Selecting a Fundraising Consulting Firm
If you are looking to hire a consulting firm to work with your organization or institution, we recommend you first consider following a few key steps. Because of the degree to which your volunteers will ultimately work with members of the firm you select, you may wish to involve them in the selection process. The steps suggested are as follows:
1. Develop a list of prospective consulting firms.
WHERE TO LOOK:
Check the AFP National Directory (many local AFP chapters also have directories);
Check the listings of consulting firms in trade periodicals, e.g., Chronicle of Philanthropy, Fundraising Management Magazine, etc.;
Ask board members and/or other not-for-profit executives for suggestions; and/or
Seek recommendations from local foundation executives (often they will provide a list of consulting firms whom they know have provided competent and ethical service to local organizations and institutions).
2. Send a request for proposal to the four to six firms you believe most likely to meet your organization/institution's needs. Be sure to specify a deadline for submission of the proposal and request fees, an outline of services, anticipated staffing for the project and a suggested timeline.
3. After receiving the proposals, select the top three firms you believe to be best qualified. It is recommended that you establish a selection committee of three to five key volunteers (those most likely to be actively involved in your project) to assist you in the selection process.
4. With the committee, schedule a date, time and location for the interviews to be held with the candidate firms. It is suggested you schedule interviews in 60-75 minute increments of one another. (This will allow 45-60 minutes for each interview and a 15 minute contingency.)
5. Call the contact person from each of the firms selected to schedule an interview time. Follow the telephone call with a letter confirming the date, time and location (with directions to the meeting room).
When selecting a firm to provide fundraising counsel, the selection committee (and staff) should give considerable thought to the interview process itself. The following questions should be asked during an interview session to select a consultant for a capital campaign and/or to conduct a fundraising goal feasibility study:
How large a staff does your firm have? How many of those are salaried employees versus contract staff? How many belong to the Association of Fundraising Professionals and/or are "Certified Fundraising Executives" (CFREs)?
What is your firm's philosophy regarding assessing our goal potential (i.e., the role of feasibility study)? What is the process you follow? How much does it cost? Are there other ways your firm assesses whether or not we are ready for a capital campaign?
If you think our goal is too high, what steps would you take to help us resolve this issue? How will you determine whether we have taken into account all of a project's potential costs?
What is your method of working with us during the campaign - i.e., the leadership gifts stage, the public campaign stage and the clean up stage? Will you ask for gifts during the campaign? At what point should a campaign goal be announced?
When your firm's contract has been completed (i.e., after our final payment has been made), what additional services will your firm provide and at what fee?
Will you prepare for us with a written campaign general plan and gift-acceptance policies for our approval prior to the campaign?
Are you willing to provide a list showing the percent of goal that was achieved in all campaigns your firm directed or provided capital campaign counsel to during at least the past three (or five) years? (Was this information provided voluntarily?)
Do we have the opportunity to accept or reject the on-site campaign director? What is the process for changing a campaign director - and how quickly can it be accomplished - in the event it should be deemed desirable?
What will be the role of the principals/senior management of the firm in our campaign? Who will be the team members (are they the ones involved in the actual interview)?
If either party is dissatisfied with the progress of the campaign, is the contract cancelable? If yes, how can it be accomplished?
What will be your firm's fee for directing the campaign? Is any portion of the fee refundable if the goal is not reached? What is your billing schedule? Would you be willing to have any portion of your fee paid on a percentage or contingency basis?
How does your firm handle public relations services before and during the campaign? Does your firm provide this service as part of its fee?
How does your firm handle research and grant writing (foundations, corporations) during the campaign? Does your firm provide this service as part of its fee?
Should we want extra consultative services, what is your per diem charge?
What happens if we should postpone or cancel the campaign?
What are the total expenses (outside of your firm's fees) that we can anticipate paying before, during and after the campaign? Overall, what percentage of our campaign goal should we expect to pay for all fundraising costs (including counsel's fee)?
Whose responsibility is it to produce campaign materials and is any portion of the cost included in your fee? Are any reporting materials provided?
How many months do you believe it will take us to achieve our goal? How long will your firm be involved?
What are your expectations of both the volunteers and staff leadership during the feasibility study and the campaign?
What kind of office space, equipment and staffing will you require and for how long?
Will you provide detailed reporting of the results of the campaign to the board? In writing?
Is the firm registered with the appropriate state official (if required by state law)?
6. After the selection interviews are held, the committee should deliberate on the best qualified firm. Here are some factors you may want to take into account in the decision:
The firm's track record - evidence of success
Good chemistry between the firm's representatives and your staff and volunteers
Communication skills - evidence of writing and speaking ability
Enthusiasm - the ability to be motivational yet reserved, when appropriate
Expressed passion for your organization or institution's mission or needs
Evidence of professionalism and high ethical standards
7. Undertake reference checks (ask for three references from satisfied clients and one reference from a client whose goal was not achieved or where the firm or organization resigned from the contract). Ask the client if it would hire the firm again.
8. Confirm the firm's selection in writing and notify all other candidate firms of your decision. (As a matter of courtesy, be prepared to explain the reasons for your decision to those whom you did not select.)
ARTICLE NOT TO BE REPRODUCED WITHOUT THE EXPRESS PRIOR WRITTEN AUTHORIZATION OF NETZEL GRIGSBY ASSOCIATES, INC.
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