Your organization has decided to conduct a planning study before embarking on a campaign—you’ve already made the first smart choice! A campaign planning study, also known as a feasibility study, will tell you whether or not a campaign is advisable, how much money you could realistically raise and what your strategy would be to raise that money. It also serves as a blueprint for your campaign. But attempting a planning study without counsel as an objective third party would be risky—lacking the experience and advice of an expert consultant.
Once you have decided to engage counsel, how can you be sure you’re choosing the right one? Here are some common questions that can—or should—come up during the counsel selection process, and tips on making an informed choice.
Q. At what point should we bring in counsel?
A. Very early in your process. Once you have determined funding priorities and needs, it’s time to test those priorities with your donors.
Q. What is the value of working with a firm versus a solo practitioner?
A. As you might expect, we strongly recommend using a firm. With a solo practitioner or a large firm that assigns a single consultant to your study (usually based on geographic proximity), availability can be a problem. By hiring a firm that uses a team approach, you get access to multiple consultants involved with your study. You also get many minds, which means a variety of perspectives and experience to draw upon.
Q. How do I evaluate the firm’s experience?
A. Ask the firm these often-overlooked questions:
- How many planning studies have they conducted?
- How many interviews have they done?
- What are their references saying?
Q. Who will be the person working on our project?
A. Some firms may assign someone to you who was not a part of the sales process, so it’s important to find this out up front. Each firm has its own way of handling projects. At The Curtis Group, one of the firm’s two principals is involved in every client project. Be sure to ask any firm you consider whether they offer principal involvement in every step of the process, or just in the sales and final presentation interactions.
Q. What should I ask the firm’s references?
A. Have this list ready when you make the call:
- Did the firm’s recommended strategy work?
- What did they do to add value or go above and beyond?
- Did you always get the personal attention you deserved? Were they highly accessible to you?
- Did they present and interact well with your board and leadership staff?
- Did they leave your fundraising program stronger than they found it?
- Would you hire them again?
Q. Why does the cost vary firm to firm for the same product?
A. What might seem like the “same” product starts looking very different as you get into the project. Building fundraising capacity is not an expense, but an investment. Likewise, starting a campaign is like starting a new line of business: there will be start-up costs—and if undercapitalized, the entire organization can suffer in the end. Considerations that go into the cost of a planning study include the number of people contributing to your project, level of experience, reputation for results, and professionalism. In short, you get what you pay for.
Q: If all firms seem qualified, how can we make our final selection?
A. Choose the firm that’s the best fit—remember, you are entering a relationship. Ask yourself:
- Do you like the firm’s representatives?
- Is the firm responsive?
- Will your board, donors and prospects respond to them and their style?