Never Hire Someone To Do What Is Their Responsibility
Fund-Raising Consultants Can Be A Godsend. They Can Also Be An Ethical, Financial And Donor Relations Disaster
For organizations with an inexperienced, small, or nonexistent development staff, consultants can do everything from mentoring a budding development director to designing a campaign. Larger, more experienced organizations, even those with a fully professional development staff, can benefit from a consultant’s mastery of the process of initiating new types of fund-raising efforts and reorienting the development department.
There is a valid place for consultants in the business of fund-raising, but there is also a place consultants should never go. It is one thing to engage a consultant to assist in the creation of a development effort, the design of a campaign, or an evaluation of organizational need and the resources available to meet that need. It is quite another to hire a consultant to ask prospects for money.
So What’s Wrong with Hiring Someone to Solicit a Prospect?
Organizations ask for money to meet a current need and lay ground work for the future. The twin goals of every solicitation should be to get the largest gift possible and to strengthen the organization’s relationship with the donor. Use a “hired gun” to ask for money and you automatically reject those two goals.
Every competent fund-raising professional knows that the best solicitation is made by someone the donor knows and respects. It is always easier to flat out turn down or, at the very least, give less to, someone you don’t know. When I want you to give to a campaign, the person I want asking for that gift is a colleague, a neighbor, or best of all, a friend who contributed to a cause when you asked. Does that sound like a hired-off-the-street solicitor?
We can all agree that when a volunteer solicitor asks a peer prospective donor for money, the opportunity to achieve a significant contribution is maximized when solicitor and prospect share the following qualities:
- Career Status
- Economic Status
- Interest In The Organization
- Mutual Respect
- Social Position
When you engage a “hired gun” outside fund-raiser to come into your organization to solicit a prospective donor, that individual will most likely share none of the above qualities with the prospect. I would take five out of five any day—and I could live with having only points 3 and 4 available in some solicitations if I had to. But, I would not chance a solicitation to a prospective donor for my organization with any less.
Sacrificing Long-Term Health of an Organization
A board will be less likely to contribute its time to a fund-raising effort which has been turned over in its entirety to an outsider. That can leave the executive director and staff development professional out on a limb and weaken the board. A hired solicitor will short circuit the growth of an internal development effort. Money spent on the hired solicitor will not be available to build a professional development department. And that gets to the matter of money.
Numbers Don’t Lie
If your organization needs to raise $50,000, then engaging a professional solicitor will require that you raise $50,000 plus the commission or fee you pay the solicitor, and that commission or fee can be a substantial percentage of the money raised. A study(1) reported by Janet S. Greenlee of Penn State University at Harrisburg, PA and Teresa P. Gordon of the University of Idaho of 970 campaigns using professional solicitors between 1991 and 1996, found that the median gross amount raised was $28,082 and the median amount netted by the organizations was $4,693—an effective yield of less than 17 percent.
But that is not even the worst of it. Greenlee and Gordon reported that, “In some solicitations, the cost of the fund-raising campaign exceeded contributions generated by the campaign. A total of 56 solicitations resulted in such negative proceeds. These charities actually lost money by engaging a solicitor. The average loss for these “negative” solicitations was $13,540; the median was $3,015.”
One of the most frequently asked for pieces of data by prospective donors is how much of their gift will actually be used to produce the work of the organization or will benefit the clients-users of that organization. I can’t conceive of telling a donor that 83 percent of his or her money will be eaten up in the cost of a campaign. I know what my response would be.
Independent of Greenlee’s and Gordon’s numbers, my experience has been that a thoughtfully conceived and well-run campaign using volunteer solicitors will nearly always yield more than a campaign in which an individual or a firm is hired to ask prospects for donations. Equally important, a volunteer solicitor campaign is a stepping stone for future fund-raising.
An Organization with a Past Is an Organization with a Future
When an organization’s leadership and committed volunteers are the ones doing the asking during a campaign, they are building relationships with donors on two levels. They are establishing a relationship between the organization and the donors and between themselves and the donors. As a result, when the organization conducts its next campaign, it has a double foundation upon which to rest its base of proven donors. These donors have a history of giving to the cause and a history of giving in response to solicitation by a volunteer who has demonstrated his or her own commitment to the cause. The organization receives an immensely greater future benefit from volunteer solicitor campaigns over hired solicitor efforts.
A regional or national hired solicitation firm can give no guarantee that if it is engaged for future campaigns the same solicitors will be assigned. A local hired solicitation consultant may be asking the very same donors for gifts to another organization next month, or may have asked your donors for someone else the month before. No matter how you cut it, donor relationships and solicitation credibility suffer when the work of asking for donations is given to a “hired gun.”
I have yet to find the organization that believes it will only need to ask for money once. The business of fund-raising for a non-profit organization is the business of building relationships, and relationships are built on a personal level and based on trust. The hired solicitor is here today and gone tomorrow. He or she brokers no relationship between donor and organization through the strength of his or her ongoing personal contact. Donors who see a substantial portion of their gift going to pay an outside, hired solicitor feels taken. There is no relationship and no trust.
An Offer You Should Refuse
So, when a “consultant” says to you, “Don’t worry, I’ll raise the money. Neither you, nor your board, nor your organization’s friends will have to ask for a penny,” run, don’t walk. Run in the other direction. If you fall for that line, you most likely will not make the campaign goal and you are assuredly selling short your organization’s future.
Note: Additional Resources relative to the importance of building and maintaining donor relationships which can be accomplished only from within an organization:
- Donor Growth Steps
- The Development Process
- Ideal Solicitor To Prospect Matches
- Contacts With Donors Between The Asks
Those are my views on the subject. What are yours? I welcome your comments and suggestions.