Professional Fundraising: Everything You Need to Know About Getting Outside Help

Fundraising October 29, 2021

Sayana Izmailova

By Sayana Izmailova

In a world dominated by social media and digital technology, fundraising trends, strategies, and best practices evolve at a rapid pace. New and creative ways of asking for donor support emerge so quickly that it can be hard for organizations to keep up. 


If fundraising is just one of your many, many responsibilities, you can’t be expected to stay on top of trends, consistently gain new knowledge, and effectively put it into practice. You can try your best, but more often than not, your time and effort would be better spent elsewhere, while you outsource the fundraising activities to someone with more time, resources, and expertise. 


In this post, we’ll take a look at how to recruit a professional fundraiser to help raise funds for your organization. By the end, you’ll learn everything you need to know about professional fundraisers, what types of services they offer, how to hire one, and whether this is the right option for you. 

What Is a Professional Fundraiser?

A professional fundraiser is someone who assists nonprofit organizations with their fundraising activities. The extent of their help depends on the needs of the organization — some may offer consulting services and help guide your fundraising strategy, while others may offer more hands-on assistance in executing fundraising activities. This can include things like managing fundraising campaigns, seeking out corporate sponsorships, grant writing, or even personally reaching out to prospective donors on behalf of your organization. 


Professional fundraisers have the necessary education, experience, and knowledge of ever-changing donor behavior and giving trends, which makes them an effective addition or substitute for your in-house fundraising efforts. 


Lastly, a professional fundraiser can offer their services as an independent contractor or work at an agency. Agencies typically have higher fees but they offer more comprehensive services and often involve a whole team of professionals, each with their own areas of expertise. 

Types of Professional Fundraisers

Professional fundraisers typically fall into one of two categories: professional solicitors and fundraising counsels.

 

  • Professional solicitors are allowed to solicit donations on behalf of the organization that hired them and hold on to the funds for a period of time.
  • Fundraising counsels only offer consultation services and help guide the fundraising efforts of an organization — they never solicit or have custody of the funds. 

This is an important distinction because under most state laws, both professional solicitors and fundraising counsels have to be registered with their state and comply with their respective regulations. The registration requirements and regulations differ from state to state, so be sure to check with your state for how to stay compliant when hiring professional fundraisers. 


Different states also use different terminology and definitions when they refer to professional fundraisers. Here are the most common definitions of professional solicitors and fundraising counsels, as well as a few other terms that your state regulations may use: 

Professional Solicitors

Professional solicitors or commercial fundraisers are individuals (not employed by the organization) or agencies who get paid to conduct fundraising activities on the organization’s behalf. They can solicit donations and retain funds for the duration of their services. 


Individual solicitors is another term you may come across that describes the same service, but refers only to individuals, not agencies. 


Commercial co-venturers are companies that can raise funds on the organization’s behalf for mutual benefit. The most common example of this is cause marketing (when a company donates 1% of their sales to a nonprofit, for example). Though the company isn’t technically hired as a professional fundraiser, you may still come across this term in your state’s regulations because the company does solicit funds for the organization and retain them for a period of time. 

Fundraising Counsels

Fundraising counsels or fundraising consultants don’t do any of the soliciting themselves and never have custody of the funds. They are hired to offer feedback, advice, and strategic direction to help an organization meet its fundraising goals. They may come onboard to do an evaluation of the organization’s existing fundraising efforts, educate the organization's fundraising staff on best practices, and help create an action plan for moving forward. 

When Do You Need Professional Fundraising?

Professional fundraisers can help fill gaps in your organization’s fundraising efforts at any stage in its lifecycle. Whether you’re just starting to fundraise, looking to increase revenue, or execute a capital campaign, getting outside help can make a massive impact on your results. 


Here are a few reasons why you may want to hire a professional fundraiser or agency: 


Not enough in-house staff: 

Successful nonprofits often have entire departments dedicated to fundraising that include teams for annual giving, monthly giving, events, sponsorships, major gifts, legacy giving, stewardship, donor services, and more. If your nonprofit has big goals but only a handful of people who can dedicate their time to fundraising activities, it may be time to consider hiring outside help. 


Training in-house staff:

Even if you have enough in-house staff members responsible for fundraising, they may not have the necessary expertise. For example, if one of your goals is to execute an online fundraising campaign but all of your staff members have experience only in direct mail, it may be helpful to hire a fundraising consultant. 


Reaching untapped audiences:

Fundraising professionals work with dozens of organizations just like yours and have a network of potential partners, vendors, and sponsors. They can see opportunities and ways to expose your organization to new audiences that you may not be aware of. 


Planning a fundraising program:

Creating a new fundraising program from scratch requires experience in that area and a deep understanding of how to maximize your organization’s resources. Your in-house staff will be able to maintain the program once it’s up and running, but it’s not a bad idea to get someone to help plan and implement it. 


Launching a capital campaign:

Capital campaigns are an enormous undertaking and often take years to execute. They involve a lot of moving parts and rely on each fundraising program working in unison toward the same mission. Even if you have a full staff of experienced fundraisers, it can still be helpful to hire outside help to plan the campaign and keep it on track. 


Starting or improving your fundraising events:

As the COVID-19 pandemic showed us, the way we plan and execute fundraising events can change in a matter of weeks. To help your organization’s events stay current, engaging, and effective, consider hiring a consultant with expertise in this area. 


Becoming a better digital fundraiser:

We rely on digital technology for just about everything, and its role in fundraising will only continue to grow and evolve. By learning new digital fundraising skills and learning from experts, you can help your organization meet its donors where they are—online. 


Acquiring and retaining donors:

There comes a point (or a few) in every organization’s life cycle when it seems to hit a donor growth plateau. Bringing in an outside perspective to evaluate your current situation and make informed suggestions can help reinvigorate your efforts and reignite donor growth. 

Tips for Hiring a Professional Fundraiser

So you’ve decided to hire a professional fundraiser — that’s great! Here are a few tips to keep in mind when bringing in outside help: 

1. Conduct an Extensive Search

Hiring an independent contractor or an agency is just like hiring a new staff member — it’s important to conduct a search and explore multiple options. 


First, consider whether the fundraiser needs to be local or if they can complete their work remotely. If your organization relies on local donors, it may be necessary for them to have at least some familiarity with your area. If you’re looking to attract online donors, the consultant’s or agency’s physical location matters less, but they should at least reside in the same state as your organization to keep legal matters nice and simple.


When considering professional fundraisers, look for:

  • Someone whose values align with your organization’s

  • Someone who’s passionate about your organization’s mission

  • Someone who would fit well culturally with your team

  • Someone who is tech-savvy and has experience working with your software tools

  • Someone who agrees with you on what ethical fundraising looks like 


Create a shortlist of three or four individuals or agencies and invite them to create a proposal for your organization. Be sure to also ask them for references from other nonprofits they’ve worked with. Both of these will help you make the right decision. 


2. Check Legal Compliance 

Once you’ve settled on a professional fundraiser, check your state laws about what’s required of you in order to stay legally compliant. At the very least, both of you will have to be registered to solicit donations and follow specific financial reporting requirements. 


3. Draw Up a Contract 

Before starting your work together, make sure you agree on:

 

  • the scope of work
  • your goals
  • timelines
  • deliverables

 

Decide on a project-based or hourly fee that you’ll pay the fundraiser for their work. Keep in mind, it’s considered unethical to pay the fundraiser commission for the donations they bring in. 


Draw up an official contract to document all of the above. Depending on your state laws, you may be required to file this contract with your registration forms and financial reports.

Signs You're Paying Too Much for Professional Fundraising


Hiring a professional fundraiser can be quite expensive. Since many of them operate on a contractor basis, their rates also tend to vary quite a bit. It’s up to you to evaluate whether or not someone’s services are worth the price they’re charging, and whether or not their efforts are making a difference for your organization. 


Here are a few signs that you’re paying too much for professional fundraising services and it’s time to consider another option:


1. You’re not reaching your fundraising goals

Your goal may have been to raise more revenue, improve your retention rates, or acquire a certain number of new monthly donors. If after working with the contractor or agency, you’re not seeing results, your money would probably be better spent somewhere else.


That being said, there’s a big difference between paying a fundraising solicitor, who fundraises on your behalf, and paying a consultant. A consultant guarantees you their time and expertise, they don’t guarantee results. Before cutting ties, it may also be worth taking into consideration how effectively your organization has been able to implement their suggestions. 


2. You’re not seeing an ROI (return on investment)

Along the same lines, no matter how expensive the professional fundraiser’s fees are, the ultimate goal is to make that money back and then some. If the cost of the contractor or agency is not paying for itself with how much you’re raising, you’re probably paying too much. 


3. The professional fundraiser costs more than the cost of running your programs

At the end of the day, you fundraise so that you can keep running your programs and advancing your mission. But while it’s true that you need to spend money to raise money, there’s a limit to that. If fundraising costs more than actually running your programs, it’s time to look for a different solution. 


Professional fundraisers’ fees vary greatly depending on the services they offer, their level of expertise, and even the geographical area they operate in. If you’re finding that your current contractor or agency is too expensive, it doesn’t mean getting professional fundraising help is out of the question and you should go back to doing everything in-house — it simply means that you should consider exploring other options until you find the right fit for your budget and your organization’s needs. 


Could Professional Fundraising be the Right Solution for Your Organization? 

If you’ve been struggling to do it all in-house, hiring a contractor or agency could be the way to go. Would you consider hiring outside help? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments! 





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