Q:  Help! I need your advice. We won a prestigious grant, but have the responsibility of matching it. Doing so will be a stretch for us. On our board is someone with development experience. I had lunch with him and mentioned that maybe we could hire him to help us raise the needed funds. He said he would do a proposal. I guess I wasn’t very clear…. I was thinking he could spend a few hours helping us identify some new sponsorship dollars to meet our obligation. The proposal he sent was for a very comprehensive – and expensive – consultancy.

With that said, it is something I think we really need but I have several questions. How can I determine if what he is proposing is a good value? While we would have to dig into our meager reserves to pay for something like this, if it helped us get new sponsors and gave us a plan for getting sponsorships for future years it would be worth it. If we decide to move forward with the proposal, can this man stay on the board? And, if we are going to do something this big, should we solicit proposals from others? I would really value your opinion.


A: All great questions! And, you’ve actually answered them all yourself.

Let’s start with the one about whether this person should stay on the board if you go ahead and hire him. I dealt with this question almost 15 years ago. It’s probably time to look at it again. I refer you to “Board Directors as Staff? Careful!” The long and short of the answer is that, while there are advantages to hiring someone who knows and cares about the organization, the potential disadvantages probably outweigh them.

How can you determine if the proposal is a good value? First, solicit proposals from others! You will see what others offer at what prices. I always suggest that organizations have a policy about requiring multiple bids when the cost is expected to exceed a specific amount. That amount will differ based on the size of your budget.

Second, look at what the consultant does and does not promise. Are the deliverables and timeframe realistic? Do you see the deliverables getting you to your goal? Does the consultant seem to know what he or she is talking about?

Third, be realistic yourself. When you are looking to raise funds, acknowledge that no matter how wonderful a track record someone has, the money is not going to just start rolling in. Your organization’s representative(s) is going to have to build relationships, and that takes time. He or she doesn’t come with a little black book. That would be unethical.

One last point… You didn’t ask, but I’m going to raise it anyway. You mention your desire to go after sponsorships. Most businesses today are providing money to nonprofits out of their marketing budget, rather than their philanthropic budget. That means they have to see a bottom-line return on their investment. It takes time, a lot of research and plenty of discussion to determine how your organization can best help the businesses achieve that. The days of creating a sponsorship package – expecting “Bronze,” “Silver,” “Gold” and “Platinum” to fit all – and selling that package to every business and corporation you can reach are long gone. You need to be sure the consultants you consider understand how this specialized area of fund development has evolved and have some experience operating in this new environment.

Good luck.