Non-profit organizations hire fundraising consultants in hopes that an outsider can ensure their fundraising success. Their hopes are often accompanied by misguided assumptions as to how a fundraising consultant usually assists an organization. Unfortunately, the organizational needs a consultant can assist with are rarely recognizable in the beginning. Given the lack of clarity inherent in the consulting relationship, it is especially important to distinguish between those areas where a consultant can be of service and where he or she cannot.
Let’s cut to the chase. Most fundraising consultants have no intentions of asking for money on your behalf nor should they even if that’s part of the agreement. While professional solicitors will ask for money, the large majority of fundraising consultants characterize themselves as counsel instead and therefore cannot ask for funds in many states.
Many organizations mistakenly contract with fundraising consultants in hopes that the consultant will assume responsibility for the one thing they fear the most- directly soliciting funds. Fundraising consultants are well aware of this mistaken assumption and in their efforts to close a contract they will routinely dance around the issue in the negotiation process. It is safe to assume that a fundraising consultant will not solicit funds unless the contract specifically refers to solicitation and if the state has authorized them to do so. Even on the chance that a consultant is merely in the room at the time of a solicitation, authorized as fundraising counsel is not sufficient in many states.
Fundraising consultants will not agree to percentage-based contracts. In fact, be they consultants or employees, most fundraising professionals will not agree to such terms. Percentage-based contracts are not illegal however the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) and others have deemed such terms as unethical. Standard 16 of AFP’s Standards of Professional Practice Consultant Compensation states that Members shall not accept compensation that is based on a percentage of charitable contributions.
While I myself don’t necessarily toe the line in the debate over percentage-based contracts, it is important for organizations to consider the reasoning behind their thinking. For example, those organizations with especially limited resources and rather small constituencies routinely suggest using a percentage-based approach. It is relatively easy to assume that this organization is highly risk-averse and unwilling to sufficiently invest in its own growth. Hedging its bets on a percentage-based contract will rarely matter for much.
Fundraising consultants should not be communicating with donors. The relationships that an organization’s establishes and sustains with its donors should be the responsibility of the organizations representatives, namely board members and employees. While they may routinely be in the room, consultants should not be taking the lead in donor communications. One of the consultant’s primary goals should always be that of increasingly fundraising capacity- this cannot be accomplished if the consultant is standing in the client’s place.