Fundraising Consultants & Credibility: Some Thoughts

Sections of this topic

    This is a follow-up to an earlier posting – see: Who/What is a Fundraising Consultant?

    Sometimes a client will accept as gospel every bit of advice/direction that a fundraising consultant provides. Sometimes everything the consultant advises/suggests fundraising strategies is questioned.

    I’ve worked with organizations/institutions that fit each category, and of course, I prefer working with the former type. [In fact, if/when I can identify the latter type during pre-contract discussions, those conversations terminate early.]

    The best client to work with, however, is the one that asks questions so they can learn. Working with a client that wants to learn is better than working with NPOs that never question or question everything.

    Often, when working with a client, I have found that the advice/direction I was providing duplicated what their (development) staff person had already suggested. They’re willing to take advice from a stranger, but not a person they’ve hired….

    The old phrase, “Familiarity breeds contempt,” may be a partial explanation for why that happens so often, but it’s probably not the only explanation.

    Sometimes I find that organizations view fundraising consultants with a jaundiced eye. They just feel uncomfortable about talking with/hiring/using consultants.

    I imagine that they’ve had and/or have heard of other NPOs that have had bad experiences with consultants. After all, not every consultant can be highly rated !!

    I recently met with an executive director who said that she called me because all of the other fundraising consultants she’d contacted had the “template” that they were going to apply to whatever situation they encountered !!

    Some fundraising consultants are so locked into one pattern, one philosophy, one approach to every problem, that their mind-set doesn’t allow them to approach a client’s needs with an open mind.

    I expect that one of the things that “fundraising consultants” need do is focus on the needs of the NPOs they (want to) serve, not on a method that puts process over the interests/needs of the “client.”

    When a consultant’s ethics don’t put the effective pursuit of a NPO’s mission above the pursuit of a consulting fee, when those ethics consider what the client wants above what the client needs (to pursue it’s mission), one of the frequent end results is some degree of discomfort/distrust of consultants.

    Right now, anyone can say that s/he is a consultant – anyone can hang out that shingle.

    If we don’t, by our actions, convince the public that we’re honest, honorable and ethical, and that our advice is based on experience and expertise — not a couple of courses we’ve taken or some volunteer works we’ve done, fundraising consultants won’t engender the level of trust that we’d like.

    If you’re a fundraising consultant, work with an NPO that hires fundraising consultants, or just have a thought (or two) that can add perspective to any of the above “questions,” I’d really like to hear your thoughts on the subject.


    Have a comment or a question about starting, evaluating or expanding your fundraising program? Contact me at With over 30 years of counseling in major gifts, capital campaigns, bequest programs and the planning studies to precede these three, I’ll be pleased to answer your questions.