The Real ROI of an Outsider

We are often asked why organizations should invest their resources in outside counsel to lead their capital campaign.

Written by Rachel Santos

It’s a valid question. As nonprofit leaders, you exist to serve your constituents and make sure every donor dollar is put to its highest and best use.

Let’s look at the question in a different way. Consider the new building or facility you are planning to construct. Would you build it without hiring an architect to design the plans? 

Capital campaigns—and the campaign study that proceeds it—are specialized projects. To be successful, they are best led by a specialist who brings a specific skill set and the experience that only comes from a history of successful projects.

We’ve rarely seen success from a campaign that was led in-house. It’s not because the advancement or development staff is not highly skilled at fundraising or has even been part of a campaign before. A campaign managed in-house is hamstrung by three primary detractors: a lack of time, a lack of accountability, and a lack of experience. Good campaign counsel will eliminate all of these deficiencies.

Some of the primary roadblocks we see organizations face during a capital campaign include:

  • Struggling to maintain momentum throughout the campaign.
  • Lack of internal resources to plan and execute the countless tasks a campaign requires. This includes limited staff support, a lack of experience necessary for a campaign, and no one to hold volunteers and staff accountable for a lack of progress.
  • Volunteer fatigue—a successful campaign must have positive, dynamic leadership that take ownership and make the campaign’s success their priority.
  • Donor fatigue—a narrow or uninvolved donor constituency that hasn’t been properly engaged and may not be willing to give (or stretch their gift) in a campaign.
  • Failing to implement best practices that maximize dollars raised and properly steward donors and volunteers.

Most organizations only conduct a capital campaign every 10 to 15 years, so it’s important to set yourself up for success. Making the decision to hire outside counsel—and then selecting the right consultant or firm—can make or break your campaign.

The factors below highlight the value of outside campaign counsel.

  • Specialized Experience. Capital campaign fundraising takes significant investments of time, money, and energy. Organizations that utilize fundraising counsel benefit from someone who has navigated a campaign’s inevitable challenges and capitalized on the opportunities for success.

As a campaign veteran, your counsel is keenly aware of how much your campaign’s direction (and momentum) will be shaped by early decisions. A campaign can drag on or fizzle out if it is not directed by strong, competent leaders. This depth of experience is well worth the investment and will ultimately save your resources by keeping your campaign on track.

  • Added organizational capacity and resources. Many organizations are unable to recruit enough staff to execute all the necessary tasks associated with a campaign. Consultants offer the structure and discipline that employees, volunteers, and key leaders require to keep the campaign on track. When other daily responsibilities compete for time and resources, consultants assist staff in concentrating on the campaign.

When you take on campaign fundraising, your team will still have many other obligations and demands on their time; consultants only have your campaign. Fundraising experts stay focused on your campaign goals even when you have to think about other things.

  • Volunteer and staff leadership training. Consultants bring very specific skills and knowledge to campaigns, including the development and training of staff and volunteer leadership so they play a major role in the campaign. A consultant can deeply engage the board and steering committee and focus members’ attention on their roles regarding the campaign.

A good consultant will also develop your staff by sharing best practices gleaned over years of experience. By sharing this knowledge, your organization’s culture of philanthropy will grow through an engaged volunteer and donor base. They can also assist staff in strengthening the infrastructure and mechanisms required to continue and improve the success of ongoing philanthropic initiatives long after the campaign has concluded.

  • Objectivity and fresh perspectives. Consultants provide prospective, impartiality, and independent thought to your organization. As an outsider, your consultant will be able to take a fresh look at your development operation, observing challenges and opportunities in broad, strategic ways that ultimately leave your organization with new insights, a stronger development shop, and enhanced skills.
  • Return on investment. Campaign counsel should cost between $0.05 and $0.15 per dollar raised. From an ROI perspective, this is one of the most valuable investments an organization can make.   For ethical reasons, counsel should never be paid a percentage of the amount raised.  

A well-executed campaign that properly engages donors and volunteers will raise more money. It will be completed in a timely manner and reach critical milestones. It will create energy and a reason for donors to stretch in their giving.

To learn more about how you can get the kind of expertise you need for your campaign, give us a call or apply for a free strategy session.


About the Author

Rachel Santos is Marketing Manager for the Winkler Group, a national capital campaign and strategic planning firm headquartered in Charleston, South Carolina. Rachel connects nonprofit partners with resources they can use to impact their communities—providing industry insights, research, and strategy so that they can expand their reach in carrying out their missions and making a difference.

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