Selection of the right counsel will be critical for a successful campaign. Selection of the wrong counsel can doom a campaign from the
beginning. For this reason, be prepared to spend some time evaluating consultants. Don’t short-circuit the process for expediency.
Some steps you might consider in selecting a consultant or consulting firm.
Step One: Creating a Pool to Choose From
Select a list of five to seven consultants from whom you would like additional information.
There are several places to find the names and addresses of qualified consultants. The best is with associates who have worked
directly with a consulting firm. Check with board members, fellow development professionals and institutions in your community.
Be careful, though, to select an associate that faces a similar situation to yours. Whoever the local University used to raise $200
million might not be best for a small social service organization trying to raise $1 million. Talk to organizations that are in a similar
situation to yours.
Don’t limit your search geographically either. If there are similar organizations to yours throughout the country, call and talk to the
executives there to see who they might have used in their capital campaign.
Use directories. National Society of Fund Raising Executives has an excellent directory that lists consultants, their web pages and
Advertisements. National publications such as Chronicle of Philanthropy, Fund Raising Management, Non-Profit Times, and Contributions
Magazine all have ads of ethical capital campaign consulting firms.
Step Two: Preliminary Evaluation
First, don’t send a Request for Proposal (RFP). Believe it or not, it is almost impossible to write a RFP that will cover all of the
possibilities. Besides, if you aren’t sure exactly what you want, how can you write an RFP that will get you what you need?
Instead, call the companies you have selected as your initial pool. Ask to speak to the president of the company. If the president isn’t
available, leave a detailed message about what you want, the size of your campaign, when you would like to start and other pertinent
information. Then see how long it takes for the president to return your call. Most consulting firms are small firms and getting to the
top executive isn’t that difficult … and, at least in the beginning, the president is the person to whom you want to talk.
An interesting way of reducing the number of firms you are considering is to see who returns your call. If you have left enough detailed
information, and your situation fits within the consulting firms’ business plan, you should hear back from the president very quickly. If
you don’t hear back from a firm, they are either not interested, too busy or not responsive. Either way, your organization is probably better
off not working with that firm.
Arrange a convenient time to talk in detail with the president, or another executive of the company. Don’t just ask for company materials.
The materials you get will extol the virtues of the company, but not really provide a lot of useful information. It probably won’t answer
your specific questions. The president or other executive of the company should welcome the opportunity to discuss in detail your situation
and how their firm can assist you.
And you should have some specific questions, including:
(Remember, we are talking about capital campaign consultants now. Other types of consultants would naturally require other questions).
Explain your situation including all pertinent information: size of goal, annual giving, strength of board, commitment of staff and
board to the campaign, how you think your community views your organizations and other background information. Then ask general questions
like: how do you think your company would start a campaign process for us? Then listen for the answer. Most experienced executives will
provide you with a lot of detailed information over the phone and should have at least a standard description of how they would start a
campaign process with you.
Ask about the firm’s experience with similar situations. By this, we don’t mean that if you are a domestic violence shelter, the firm
has to have domestic violence experience. Look deeper. Explain what you believe the difficulties will be in raising the funds and ask if
the firm has any experience with similar situations. Have they worked with similar organizations?
Ask for a lot of details about previous campaigns conducted by the company. If the president can’t provide specific information about
previous campaigns, chances are the president wasn’t deeply involved in that particular campaign. Keep this in mind when the president does
the sales presentation and promises to be "deeply involved" in your campaign.
Has the firm worked in similar sized communities?
Has the firm worked with organizations with your fund raising history and experience? If your organization has only raised $10,000
through a special event, your campaign will be much different than one for an organization that raises millions each year. Look for
similarities... and differences.
Has the firm worked with organizations with similar staffing and board involvement?
It's okay to ask about failed campaigns, but don’t expect a firm to "spill its guts" about past failures (and every firm has campaigns that
don’t make goal). Evaluate how the executive responds to the question – and what work they did outside the original contract to help a
Take this opportunity to learn. Learn about the company, learn about capital campaigns, and learn about how the process works. These
executives will almost always take as much time as you want to answer your questions and share their experiences. Most small and medium
size companies work on from five to twenty-five campaigns a year (the bigger ones will work on hundreds). When a good sales lead comes
through the door (and a good lead is dependent on the firm’s goals including type of organization and geographic location), most executives
will be happy to share a lot of information. If they don’t consider your organization "a good lead", then you should probably search elsewhere
for a consultant anyway.
After you have received answers to all these questions, ask the firm to provide you with written information about its history, client list,
and philosophy. All firms will have a standard packet of information they will provide.
Do not ask for a written proposal... yet. Just ask for generic information, but specifically ask for a client list, references, and history
Step Three – Evaluate Materials
Once the initial information and materials arrive, evaluate them carefully. Did they include the information you wanted? If not, you can
either call and ask again, or reject the firm from consideration. You want a firm that is responsive to your requests. How long did it take
them to send the materials – how responsive are they to your needs?
What do the materials look like? Are they printed or just copied? Is it a store bought folder with a sticker on the front? Would you be
happy presenting these types of materials to potential major donors? Remember, the firm you hire will be responsible for creating your
organization’s image and materials. If they can’t create strong, quality marketing materials for their own company, how are they going
to create quality campaign materials? Did the firm sacrifice quality to save money – will they do that with your campaign?
Step Four - Presentation
After evaluating the materials, eliminate any firms you aren’t comfortable can do the job for you. Don’t be afraid to eliminate all of
them and start over. It is better to delay the process now than hire the wrong consulting firm.
A small committee might be helpful in selecting the finalists. A thorough discussion of each company by a committee will help in developing
the priorities of the organization. Don’t over structure the process however. There is probably no need for a "scoring grid" or other
"quantitative" process. A lot of hiring a consultant is qualitative and instinct. Grids and the like may make committees feel better,
but it rarely leads to retaining better counsel.
Now ask for a personal presentation and a proposal. While it is perfectly acceptable to ask for the proposal prior to a presentation,
organizations shouldn’t use that proposal as a barrier to the selection process. A presentation from the executives of the firm can be
a great way for a committee to learn firsthand about capital campaigns … and have their questions answered without paying a fee.
While all proposals differ somewhat, they will contain essentially the same information. Generally speaking, committees will fixate
on price and costs as a way of eliminating firms. Under the process outlined above, the organization has asked for proposals only from
firms it feels are capable of conducting the campaign process – regardless of cost.
Let the firms you have selected – the ones your organization feels is the best regardless of price – make a full presentation. View the
presentation as a learning experience – an opportunity for your leaders to have questions answers and your specific situation reviewed.
AVOID "dog and pony" shows. Having each firm scheduled for 45 minutes at the top of every hour for an evening is not a particularly
valuable way to gain information. Schedule one firm in an evening and take some time to get to know the people who will be working
with you. Chances are the firm you select will be working with your organization for months AND will play an important role in your
campaign. To determine whom to retain based on a written proposal and 30 to 45 minutes of conversation is not effective.
Each presentation should take a minimum of an hour, and can often take up to 90 minutes to two hours with questions. Take the time to
learn about the people in the
company and whether you like them and can work with them for the next six months to two years.
Remember, you are about to enter into a relationship with a firm and pay them tens of thousands of dollars – perhaps over a hundred
thousand dollars. You wouldn’t hire a CEO based on a 45 minutes interview, why would you hire a consulting firm in such a short time?
Take into account personality. Your organization’s leadership will have to work with the people you select for months, and possibly
years, so you need to like the people. Get to know everyone who will be working with you.
INSIST on interviewing and meeting every member of the team with which you will be working. Many firms, especially larger ones, will
have an executive make the sales presentation and then a campaign director will actually do the work. Insist on meeting and interviewing
the campaign director, preferably outside the presence of the executive. Make certain that the campaign director or person you will
work with on a day to day basis knows what he or she is doing. This campaign director is the one that will have the greatest effect
on the success or failure of the campaign -–make certain he or she is up to the job.
Any firm that refuses to include the people actually working on the project in the sales process should be rejected. REMEMBER – it is
the people that will make your campaign a success, not the firm.
Some companies also indicate that if the organization doesn’t like a particular consultant, the firm will replace them. Unfortunately,
replacing a consultant in the middle of the project delays the timetable as the new consultant learns what has already taken place –
and there is no guarantee that you will like the new consultant any more than the one you are replacing. Insist on meeting and interviewing
the firm member you will be working with – BEFORE you sign the contract.
Step Five – Make the Selection
Assuming you are working with a committee, the committee should schedule a final meeting to discuss all of the firms you have interviewed.
The selection process is really a subjective process and the collective wisdom of the committee must be considered.
After the committee has reviewed and discussed all of the companies, prioritize each company and THEN check the references. Chances are the
references provided will all check out. After all, no company is going to purposefully list a reference they know won’t say wonderful things.
To really find out the performance of a firm, take a look at their entire client list. It should be included in their packet of information,
and if not, then request it. After reviewing the list, pick three of four, more or less at random, and ask the company for detailed information
and contact information. See what these clients think about the firm.
Finally, evaluate the staff assigned to your campaign. Have the firm provide contact information for three or four clients each staff
person had worked with in the past. Check out the individuals … not just the company. Make sure to get references on the people you will
be working with, not just the company.