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The Skinny on Fundraising Consultants: In Conversation with Susan Storey

Thursday, October 31, 2013
Grantseeker Monthly
Grant Seeker Monthly

If you’re a fundraising veteran, odds are you’ve engaged a consultant at some point in your career – or at least thought about it. It’s no wonder: using external talent is a great way to take your fundraising to the next level. It can increase the capacity of your team, refine your overall strategy, and improve the skill sets of your staff.

But if you’re new to the game, hiring a fundraising consultant can feel a bit like going out on a limb. That’s why the Grant Connect team decided to sit down with Susan Storey to take an honest look at what to expect when engaging external counsel. A Senior VP at KCI Ketchum Canada – a leading organization dedicated to helping charities – and President of the AFP Greater Toronto Chapter, Susan has over 20 years’ experience directing fundraising campaigns across the country.

Not just for large organizations

It isn’t just the big guys that can afford and benefit from external counsel. In reality, charities of all sizes can and do partner with fundraising consultants. Susan tells us that KCI counts a growing number of small and mid-size charities among its clients, “Because of decreases in government funding and the lack of revenue growth to the sector, small charities are increasingly engaging outside counsel and we expect this trend to continue over the next several years.”

Get your ducks in a row

Before you make an initial call to a fundraising consultant, Susan tells us that you should have a clear picture of your organization’s strengths and weaknesses and a willingness to evaluate this with your consulting partner. Use these to outline key objectives for your potential partnership. “Having a good sense of your funding priorities or a process to define them is important to enable your consultant to work with you to prepare a clearly articulated value proposition for donors, including short and long term goals. We recommend you have a clearly defined organizational decision-making process, which will help organizations optimize their consulting relationship.”

During your initial meeting with potential consultants, Susan recommends an exploratory conversation. Keep the meeting as grounded as possible to avoid any future problems, “I am very candid during these initial conversations and will help the charity settle on objectives. I will at this point also advise them of any obstacles and opportunities to build ownership of the outcomes such as ensuring board and staff engagement.”

Know what to expect (and it isn’t immediate results)

For a partnership with a fundraising consultant to be successful, time must be set aside to discuss expectations (early and often!). This includes not only expectations of revenue outcomes, but expectations of risks, your involvement, and timelines. Susan tells us that some revenue generation initiatives have a longer term horizon and require time and investment. Engaging a consultant may not decrease your workload and charities should plan for a period of time until financial results become visible.

The right team for your organization

At KCI, a variety of factors influence how individuals would be assigned to working on your project. Most notably are the specific functions required (e.g., research, marketing, etc.) and the industry experience of the available team members. For example, Susan works frequently with national health organizations as she has extensive experience in this area.

The benefit of partnering with a consulting firm is that you get access not only to one expert, but the whole organization’s wealth of experience. Engaging KCI connects you not only with an individual consultant, but the expertise and resources of the entire firm.

The costs involved

A major concern – especially for small charities – is that fundraising consultants are too expensive. We chatted with Susan about how the fees work at KCI, “Fees vary significantly according to the length and complexity of the project and are only set once a clear understanding of the work ahead has been established. Some projects can be divided into small stages (ie. case development, revenue generation plan or campaign feasibility study), and clients may wish to stagger the work to pay for each stage individually.”

To avoid perceived risk, it may be tempting to offer commissions-based fees to a consultant or percentage compensation based on contributions. It’s best to avoid these situations. Imagine Canada’s Standards Program prohibits the use of finder’s fees, commissions, and percentage based compensation for its participants. For additional explanation on why this is important for nonprofit and charitable organizations, a detailed rationale can be found on our Sector Source library.


Looking for more insights about successful grantseeking? Written by Devon Hurvid and Paul Anderson, this blog post was featured in Grantseeker Monthly, the e-newsletter of Grant Connect. Subscribe to this newsletter for monthly fundraising tips!
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