If your organization is considering a capital campaign, it’s likely you’re wondering if you should hire a consultant — or which consultant to hire.

This important decision could set your campaign up for success… or failure. And once you’ve started down the campaign road, it’s hard to turn back.

Not all consultants are created equally.

There’s a large spectrum of experience, services and capabilities available in the consulting marketplace.

Therefore, it’s up to you to do your due diligence and select carefully to avoid any missteps — particularly one very common mistake that we’ll cover in detail a bit later.

First, Consider the Consultation Spectrum

There are a number of things to consider BEFORE you hire a capital campaign consultant. Below, we present three key aspects of consulting that encompass the “consultation spectrum.” Consider your needs carefully for each.

1. Do it Yourself → Outsourcing Your Campaign

You could “DIY” your campaign. When weighing this decision, ask yourself:

How much campaign experience is there on my team?

Unless you have team members who have been through multiple campaigns, do you really want to wing it?

On the other end, there are a few consultants who will completely do the campaign for you. However, that’s extremely expensive and doesn’t leave your team with a lot of new skills at the end.

Most consultants fall somewhere in the middle — assisting with planning, strategy and advising.

2. Inexperienced → Highly Experienced

It’s important to find out how much campaign experience the consultant you’re considering has. How many campaigns has he or she designed and completed from start to finish?

Many consultants hang a consulting shingle because they’re unemployed or underemployed. This “inexperienced” consultant is not the best fit for your campaign. Or maybe they genuinely want to consult, but they currently have little or no campaign experience.

On the other hand, many consultants have had years of consulting experience and dozens of successful campaigns to their credit. It’s up to you to decide how much experience a consultant needs to have to be worthy of leading your campaign.

3. Incompetent → Competent

Obviously, you want a competent consultant, but what we really mean by competency here is their working style.

  • Is the person you’re considering organized, responsive, and logical?
  • Does the person communicate well – verbally and in writing.
  • Do they respond in a timely manner? Are they clear and articulate?

Any red flags during the interview process are likely to be amplified if you hire them.

Do Your Research – Or Don’t at Your Own Peril

When preparing to hire a consultant, you absolutely must do your research.

1. Ask for Recommendations

Ask others in your community and at similar types of organizations who they have used for a capital campaign. Your board members may have worked with consultants at other organizations too. Consider a variety of firms, big and small, local, and regional.

2. Search the Web

Do a quick Google search. The biggest and most prominent firms will likely come up again and again. Call them up for some early research. Ask how they would support your campaign. This doesn’t need to be a formal interview. Simply ask how they work with clients to get a feel for their process.

3. Call References (and Beyond)

Calling references should yield positive results for any consultant (they should have cherry-picked their most successful clients for you to speak with). So take it a step further. Look to see who they have listed as clients on their website and send those clients an email or connect with them on LinkedIn. Ask if they would hire that person or firm again.

Avoid the Most Common Mistake: RFP’s

Many organizations feel they need to write a Request for Proposal (RFP). This is a mistake for a number of reasons.

  1. Most importantly, with an RFP, you are telling a consultant what you think you need, rather than relying on their expertise to share what they could do for you.
  2. You are also forcing them to conform to your specifications. You may think this will help you compare apples to apples, but it’s only likely to cram innovative consultants in your preconceived box.
  3. Not only that, busy and successful consultants don’t respond to RFP’s. Similarly, at the Capital Campaign Toolkit, we never respond to RFP’s. When someone sends us an RFP, we request a meeting to discuss the campaign. I want to know why they sent the RFP to us (are they fishing?) or are they truly considering using our services. After a conversation or two, if it seems like a good fit on both sides, we will submit a proposal.

Penny Wise, Pound Foolish!

Do not pick a consultant solely based on price. Mistakes can be costly and sage advice can raise bigger gifts than you ever thought possible.

Andrea Kihlstedt (my co-founder of the Capital Campaign Toolkit) was recently consulting for a campaign. The feasibility study showed the organization could raise about $6 million, but the project was going to cost $8 million or more. She encouraged them to “go for it” (with specific strategies and techniques) and they are now crossing the $13 million dollar mark and building the organization of their dreams.

Remember — a good consultant is worth their weight in gold.

The Toolkit Approach to Consulting

At the Capital Campaign Toolkit, we hire only the most experienced campaign consultants. You can tap into our hive mind through one of our campaign advising plans. The Toolkit approach leverages technology to work effectively, efficiently, and affordably with our clients.

If you’re considering hiring a capital campaign consultant, we hope the Capital Campaign Toolkit will be at the top of your list. Unfamiliar with our consulting model?

You might be surprised just how affordable high-level campaign consulting can be.

1 Comment

  1. Audrey M. Johnson

    Hello, We are looking to hire a campaign consultant. I am taking your advice above, and am contacting you before issuing an RFP. Can someone please reach out to me to set up a meeting for an initial conversation, please?

    Thank you so much,
    Audrey M. Johnson
    VP, Institutional Advancement
    Children’s Defense Fund


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