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How to hire and get the most from outside fundraising counsel

Hiring outside fundraising counsel is an increasingly popular and important resource tool for funding economic development programs in local communities. As local governments face declining budgets and private businesses realize the specific benefits of economic development activity to their own organizations, this funding trend will continue.

Here are some key factors to keep in mind before hiring an outside fundraising firm:

1. Credibility ?Your own, not theirs. Has your organization earned the respect and public trust from your community that would allow you to make a credible ask for support? Have you communicated goals and results to your publics regularly?

2. Leadership ? Do you have strong, committed leadership that can see that the job gets done? The executive can?t carry the load alone. Evaluate carefully the ability to gain buy-in for a long-term campaign and sustained volunteer effort. Conduct a feasibility study to identify leadership and gauge support for a campaign.

3. Need ? Can you demonstrate the need to expand (or maintain) your program? Can you directly relate your efforts to the growth of your community? Justify the case for making your program bigger, better and more effective. Metrics are what the business community understands. Hire a firm that can help you develop solid data to demonstrate your program?s projected impact & return on investment.

4. Hire a Specialist ? Many fundraising firms will claim that raising money is the same regardless of the cause. Some boards will want to give the job to you. Don?t be misled by this thinking. Be sure to hire someone with specific credentials in the area of economic development fundraising who can commit their full efforts to raising the dollars you need. Resist the urge to hire a retired executive from your community.

5. Involve the entire team ? Make sure your staff and especially your volunteers have input into the decision to pursue a fund campaign and in the selection of your outside counsel. They have to live with your selection too!

If you?ve done these things, you may be ready to consider an outside fundraising effort. Take time in your deliberations and consider:

1. Experience ? Not only of the firm, but of their team members. Do they have people on board who have done your job and understand economic development? Look for firms whose staff has specific experience in economic development. CEcD?s and CCE?s on staff are a plus. Also look for long-term stability in the staff, client retention rates and growth patterns of any firm you consider.

2. Value ? Not just cost. Be sure to understand what you are buying and who can provide the greatest efficiency as a result of their experience, processes or people. Look for flexibility in approach, fees and expenses. Are they adequately sized so that they are neither spread too thin or overly large to give you the personal attention you deserve? Get a complete understanding of the entire cost for your campaign including fees, outside purchases, out-of-pocket expenses and travel. Consider fee-only firms exclusively. Commission based fundraising efforts are unethical and will jeopardize your credibility.

3. Personal Chemistry ? You will live with your selection for up to a year. Make sure you have full confidence in their abilities to represent you in the community. They will be the public face of your organization for 8 to 12 months. Ask who will be assigned to your effort and review their credentials before signing a contract. During the courting phase, are they enthusiastic and attentive to your needs? If so, they likely will exhibit these same qualities during the campaign phase. A good firm will have the ability to inspire and motivate your volunteers. You will be responsible for supervising their efforts so be clear that you expect them to report to you and not your governing body.

4. Prior Results ? Has the firm demonstrated the ability to get the job done in the manner and time they said they would? Did they stick to their budget? Will they take responsibility for results and be willing to work on their own dollar to make sure that your goal is met? Have they had any projects that failed and if so, why? Have they demonstrated an ability and interest in conducting both large and small campaigns?

5. Get References ? Be sure to speak with principals of the organizations for which the company you are considering has worked. Were they happy with their performance and people? Did they maintain the same representative throughout the campaign? Ask to speak to individuals in communities where the campaign goal was not met. Make sure you don?t suffer from buyer?s remorse for not having made a few phone calls.

6. Knowledge - The firm should not only be recognized in the economic development field, but also be knowledgeable of the fund-raising industry and climate. Fundraising for economic development is different than philanthropic or endowment campaigns. Your firm should know the difference and demonstrate their involvement in economic development and fundraising associations. Does the firm devote resources to continuing education so that they remain current on ED trends and practices?

7. Unique to You ? Will the firm consider the unique characteristics of your organization and community? Boilerplate approaches don?t work in the complex environment of the economic development world where political, social and business interests often collide. Demand full time counsel and hire a firm that has accessible, visible ownership. Avoid the cookie-cutter!

A Final Note

Hiring outside fundraising counsel is not inexpensive. Be sure that you have sufficient reserves or prior commitments to pay for the campaign costs. Don?t count on the ?if come? and don?t jeopardize your existing programs to pay for a campaign. Your outside counsel should be able to share creative ways to fund the campaign or work with you as you transition from campaign to program mode.

A fundraising campaign will be challenging and rewarding. But the work doesn?t end there. Following the campaign is the crucial program start-up phase and you will need to begin immediately with a strategy to gain support for renewed funding from your investors once the current program period ends.

Keeping some of these things in mind will help to make it a smooth and successful process. Have fun and learn from the experience. Being able to demonstrate success in securing outside support and funding for your economic development program will not only benefit your community but boost your long-term career value as well!

About Rod Crider, CCE, Owner, Compass Communication

After a long career as a successful economic development and chamber executive, Crider formed Compass Communication, a full-service marketing communications agency. The firm lists economic development among its specialties and has experience with municipalities, counties and states as well as other community growth advocates such as Chambers of Commerce, Regional Development Authorities, Economic Development Organizations, School Districts and Community Foundations. For more information or to receive their newsletter containing public relations articles and tips for economic development practitioners, visit their website at or send an email to About Terry Cusack Terry J. Cusack, President and CEO of Stellar Fundraising Executives, Inc., started his first company 30 days out of high school and hasn’t slowed down since. That initiative suggests what he can bring to your fundraising initiatives. Prompted by a strong desire to serve, Terry leads the strongest team available with the personal goal of helping his clients’ and their communities. Terry’s introduction to professional fundraising came while working at the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce. Advancing to the director of economic development position, Terry led a $10 million campaign. As a loaned executive with Touchdown Jacksonville!, he made sure that the 30th NFL franchise wound up in Jacksonville. That effort – which included selling $75,000 luxury suites in a stadium that had yet to be built for team that had yet to exist – prompted team president David Seldin to acknowledge that, “Terry is among the group of people without whose efforts the team would never have been won.” As senior vice president for a large consultancy, Terry contributed to the growth of more than thirty communities and other nonprofits around the country. His success continues to earn him national press coverage. He appears around the country, speaking on fundraising, organizational growth and economic and community development. For ten years, Terry has demonstrated a belief in service by volunteering with Big Brothers of America. Terry need only look to his “little brother” Ben Nowland – an Auburn University graduate, masters student and former All-SEC Auburn football center now playing for the NFL Washington Redskins – for proof that people can make a difference. STELLAR Fundraising Executives, Inc. 13245 Atlantic Blvd., Suite 4-375 Jacksonville, FL 32225 Phone: 904.270.0153 Toll Free: 888.897.4667 Fax: 904.270.0189


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