The Essential Guide to Hiring a Capital Campaign Consultant
Tuesday, March 28, 2017
By Jenny Goldberg, CFRE, Vice President, Aly Sterling Philanthropy
Capital campaigns are complex but often rewarding endeavors. Many nonprofits seek outside assistance in the form of a capital campaign consultant — an expert who can help an organization plan and execute a campaign.
Hiring a consultant can provide nonprofits with a fresh, outside perspective without the continuous expense entailed by a new hire.
That said, it’s important for nonprofits to hire the right person. A consultant should be a partner to an organization, someone with whom you can form a long-term relationship. Due to the longevity of a capital campaign, it’s particularly vital that your consultant is someone who works well with key organizational leaders.
Since there are so many important factors to consider, hiring a capital campaign consultant can be overwhelming, especially if this is your first attempt.
To make the process easier to manage, we’ll break it down into these key steps:
- Preparing your organization
- Searching for a consultant
- Choosing a consultant
- Finalizing your contract
Capital campaigns are challenging, but they’re do-able! With this article, we’ll walk you through the process.
1. Preparing your organization
Before you start searching for a consultant, it’s important that your nonprofit is prepared to hire a consultant in the first place.
First, it’s vital that you understand what kind of services you want and where you need support. Look into your data — where are your ROIs lacking? Which communication channels see the highest retention?
This information can give you insight into the areas where you’ll most need support.
That way, you can identify a consultant whose specialty services align with your most pressing needs.
For example, capital campaign consultants generally offer:
- Feasibility studies
- Cases for support
- Ongoing campaign management
- Major gifts cultivation
- Donor recognition
While most consultants offer a variety of campaign services like those listed above, it’s rare to purchase them “a la carte” during a campaign. It’s most common (and beneficial!) to search for a partner who can adapt to your changing needs throughout the campaign, providing additional support and guidance as issues and opportunities arise.
As such, it’s important to consider the services you need in a larger context. You need to find a consultant who can both provide the specific services you require, as well as general expertise.
For example, if you lack the resources to cultivate major gifts, you may need to hire a consultant with prospect screening services so that you can begin to build a loyal, high-level donor base. In contrast, if you already have dedicated major donors, you may need a consultant who can help you create a strategy so that they can reach their full giving potential.
Once your organization has realistic expectations about the kind of services you need, it’s important to involve your board and development committee.
These key organizational leaders must offer their full support before you move forward. After all, they’ll be funding your campaign and prioritizing your budget to pay for the consultant in the first place.
2. Searching for a consultant
Searching for a consultant can feel overwhelming, but there are a few key places to start.
First, refer to your goals and the areas where you need support (you wouldn’t, for instance, want to hire a consultant with limited knowledge of crowdfunding if you’re planning on using this strategy for the public phase of your campaign).
Then, you can use the following methods to find a consultant who matches your nonprofit:
- Look to previous consultants. If you’ve hired a consultant or a firm in the past, you can certainly call on them to use their services again (only, of course, if you were satisfied the first time).
- Seek out recommendations from respected peers. Other nonprofits in your network likely have valuable referrals that can point you in the right direction.
- Search databases from professional and community organizations. These organizations have compiled lists of potential consultants who can help your nonprofit. The results may be extensive; use these services in conjunction with recommendations or specific search queries.
You may end up with a large list of potential capital campaign consultants.
To narrow down your choices, you should consider:
- The consultant’s specialty services. Do they have experience in the specific areas where you need support?
- Their location. Do you need a consultant who can regularly visit your nonprofit in-person, or would you prefer a fresh perspective from a remote consultant?
- Past clients. It’s important to find a consultant who can service a nonprofit of your size and type.
- Their founding philosophies. The consultant you hire should be able to fit into your nonprofit’s culture; their founding philosophies should give you insight into their values.
Once you’ve identified the most promising consultants for your nonprofit, it’s time to narrow down or solidify your list of options.
3. Choosing a consultant
To choose the consultant who’s right for your organization, you first need to speak to them in person or over the phone.
A conversation is a chance to learn more about the consultant and “test” the ease of your communication. Now is the time to ask questions and present your nonprofit as a potential client.
Explain your vision. Show that you’re ready to take on a capital campaign and that you’ve thought carefully about hiring a consultant. You don’t have to be too specific with your fundraising ideas, but you should give the consultant a clear picture of your preferred path to success.
Specifically, you should determine if the consultant is:
- Interested in your capital campaign and cause
- Able to answer questions directly and respectfully
- Experienced in the areas that can address your need
- A good listener and collaborator
- Confident in the potential success of your campaign
Capital campaigns need strong leadership; your consultant should exhibit these traits and inspire confidence in your campaign.
Once you’ve spoken to these consultants, you can ask for referrals to confirm their claims. Speaking to past clients can help you determine how successful a consultant’s previous campaigns were, as well as how the consultant works in practice.
To help finalize your decision, you should request a proposal from your top choices. A proposal is a short document that outlines a capital campaign consultant’s process for approaching your problems, as well as the logistical details for reaching your goals.
According to this Aly Sterling Philanthropy resource, a good proposal will contain the following information:
- A short description of your organization
- The capital campaign’s purpose
- The capital campaign timeline
- Expected outcomes
- List of deliverables
- Estimated cost
The best proposals will demonstrate a deeper understanding of your nonprofit’s needs.
These proposals need not be set in stone because you can negotiate the details of the proposal once you’ve selected a consultant.
4. Finalizing your contract
Once you’ve chosen a capital campaign consultant, it’s important to review their proposal and make any necessary adjustments.
For example, you may need to refine the timeline or negotiate the cost — the key is to determine a course of action that satisfies both parties.
Then, you’ll need to sign a contract.
The contract should outline the specific terms and details of your agreement, including:
- Costs and payment structure
- Responsibilities of the nonprofit and consultant
- Specific services
- Goals and objectives
- Measures of success
Once the contract is signed, you’ll need to prepare your first payment. Capital campaign consultants often charge a retainer fee for their services.
A retainer fee is an upfront, continuous cost that occurs throughout the duration of the campaign. For example, a retainer fee may be paid at the beginning of each month.
Then, it’s time to start your partnership! A capital campaign is a large investment, but with a consultant by your side, you can achieve your vision.
Your capital campaign should spearhead your cause, but you’ll need the right team in place to accomplish all of your goals.
Hiring a capital campaign consultant is an early step toward success.