The hardest and most important part of any task is simply getting started.
This is certainly true for the task of selecting fundraising counsel. At Alexander Haas, we recommend a six step process for selecting counsel and you must do a good job at #1 for the other five to work.
The first task is to identify a pool of firms to begin the selection process. There are a number of resources for identifying firms, but before you start looking, you need to decide what you are looking for.
- Are you looking for a large firm, a small firm, a medium firm, a single practitioner?
- Do you want a local firm that knows your community or a national firm with a broader experience in philanthropy?
- Do you want a firm that specializes in only nonprofits like yours or do you want a firm that can bring best practices and experiences from other subsectors?
- Are there any other special characteristics that are important to you in a firm (race, religion, gender, etc.)?
Knowing what kind of firm you are looking for makes identifying candidates much easier and will, ultimately, make the selection process easier. You won’t force your organization to choose between apples and oranges. Both are good fruits, it just depends on what you’re in the mood for.
Once you know the initial criteria, you can begin your search. Here are three suggestions to increase your success:
Ask colleagues to recommend firms. This is a great way to start a list and you can accomplish it one on one or to a group. Share with colleagues what you are looking for a firm to do for you and the criteria you have identified, then ask for suggestions. Don’t why away from including referrals for firms your colleague has not used, but knows to have a good reputation.
Use sector specific resources. Many organization produce (or maintain on their website) buying guides, market places or simple listings of firms that provide a wide variety of services. Check CASE, AFP, AHP, Chronicle of Philanthropy. These can be a great place to start a list for further research.
Lastly use a search engine. Most of us just call this “Googling”, but it works. Simply search “fundraising consulting firm” and get a broad list, or be more specific to your needs and use a search term like “capital campaign consultant” or “campaign feasibility study” or “annual fund counsel”. Like all things you “Google”, the more precise the question the better the answers you’ll get back.
After you’ve done all this, you will have a pretty good list of “suspects” – and the good news is that you have started!