So you are thinking about hiring a fundraising consultant but you are worried because you have heard horror stories? Here are a few red flags to look out for as you talk to firms and independent consultants.
"I can guarantee that you will raise $10 million."
If any consultant guarantees this they should play the lottery! No one can know the full financial situation of every donor nor can they know how an organization might change during a fundraising effort. When this false hope is offered it is intended to get started and then extend contracts unnecessarily when you do not meet your goal. One way to resolve this issue is to have a clearer picture of what the potential is for a campaign by conducting a feasibility study. The study does not always correlate to the results of a campaign, but will absolutely inform your decision to go forward.
"I used to work for a big organization in town and can bring those donors to you."
While there is definitely something to be said for understanding the philanthropic landscape of a region, a consultant who is willing to take a donor from another organization they worked with will be willing to take your donors when they leave. If you hear this line you may want to ask them if they are a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) and if they have read the Code of Ethical Standards recently.
"I know your budget is small and you are worried about how much we can raise so I will just charge you a flat percent of contributions."
This is a double threat! The first threat is that they could potentially then convey fraudulent information to your donors or bully them in order to falsely increase the amount pledged. Point them back to the Code of Ethical Standards again. This will chase your donors away faster than anything and do long term damage to the reputation of your organization. But let's give them the benefit of the doubt and say they act responsibly. The second threat is that by taking a percentage they then become a stakeholder in your organization and by definition non-profits may not have financial stakeholders and that could threaten your tax-exempt status. Can you even imagine the implications of that?