member will say:
But can you get us connected to Mrs. Megabucks, because we know that if she just knew more about us she would give us a million dollars. We have sent her our newsletter and tried to call her once or twice. But we are hoping that you can get us connected to her.
This is a moment we both seize and dread.
Lack of Understanding — It’s Really About Passion
One reason we dread the question is because it demonstrates a real lack of understanding about fundraising. Ability to give — also known as capacity or wealth — is only part of the game. The more important question is:
Does the donor care about the work of your organization?
If you work in the area of disaster relief, but Mrs. Megabucks’ passion is the education of women and girls then it is unlikely that you will get a significant gift from her.
Neither Nonprofits nor Fundraising Consultants Own Donors
The question also presumes that fundraising consultants carry donors, foundations, and corporate sponsorships around in their back pockets. This is a misconception.
In the same way that we coach clients that no donor “belongs” to any nonprofit, it’s important to make clear that fundraising consultants do not persuade donors to give. We teach our clients how to better connect with the donors who care about them to increase dollars given. Most states that require fundraising consultants to register with the state forbid them from soliciting or controlling the donations made to their clients.
Connections can be Fleeting, but Knowledge is Forever
Good fundraising consultants look to develop the fundraising skills and knowledge of the clients we work with. Like all good teachers, counselors and coaches, good fundraising consultants want to help you develop a plan that works for you long after we are gone.
And yes, there is some science to the work that we do. We will focus on best practices, proven strategies, and emerging trends. In our work, we hope to translate all of this expertise and knowledge to you in a way that you can utilize for years to come.
We Encourage You to Ask the Better Question
When looking for fundraising counsel, it’s very tempting to ask what connections the firm brings. But we believe that is the wrong question. Connections of both the personal and business kind are built on trust and over time. They cannot be “transferred” to anyone.
Besides, a consulting firm that gets work based on connections takes those connections with them when they leave.
So, when shopping for a consultant, ask yourself not what connections they bring, but what capacities they leave.