Part 2: Does Your Fundraising Program Need a Personal Trainer?

When outside counsel isn’t the right choice.

Last week, I wrote about times when hiring outside counsel could benefit your fundraising program. Much like a personal trainer can help you get your workout on track, a “personal trainer” for your fundraising program can help you stretch beyond your comfort zone and increase the probability of success.

But bringing an outside consultant to the table isn’t always the right decision. Following are a few times you may not want to hire a personal trainer for your fundraising program.

Internal problems are causing fundraising failure
Even when you work out with a personal trainer, you still need to eat a healthy diet. An hour with a personal trainer a few days a week won’t negate your daily 10,000 calorie diet of chocolateand pizza.

It’s the same with hiring a consultant for your fundraising program. He or she, no matter how smart and talented, will never be as successful if internal issues are holding your fundraising back. If your executive director won’t talk to major donors, if your board won’t contribute, and if your receipting and donor management system is in shambles, you need to consider solving those problems before (or at least in conjunction with) hiring a personal trainer for your fundraising program.

You want to abdicate all responsibility
Maybe you’re tired of being shot down, or just plain tired. Hiring a consultant may sound like a good way to let someone else take the heat for a while. Or maybe you think your stubborn CEO or dysfunctional board will listen better to a new face at the table.

There’s nothing wrong with having your consultant share in presentations and help you prepare recommendations. But you are the employee; you are still responsible. Giving a consultant a blank check is risky for your nonprofit — and a disservice to your employer.

Weigh each recommendation as if the money were coming out of your paycheck. Is this what’s best for your employer long term? Is the recommendation based on solid reasoning, or is there a bit of profit incentive muddying the waters?

I’m sure I have angered a few consultants; the reality is, most of them are as passionate about helping you net more money as you are. But that isn’t an excuse for you to give them carte blanche. The strongest work is a result of fundraising employees and fundraising consultants working side by side toward a common goal.

Your pet project isn’t working and you refuse to admit defeat
Never hire a consultant to prop up a fundraising strategy that should be allowed to fade quietly into the sunset. If you’ve given it your best for long enough that it should be successful — and it still isn’t profitable — let it go. I know it’s like saying good-bye to your own flesh and blood, but sometimes the right thing is to cut your losses and put your budget and your energy into something else.

Just because a strategy works for another nonprofit doesn’t make it right for yours. If you’re convinced you’ve done everything right and it still isn’t working, don’t expect a consultant to show up with a pouch full of pixie dust and turn it into a winner. Get out your bugle, play “Taps,” and then work on the next great strategy that is going to revolutionize your fundraising program. Use your consulting dollars to expand success, not to prop up programs on life support.

Sometimes, working for a nonprofit is exhausting. Positive reinforcement may be rare, public griping may be commonplace (“Unfortunately, our fundraising staff didn’t raise enough this year for us to have a holiday party …”) and personal investment may far exceed your remuneration.

But hopefully the satisfaction you feel when you see the results of the program and hear the stories of success bolsters you for another day. And when the time is right, your fundraising personal trainer can help you grow your fundraising and be a true partner with you.


Originally published in NonProfit Pro.

Author: PJBarden

With a professional career in strategic fundraising that spans more than 35 years, Pamela brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to working with nonprofit organizations. She specializes in writing fundraising copy, grant proposals, P.R. materials, instructional articles and blog entries, as well as developing and executing fundraising strategy for her clients. Pamela is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE); an instructor for UCLA Extension School’s Fundraising Certification Program and the University of La Verne, College of Business and Public Management; a frequent webinar speaker; and author of two online courses for UCLA Extension. Pamela earned a Doctorate of Business Administration in 2015; her doctoral project (dissertation) was entitled “Nonprofit Organizations’ Awareness of and Preparation for Legislation, Regulation, and Increasing Scrutiny.” She is a past winner of a Gold Award for Fundraising Excellence and an ECHO Award from DMA; recipient of a Distinguished Instructors Award from UCLA Extension; a weekly columnist for NonprofitPRO (formerly Fundraising Success); and a monthly contributor to Blackbaud’s blog, npEngage.

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