Consultant: What is it that you need?

Client: Money.

Consultant: How much money do you need?

Client: A lot.

Consultant: When do you need it?

Client: Yesterday.

Does this sound familiar to you? Nonprofits are chronically short of resources; money, personnel and experience, and the decision to hire some outside support for projects and events happens frequently. Obtaining qualified help that is not a staff member can be a great option for event planning, board recruitment, meeting facilitation and of course, fundraising.

Once the best consultant has been identified and their proposal accepted,the real work can begin. But all too often, the conversation goes similarly to the one above, which can change the excitement and enthusiasm to a bit of a sigh.

Of course you need more money; of course you need more than you have and if you had it, you wouldn’t be calling in a consultant. But as the nonprofit, it is imperative you have a firm grasp on

  • How much you need,
  • What you need it for, and
  • When you need it.

It is not acceptable at all to have no firm numbers as a target, no firm dates by which fundraising efforts need to be completed.

I had just this type of meeting recently. The organization does wonderful and important things, provides for those who would normally never receive such an opportunity for access to learning, resources and community.Those needy recipients are not in a position to pay themselves, therefore outside funding is imperative.

How Much, Again?

We had discussed the feasibility of a big deal gala fundraiser, and the E.D.?s attitude was one of ?we have to make this amount to make this worthwhile?.  When I asked him what his net goal would be for a first time Gala, his target was $100K.  Nice, but completely unrealistic. There would not be enough time, seed funding or donor pool to make this come true.

I then asked what number would make this worth the expense and effort: if we made $50K, would that be considered successful, would $35K? No and No. He could only accept the idealized goal of a six figure result.  Which made taking on this project a non-starter. There is never a guarantee of income, and often things happen along the way that can materially affect both the event and the outcome. Hanging your fundraising hat on a wish and a prayer has rarely proved successful.

Once that event was removed from the plan, we still needed to address bringing in more funds, how would that happen? This is when the wheels started to fall off: ” All I know is that we need money and lots of it.” 

Into the Void

No one can really work this way, and for sure not a small nonprofit. It is critical to have determined targets and goals, to determine a timeline and both strategy and tactics to acquire those funds.

Precision, clarity and a calendar are utterly crucial to getting the help you need for your work. Be crystal clear on how much, for what and when it is needed, even if you are always needing more.

Try this conversation instead:

Consultant: What is it that you need?

Client: We need $10,000 for student applicant evaluations and equipment provision for 20 kids for the next term, which begins in October and goes for 4 weeks.

Consultant: Fantastic, when can we sit down and plan the work we need to do to get this organized and underway?  

Client: We can provide you all the support information and our budget by next week; could we meet once you have reviewed our materials?

Consultant: Awesome, let?s get our dates and activities on the calendar, create the materials we need to send out and publicize and get this party started.

What?s the message?

Of course we all could use a windfall yesterday but that has happened pretty infrequently, unless you were at the ALS Foundation last summer. For the rest,

  • Know exactly what you need,
  • Know what you need it for and
  • When you need it.

Donors need to know this, consultants need to know this and if you, as the nonprofit manager, do not, then take the time, now,before calling anyone, to determine the hard and fast facts of your goals. There is an old saying, “If you don’t know where you are going, it doesn’t  matter how you get there. Don’t let this attitude define your approach to finding funding and donors-know what you need and want, specifically. 

Need some help to clear through it all and find those specific numbers and dates? We can help, please do pick up the phone or keyboard and let us assist you. 310 828 6979,


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