One of my favorite clients over the past couple of years has an energetic board leader who calls me and Bob Swaney The Bobs, a reference to a masterpiece of cinema, Office Space. If you haven’t seen that film in awhile, or ever, check it out soon.
“The Bobs are coming. The Bobs are here. What do The Bobs think? The Bobs won’t like this. Run this by The Bobs, please.”
“Time to call in The Bobs.”
I find this to be hysterically funny. Like The Bobs in Office Space, we typically spend a client day in a conference room, giving our opinions in dark suits. Usually we don’t get anyone fired. Usually.
My first hour of advice is often free (well, maybe some coffee or a Cobb salad). I sincerely enjoy talking about philanthropy and so happy enough to strategize with friends and colleagues about their fundraising challenges, board issues and so on. It doesn’t always lead to a paid gig but being generous with your time and expertise generally pays off in the end.
When a friend asks, “Why should I hire a guy like you?” the quick answer is because everyone need outside counsel and perspective from time to time. Like an annual physical and candid chat with a doctor about your bad habits, working with a fundraising consultant on an ongoing basis makes for a healthy non-profit.
When is it time to call in The Bobs?
- When Times are Good (or even Great). This is counterintuitive but the best possible time to bring in outside counsel to your fundraising program is when you’ve had a good year and ready to strengthen your program for greatness. Why? When staffing is solid, volunteers are engaged and revenue is on target, you have an opportunity to dial in your tactics and to maximize incremental revenue from a place of strength. Of course, almost no one does this but you should. Is your annual fund growing 10% a year? It should be.
- When Times are Tough. This is a more typical engagement for us consultant types, when something structural is wrong with your fundraising fundamentals. Call early. Like a weird mole, the sooner you have an expert take a look the better the outcome is likely to be. If you are calling us with your last quarter, after donors start backing away, the subscribers are gone and the staff quits, it will be much harder to help you.
- In the Staffing Churn. Non-profit leaders come and go, especially fundraisers. There are a lot of reasons for this. Fundraisers are a lot like college basketball coaches. If they are successful someone else is going to pluck them away for more money or to a flashier gig. If they aren’t successful the pressures of the job will push them out. Taking a pause during a staff transition to examine your fundraising program, address deficits and engage volunteers is sensible. A long-term, ongoing relationship with a consultant can provide stability and institutional knowledge to your fundraising program. I am on my second and sometimes third Development Director with long-term clients. That trend isn’t going to change any time soon.
- When Opportunity Arises. This is the most exciting call to get, to talk with someone about a lead gift, acreage for a new building, or some other transformative opportunity that has come along. Having an outside perspective and the 30,000 foot look at your opportunity is a worthwhile investment. We can help you think bigger, smarter and more strategically.
- When all else Fails. Bad things happen to wonderful organizations. Major gifts don’t come in as promised, grant funders change priorities, and bad publicity comes along for everyone from time to time. Good fundraising counsel can help you overcome the inevitable challenges and changes, even catastrophically bad days. Call us early.
- Now. Today is the time to call in The Bobs. Can you afford to wait until 2015 for annual fund growth, for engaged volunteers or to sharpen your tactics? You cannot. All of this needs to happen today. The challenge for the annual fundraising campaign is to create urgency and sustain momentum all year long, and starting TODAY. Conditioning your fundraising program takes discipline, experience, and dedication.
Give us a call. Go Raise Money.