How to Pick a Fundraising Consultant for Your Annual Fund

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If you’re looking for ways to amp up your annual fund, then you should consider hiring a nonprofit consultant. Fundraising consultants are professional advisers that can offer your nonprofit effective solutions to improve your annual fund.

Since there are so many different nonprofit consulting firms out there, the search may seem like a daunting task. However, with a few strategies, you can find the right adviser for your nonprofit.

Let’s take a look at six strategies you can use to start your search on the right foot.

  1. Set up clear and actionable goals.
  2. Determine what services you need.
  3. Find a firm with annual fund experience.
  4. Work with a consultant that can connect often.
  5. Consider the cost of a consultant.
  6. Narrow down your picks and request proposals.

If you’re looking for more strategies to improve your annual fund, check out this helpful guide.

How to pick a nonprofit consultant for your annual fund - Set up clear and actionable goals

1. Set up clear and actionable goals.

Before you can start searching for the right nonprofit consulting firm, you need to come up with your goals. Your goals can be anything from a timeline of when you want to have a nonprofit consultant hired to what you want to achieve once you hire someone. Create as many goals as you need to create a clear picture of what you want to gain. 

Goals are important because they not only help you see what you’re trying to achieve, but they also help your fundraising consultant figure out the best solution. If you can’t give your adviser a clear idea of what you want, he or she doesn’t know what direction to take.

Setting goals helps you point out the areas in your fundraising you need help with and gives your nonprofit consultant somewhere to start when coming up with solutions.

While improving your annual fund may be your overall goal, it’s not specific enough. If you want assistance that’s tailored to your nonprofit, you’ll need to be as detailed as possible.

To figure out your goals, you should start by determining where you need the most support. Your nonprofit may need help:

  • Honing in on what makes supporters give.
  • Creating a plan for your year-end fundraising.
  • Writing an impactful appeal.
  • Finding unique ways to interact with donors.

The important part is to figure out where you need the most help so that the professional can focus on those areas.

The takeaway: Goals set the groundwork for what you need. They give you more than just a way to measure success. Goals help your nonprofit consultant figure out what direction to take so that you can reach the best possible outcome.

How to pick a nonprofit consultant for your annual fund - Determine what services you need

2. Determine what services you need.

Now that you’ve got your goals, it’s time to assess how a nonprofit consulting firm can help you. By knowing what services you need, you can narrow down your choice to those that only offer what you need. In order to know what services you want, it’s important to know what a fundraising consultant can do.

That way, when you do hire someone, you can both start your project on the same page and with the same expectations.

In general, every firm offers slightly different services. We’ll cover some of the nonprofit consulting services you can expect to see among most firms:

  • Conduct research on your donors’ giving behaviors.
  • Create fundraising strategies.
  • Assist you with hiring nonprofit professionals.
  • Motivate and educate your staff on all things concerning fundraising.

In addition to the services mentioned above, many consulting firms specialize in a particular aspect of fundraising. For instance, digital fundraising consultants can design and develop customized fundraising solutions to meet your nonprofit’s needs.

Let’s say your organization is using Luminate, a fundraising tool created by Blackbaud; you might hire a digital consultant to customize your Luminate system to help track and market matching gifts to boost your annual fund.

Once you have a better idea of what a consultant firm can offer, you can start figuring out which services align best with your needs. You may need just one service or a combination of all that the firm has to offer.

The takeaway: The more you know about what a nonprofit consultant offers, the better idea you’ll have about whether or not you need their services.

How to pick a nonprofit consultant for your annual fund - Find a firm with annual fund experience

3. Find a firm with previous annual fund experience.

While a nonprofit consultant can’t guarantee you success, working with someone that has previous experience planning annual fund strategies gives you a higher chance of having positive results.

We’ll take a look at three things that your fundraising consultant should be knowledgeable in.

A. Matching gift programs.

As you are probably aware, matching gift programs can help you double your donations. Matched giving requires a lot of promotion and education in order to encourage donors to submit a request to their employer.

You want to hire a fundraising consultant that has prior experience working with the various matching gift programs.

If you choose a nonprofit consulting firm that already has knowledge on this subject, they can help you figure out how to best incorporate matching gifts into your appeals. They might even be able to suggest different services that can help make matching gift promotion easier.

B. Online donation software.

Optimizing your online donation forms is key if you want to encourage donors to participate in recurring giving and gift matching. Find a fundraising consultant that can suggest online donation form best practices.

Additionally, you want to find a firm that is familiar with donor abandonment and how to avoid it. The more your consultant knows about donors’ giving behaviors, the better he or she can guide you on how to make your forms better.

C. Unique ideas for communicating with supporters.

You should look for a nonprofit consultant who can offer you a new perspective on how to approach your annual fund.

For instance, if your nonprofit’s past annual fund communications have been largely through direct mail, in-person events, and phone calls, you could consider bringing someone on with a background in online marketing and fundraising to give your next campaign a new edge. The consultant could help coach you through a complete digital strategy from email to social media.

Essentially, you want to find a consultant who can help you both improve upon what you’re already doing and add new skills and approaches to your repertoire.

With new ideas, your consultant can help you discover different, unique ways to communicate with donors and build those long-lasting relationships. Ultimately, lasting relationships with your supporters will help motive them to give regularly.

The takeaway: When you find someone with the right skills and prior knowledge on annual funds, you don’t have to spend time explaining concepts and can start working on solutions right away.

How to pick a nonprofit consultant for your annual fund - Work with a consultant that can connect often

4. Work with a consultant who can connect often.

Communication is key to working successfully with a nonprofit consulting firm. Establishing communication from the beginning means that there will be less confusion later.

Connecting often with a consultant is important because your nonprofit can:

  • Get regular updates on your annual fund plan and strategies.
  • Communicate your concerns promptly so that the consultant can make changes early on.
  • Explain all your needs and what you hope to achieve.

Depending on your nonprofit consulting needs, you may want to choose a local consultant.

Finding a local fundraising consulting firm will help to ensure that you both are familiar with your nonprofit’s donor community and outreach.

This regional bond can help your nonprofit feel more comfortable with a fundraising consultant and spend more time developing in-depth strategies that target your local demographic’s needs and interests.

That being said, finding a firm that’s close by isn’t always feasible. Plus, remote nonprofit consultants present their own strengths that can be extremely beneficial.

Since remote consultants won’t have the luxury of dropping by your office at the drop of a hat, they’re more likely to stay on schedule (and ensure that your nonprofit does, too!). Additionally, remote consultants can bring a fresh perspective and a different frame of reference to the table.

If you’re considering nonprofit consulting firms that are further away, always make a note to ask them how they communicate with their clients. For instance, having the majority of interactions via email might not be the most ideal approach seeing as some messages might get misinterpreted or overlooked.

Instead, make the effort to have more direct communications with non-local firms through regular phone or video chat sessions.

It’s also a good idea to meet with your nonprofit consulting firm in person as often as you can, especially early in the process so that you can clearly explain all your needs and gain a solid understanding of what plan they have in place for your nonprofit.

The takeaway: Connecting regularly with your nonprofit consultant is important because it allows you to know immediately how things are going to be planned. Plus, you can voice your concerns as soon as they arise.

How to pick a nonprofit consultant for your annual fund - Consider the cost of a consultant

5. Consider how much a consultant will cost.

Not every nonprofit consulting firm will cost the same, and there are no set guidelines on how a consultant is paid. Some may charge by the hour or day while others may charge per project. Additionally, you might be charged food, travel, hotel fees, and other expenses. It all depends on the firm that you decided to work with.

As you consider the price of a nonprofit consultant, ask yourself what’s most important. Do you want: 

  • Someone that meshes well with your nonprofit’s culture?
  • A consultant with lots of experience handling similar nonprofits?
  • A firm that can offer creative and unique suggestions for your annual fund strategy?

Once you’ve figured out what is crucial for your nonprofit, you can start to narrow down your options. Perhaps paying a little extra for the skills and characteristics you need won’t seem like such a bad thing in the long run.

The takeaway: The cost of a fundraising consultant is inevitable; make sure that you get the best return on your investment. Consider what services or skills you want from your firm and then compare prices.

How to pick a nonprofit consultant for your annual fund - Narrow down your picks and request a proposal

6. Narrow down your selection and request a proposal.

Before you make your final choice, it’s a good idea to request a proposal or ask your top firms to pitch their suggestions. A proposal will give you a better idea of what each nonprofit consulting firm suggests you do to improve your annual fund. In other words, it will give you a taste of what to expect.

The proposal can be a formal, in-person presentation or a document that firms send to you with their suggestions. Either way, you should request the same type of proposal from all your top picks to be consistent.

When you request your pitches, give the nonprofit consultant some time to really come up with solutions. If you give them too little time, they’re likely going to send you general pitches that aren’t specific to your nonprofit’s needs. Give them at least 3 weeks to submit their solutions.

After every firm turns in their proposal or presents their pitch, take some time to consider every firms’ suggestions. As you take each one into consideration, make sure you ask the following questions:

  • Did the firm offer you solutions specific to your nonprofit’s goals?
  • Were they confident in their solutions?
  • Did they offer any statistics to back up their suggestions?

Of course, you can add to this list with other questions that are important to you.

Now it’s time to make your choice! Use all the information you’ve gained about each firm to help you decide which one is best for you.

The takeaway: Requesting a pitch is one way to get a better understanding of what each nonprofit consultant suggests your nonprofit do to improve your annual fund. Use this step as a way to narrow down your options and pick the best solution.


With these tips, you can start searching for the fundraising consulting firm that best fits your needs. Look for a firm that meshes well with your nonprofit’s culture and has prior experience working with similar organizations.

If you would like to learn more about hiring a fundraising consultant, check out these helpful resources: 

  1. 11 Top Fundraising ConsultantsNow that you’ve got tips to help you hire a fundraising consultant, it’s time to start your search. Check out this list of our top consultants.
  2. Top 10 Fundraising Consulting Firms As you begin looking, you might realize that not every consultant offers the same services. Check out these consulting firms to find one that meets all your organization’s needs.
  3. Nonprofit Fundraising IdeasLooking for more ways to boost your annual fund? Get our full list of fundraising ideas to help you raise even more funds this year!
  4. Top Fundraising Consultants in Ohio and IndianaIf you think that hiring a local consultant is the best option for your nonprofit, check out our list of consultants located in the Midwest.
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