5 ways to know if a fundraising consultant is lying

How can you tell if a fundraising consultant is lying? His lips are moving.


Sorry. Wrong joke. I should emphasize that fundraising consultants are fine, upstanding people. They tell the truth literally dozens of times every year. I myself am a fundraising consultant, and you know you can trust me.


But many consultants have the tendency to — well, let’s call it overstate things in order to land a client. Here are five warning signs that a consultant is not quite 100% above-board with you:



  1. When their pitch to you is a powerful new way to get young donors. You don’t want young donors. Young people are the methamphetamines of fundraising. Unless by “young” they mean “people in their 50s,” they’re selling you a bridge over the East River. Young donors will kill you with their fickle behavior. Stay away from them! Don’t believe anyone who says they’re a reliable source of income.
  2. When their thesis is “____ is dead.” Direct mail is not dead. Neither is email, blogging, radio, Twitter, reading, Elvis, or personal fundraising. (Okay, one of those things is dead.) A sweeping pronouncement that a whole category of communication is “dead” can make a consultant look prophetic, but it’s really just a sign that they don’t understand that medium and would rather get paid to do something less measureable and useful.
  3. When they talk about the future, but not the present. This is another way they try to run away from being specific. The future is cool, exciting, and full of possibility; it’s important to be looking forward. But the present and the immediate past are what your consultant should be spending most of their energy on.
  4. When they already know your problem before they’ve even spent some time with you and your data. They aren’t listening to you, and they never will.
  5. When they won’t explain their new cutting-edge product works because it’s “proprietary.” They have every right to protect their intellectual property. But if they’re asking you to accept something on faith, get suspicious. These folks know (or should know, anyway) how to communicate. Insist that they answer your questions and tell you how the thing works.


Comments

20 responses to “5 ways to know if a fundraising consultant is lying”

  1. Oh I completely agree with you on every point. I am a consultant as well and I hear a lot of cracks and nasty comments about us and the truth is is that not all consultants are like ambulance-chasing injury lawyers!
    One thing I would add (though I know I could come up with more) is beware of the consultant that says they have a full roster of wealthy people they know that they can solicit for your organization. Bad bad bad!

  2. Oh I completely agree with you on every point. I am a consultant as well and I hear a lot of cracks and nasty comments about us and the truth is is that not all consultants are like ambulance-chasing injury lawyers!
    One thing I would add (though I know I could come up with more) is beware of the consultant that says they have a full roster of wealthy people they know that they can solicit for your organization. Bad bad bad!

  3. Awesome post. As a fundraising consultant, I wish there was a way make these points a must read for all charities. Although it’s sometimes tempting for our firm to promise the moon (knowing that we occasionally lose business because we don’t) we’ll never do it. We care about the donors too much (imagine that!).

  4. Awesome post. As a fundraising consultant, I wish there was a way make these points a must read for all charities. Although it’s sometimes tempting for our firm to promise the moon (knowing that we occasionally lose business because we don’t) we’ll never do it. We care about the donors too much (imagine that!).

  5. I think engaging young donors can be useful, don’t you? Even if they’re fickle and have limited resources, some will become long-term supporters whose gifts increase over time.

  6. I think engaging young donors can be useful, don’t you? Even if they’re fickle and have limited resources, some will become long-term supporters whose gifts increase over time.

  7. Maryann Kerr Avatar
    Maryann Kerr

    While your article may contain some useful tips…your headline is disrespectful and sensationalism at best. It is hard enough to gain respect as a fund raising consultant without other consultants pushing this brand of “journalism.” Frankly, I think most clients and potential clients are smart enough to see when someone is trying to pull the wool over their eyes. Consultants are our partners on this journey…not gurus with brilliant tricks up their sleeves.

  8. Maryann Kerr Avatar
    Maryann Kerr

    While your article may contain some useful tips…your headline is disrespectful and sensationalism at best. It is hard enough to gain respect as a fund raising consultant without other consultants pushing this brand of “journalism.” Frankly, I think most clients and potential clients are smart enough to see when someone is trying to pull the wool over their eyes. Consultants are our partners on this journey…not gurus with brilliant tricks up their sleeves.

  9. What about the 6th one – When a consultant says their program is “turn-key”

  10. What about the 6th one – When a consultant says their program is “turn-key”

  11. Personally, I have to say you’re off base on point number one! While young donors might at this point be less flush in cash, saying that you need to stay away from them sends a very pessimistic view. The organizations I come across are forward thinking and interesting in cultivating for the long term their donor base. Counting them completely out as a consultant only ingrains in the NPO sector that short term vision far too many already suffer from.
    Mark A. Buzan, APR
    Principal & Chief Magnifier
    Action Strategies
    http://www.actionstrategies.ca (Action Strategies website)
    LinkedIn Profile: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/mark-buzan/0/76a/664
    LinkedIn Group for Public Relations: http://www.linkedin.com/groups?gid=2465644&trk=hb_side_g

  12. Personally, I have to say you’re off base on point number one! While young donors might at this point be less flush in cash, saying that you need to stay away from them sends a very pessimistic view. The organizations I come across are forward thinking and interesting in cultivating for the long term their donor base. Counting them completely out as a consultant only ingrains in the NPO sector that short term vision far too many already suffer from.
    Mark A. Buzan, APR
    Principal & Chief Magnifier
    Action Strategies
    http://www.actionstrategies.ca (Action Strategies website)
    LinkedIn Profile: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/mark-buzan/0/76a/664
    LinkedIn Group for Public Relations: http://www.linkedin.com/groups?gid=2465644&trk=hb_side_g

  13. Valerie Lambert Avatar
    Valerie Lambert

    I’m going to have to disagree on the “young donor” point here, too.
    If it’s sold as an EXCLUSIVE, the same way as “[direct mail] is dead, and you need to do [___] instead,” then yes, it’s a sign to run away, but this can be an effective means of acquisition, and frankly, too many organizations NEED to attract the young donors. Not as a substitute, but as an addition.
    These are the orgs/Exec Dirs that are hopelessly engaging in the “That’s the way we’ve always done it” modus operandi and consultants have to come and explain, “You’re going to keep getting what you’ve been getting…unless you CHANGE and ADAPT to the NEW breed of donor!”

  14. Valerie Lambert Avatar
    Valerie Lambert

    I’m going to have to disagree on the “young donor” point here, too.
    If it’s sold as an EXCLUSIVE, the same way as “[direct mail] is dead, and you need to do [___] instead,” then yes, it’s a sign to run away, but this can be an effective means of acquisition, and frankly, too many organizations NEED to attract the young donors. Not as a substitute, but as an addition.
    These are the orgs/Exec Dirs that are hopelessly engaging in the “That’s the way we’ve always done it” modus operandi and consultants have to come and explain, “You’re going to keep getting what you’ve been getting…unless you CHANGE and ADAPT to the NEW breed of donor!”

  15. It’s Not You… It’s Me!

    Recently I read this blog from the venerable Jeff Brooks. In this blog, Jeff warns charities to “stay away!” from youth. I’d love to know what data this wisdom is based on? What detailed fundraising studies have been conducted on…

  16. It’s Not You… It’s Me!

    Recently I read this blog from the venerable Jeff Brooks. In this blog, Jeff warns charities to “stay away!” from youth. I’d love to know what data this wisdom is based on? What detailed fundraising studies have been conducted on…

  17. While there is much to agree with in this, the headline and initial aspects set a negative tone that I resent as a respected and longstanding consultant.

  18. While there is much to agree with in this, the headline and initial aspects set a negative tone that I resent as a respected and longstanding consultant.

  19. I completey agree. I especially agree with #4 “When they already know your problem before they’ve even spent some time with you and your data” This is a big turn off.

  20. I completey agree. I especially agree with #4 “When they already know your problem before they’ve even spent some time with you and your data” This is a big turn off.

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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