How to Select Fundraising Counsel
Listed here are the six steps for choosing fundraising counsel as adapted from The Giving Institute.
Step #1: Identifying Prospective Consultants
Once the board and/or staff leadership has affirmed the desire to investigate fundraising consultants or consulting firms, you can identify a pool of candidates via several avenues.
- Referrals: Ask colleagues for recommendations.
- Directories/Advertisements: Several associations produce directories of service providers in the sector (CASE, AHP, AFP) and also provide listings and advertisements in their periodicals.
- Web Search: A Google search will provide you with the websites of firm. Search terms like “fundraising counsel”, “Capital Campaign Counsel”, “Feasibility Study”, etc.
Step #2: Preliminary Screening
Basic Information: Most firms will provide basic information on their website about services offered and clients served. Use the web for your preliminary research. This will allow you to look for firms that have experience you believe is relevant to your organization, view samples of clients served and review the background of the staff. Be wary of any firm that does not share clients served and staff bios on their website. This is basic information that any reputable firm should make easily accessible.
Detailed Information: From your research, narrow the field to three or four candidates who you feel suit your needs and arrange a phone call with each. This will give you the opportunity to ask clarifying questions and get more specific information and also allow the firms to ask you questions about your organization and project in order to determine if they feel that they are a good fit.
Step #3: Request for Proposals
Proposal Content: After the phone calls, determine your finalists and request proposals from each of the firms you wish to consider. Allow the firms the flexibility to present their information in the way they feel best represents their services, but be as specific as you can about the scope of work and request that proposals clearly state the costs, fees, services, a preliminary schedule and the proposed consulting staff you would work with.
Step #4: Check References
Calling References: Always check references; always check them carefully. For the most candid references, select organizations without influence from the firms you are considering. Review the firm’s list of clients and identify organizations you would like to call. Then ask the firm to provide you with contacts for those organizations. It may be that the staff who worked with the firms has now moved on to a new job and you will be directed to contact them as a former employee or you may be directed to a board member. In some cases, the firm may not be able to identify anyone you can speak with at one of the organizations you request. If that is the case, be prepared to offer an alternative from their client list.
Step #5: Face-to-Face Meeting
At this point, you can narrow the list down to two or three firms that you feel are the best fit and have the approach and expertise that you desire.
The next step is to meet the prospective consultant(s), and specifically the consultant(s) you will be working with. This can be done in an informal meeting/discussion with you (and whomever else from your staff or board you have engaged in the selection process) or it can take the form of a more structured, formal, presentation to the selection group.
In either case, suggest to the firms what information you would like them to cover. It might not be a good use of your time to have them review, in detail, the written proposal and suggested process (especially if the selection group has read the proposal), but there may be specific areas of their proposal that you would like them to expand on or clarify. There are likely other areas, outside of the proposal content, that you would like to have addressed. Allow the flexibility for the firms to include information they think is important for you to know.
Before your face-to-face meetings notify all of the invited firms of which firms have been selected as finalists and have been invited to meet/present. It is likely that the firms you are meeting with know each other well and knowing who else you are interviewing will allow each firm to highlight its distinctive differences in terms or philosophy and approach, making the process easier for you to select the best firm for your institution.
Step #6: Notifying Candidates
Notify Everyone: Notify all candidates of your decision. It is considered a courtesy to explain briefly the reasons for your choice to the consultants you did not select and provide constructive feedback if you have any. Firms will appreciate this feedback and your willingness share.