A Step-by-Step Guide for Notifying Counsel


By Jerry Henry, Partner

Selecting fundraising counsel is a well-thought-out process that involves several stages. (3 Ways to Start Your Search for Fundraising Counsel, The Proven Approach to Requesting Proposals, Four Tips for an Effective Face-to-Face Meeting)

The final stage – notifying candidates of your decision – appears obvious.  However, in their eagerness to begin work with the firm they’ve selected, some organizations fail to do a good job of notifying firms who were not selected.

It’s a given that you are excited to call the consulting firm you’ve selected to share the good news that you and your committee have made a decision to engage them. You feel confident about that firm’s ability to partner with you, your staff, your volunteers, your donors, and you’re ready to get started.  That call is easy!

You may not be eager to contact the firm or firms that you and your committee didn’t select.  After all, you’ve spent time talking with the other firms, sharing information about your organization and learning about them – especially about the consultants who would work most directly with your organization.  In other words, you’ve developed a relationship and have some anxiety about disappointing the consultants you’ve not chosen.  You’re also aware of the time spent in preparing a written proposal and other presentation materials as well as the resources of time and finances the firm’s representatives have expended to meet with you and your committee in person. (To learn more, check out Nancy Peterman’s blog – Fundraising Experts Share Their Top Tips for Choosing Outside Counsel.)

But, inevitably, you must deliver the news that they were not selected. The firms not selected will learn much from your feedback and it is likely you will engage them for other business in the future.

Here are ten tips to guide you through this process, easing your anxiety and aiding the firms you’re notifying:

  1. Deliver the news through a telephone call – not an email. The nonprofit sector is a relationship business. Talking to the consultant is far better than a form letter.
  2. Begin by thanking the consultant for taking the time and effort to engage in the process — the preliminary phone calls, drafting a proposal, meeting the committee members in person for a presentation, and providing any follow-up materials in response to questions during the presentation.
  3. Tell them that you and your committee selected another firm and then name the firm.
  4. Offer what you and your committee viewed as determining factors in the selection of the other firm. A different approach or process? Specific technical resources? Cost?
  5. Avoid general statements such as “We simply decided to go another direction…
  6. Share a positive point that emphasizes what you and the committee saw as a strength of the non-selected firm.
  7. Provide some high-level constructive feedback such as “Ultimately, our committee was looking for X Y & Z and we believe that the firm selected will provide that.
  8. Before you end the call, ask if there are any questions.
  9. Thank the consultant again for taking the time and effort to participate in your process.
  10. Leave the door open for some future consideration. For one reason or another, your organization may need to reach out to this firm later and it is important to maintain the relationship.

Fundraising consulting firms are businesses and understand many factors make up the decisions within your organization’s consultant selection process and they are used to wins and losses.

Just remember, they appreciate the courtesy of a call either way. It’s good stewardship!

Four Tips for an Effective Face-to-Face Meeting


By Sandra Kidd, Partner

Successful major gift solicitations, hiring a winning job candidate, and selecting the right fundraising counsel all have one thing in common:  a face-to-face meeting works best.

Before you get to this step, you must be done with your homework: talking with colleagues about their suggestions for good fundraising counsel, putting together an informal or formal RFP (request for proposal), and inviting firms to respond to your RFP.

Your goal is to have a real conversation with the final 2 or 3 firms under consideration, sitting down with the proposed consultant(s) for a good discussion.  You can make this time together most productive in several ways:

  1. Invite a good mix of your staff and leadership to the meeting. When we see volunteers involved in selecting counsel, we have confidence that they will be engaged in fundraising, too.
  2. Give us advance information about the meeting participants: what are their roles with your organization? We want to be well prepared to meet with your decision-makers, to use your time wisely and effectively.
  3. Provide your group a brief outline of what you have asked us to cover in the discussion, so they can add their thoughts and questions beforehand or during the conversation.
  4. Share with us what you will value most about having fundraising counsel. If you have worked successfully with fundraising consultants in the past, let us know what worked well.  If you know you have a critical need to meet—like developing your major donor base—let us know so we can talk about ways to make that happen.

Of course, you can’t really get to know us or any other consultants in a one-hour meeting.  But if we do our job well, you will get a good sense of our approach, our experience, and, most importantly, how we will handle a situation.

If all your questions aren’t answered in that one-hour, or you walk away with new questions, let’s schedule a follow-up call to finish the conversation.


The Proven Approach To Requesting Proposals


By David Shufflebarger, Senior Partner 

After spending more than two decades preparing responses to requests for proposals (RFP’s) received at Alexander Haas, I appreciate those organizations that approach the process with forethought.

The most important and first step for an organization is to determine what they need. Organizations that get good proposals:

  • are specific about what kind of fundraising counsel they seek,
  • provide relevant information about themselves and their development program, and
  • allow for the prospective fundraising consultants to ask questions about the RFP and the organization.

Our website has a section on “How to Select Fundraising Counsel” adapted from The Giving Institute. Organizations that follow the six-step process outlined increase their chances significantly in finding fundraising counsel that best fits their situation.

The first two steps, 1) identifying prospective consultants, and, 2) preliminary screening help the organization clarify what kinds of counsel it needs and wants.  They are key steps to preparing an effective RFP and provide the prospective fundraising consultants who receive the RFP with a proper basis for providing a proposal based on a solid understanding of the organization.

At times we receive an email or telephone call with a request to ‘send me a proposal for x service.’ While there are basic elements for each service, each is customized for a specific client’s situation.  Unless there is dialogue between Alexander Haas and the organization, there is a good chance the proposal won’t respond to specific needs.

Other times the RFP is issued by a purchasing office that has strict rules about no contact with the organization, a prescribed format for responses (whether it be an RFP for roof repairs or fundraising counsel), and pricing requirements that don’t fit our services such as a request for our hourly rate (all of our services are based on a flat project or phase rate). Encouragingly, we see more such RFP’s include room for considerable background information on the organization and an opportunity for prospective bidders to email questions with answers to all prospective bidders’ questions prior to the due date.

Given an opportunity for discussion early in the process, we can discern whether we are a good fit or not. In some cases we can recommend another firm that specializes in areas we do not – chamber of commerce and economic development campaigns, for instance.

The best RFP processes include ample time for the organization to get to know us and us to get to know them. That’s how good partnerships are developed from the outset.



3 Ways to Start Your Search for Fundraising Counsel


By David King, President & CEO

The hardest and most important part of any task is simply getting started. 

This is certainly true for the task of selecting fundraising counsel. At Alexander Haas, we recommend a six step process for selecting counsel and you must do a good job at #1 for the other five to work.

The first task is to identify a pool of firms to begin the selection process.  There are a number of resources for identifying firms, but before you start looking, you need to decide what you are looking for.

  • Are you looking for a large firm, a small firm, a medium firm, a single practitioner?
  • Do you want a local firm that knows your community or a national firm with a broader experience in philanthropy?
  • Do you want a firm that specializes in only nonprofits like yours or do you want a firm that can bring best practices and experiences from other subsectors?
  • Are there any other special characteristics that are important to you in a firm (race, religion, gender, etc.)?

Knowing what kind of firm you are looking for makes identifying candidates much easier and will, ultimately, make the selection process easier. You won’t force your organization to choose between apples and oranges.  Both are good fruits, it just depends on what you’re in the mood for.

Once you know the initial criteria, you can begin your search.  Here are three suggestions to increase your success:

Ask colleagues to recommend firms.  This is a great way to start a list and you can accomplish it one on one or to a group.  Share with colleagues what you are looking for a firm to do for you and the criteria you have identified, then ask for suggestions.  Don’t why away from including referrals for firms your colleague has not used, but knows to have a good reputation.

Use sector specific resources.  Many organization produce (or maintain on their website) buying guides, market places or simple listings of firms that provide a wide variety of services. Check CASE, AFP, AHP, Chronicle of Philanthropy.  These can be a great place to start a list for further research.

Lastly use a search engine.  Most of us just call this “Googling”, but it works. Simply search “fundraising consulting firm” and get a broad list, or be more specific to your needs and use a search term like “capital campaign consultant” or “campaign feasibility study” or “annual fund counsel”.  Like all things you “Google”, the more precise the question the better the answers you’ll get back.

After you’ve done all this, you will have a pretty good list of “suspects” – and the good news is that you have started!


Fundraising Experts Share Their Top Tips for Choosing Outside Counsel

In the coming weeks, Alexander Haas will focus on providing you with content regarding the criteria you need to consider when selecting counsel.  This week, we bring you insights directly from the experts, that is, those in leadership positions who make the decision to hire fundraising counsel everyday. 


By Nancy Peterman, Partner

Several emphasized the importance of meeting the consultant who is actually going to do the work at the sales presentation.  

Phil Mazzara, President of Providence Health Foundation in Washington, D.C. commented, “I never hire firms where the ‘presentation sale’ is done by someone other than the person(s) actually doing the work.  My assumption always is that firms responding to an RFP are professional.”

Access to senior consultants throughout the engagement is another principle that weighs significantly when selecting counsel.

Experience in the community and references from organizations known to the client are two important factors.

Denise Deisler, Executive Director of the Jacksonville Humane Society.  In her words, “Counsel’s experience, especially in our community with other reputable organizations, was a critical factor for us. References from the same were a valuable part of our decision-making.”

Counsel’s personal skills and characteristics are important elements according to Debra Orr, President of Notre Dame Academy.  She referenced, “…the ability to listen and be open to discord.  No two institutions are alike and each one has its own differences.  Understanding these differences is important to getting good advice.  Out of discord some of the best action plans are formed.”

Justin DeMoss, former Major Gifts Officer with EWTN, added, “They must have the right personality and team building skills to infuse the non-profits’ culture with the necessary legal understandings that may have an influence on the non-profit and its operations.”

Not surprisingly, every individual mentioned alignment with the mission of the organization as the most important criterion.

Josh Newton, President and CEO of the UCONN Foundation, said that he and his team look for a track record and experience with similar institutions.  He also cited a “match in philosophy and approach to work” and “less so, but certainly a factor—costs.”

Lisa Moore, Vice President for Advancement at Saint Mary’s College in California agreed with selecting counsel with “experience and demonstrated success in universities similar to my institution in size, resources, staffing, etc.”  She also cited counsel’s preparation prior to the sales’ call as a factor.  “It was essential that Counsel conducted thorough research on my campus and program to create a personalized and unique presentation that provided understanding of campus culture.” 

Denise Deisler said, “That Alexander Haas had experience in our particular sector of nonprofits put them over the top.”

Nearly all mentioned “fit,” or the ability to successfully interact with the consultant on the part of the staff, president, chancellor, executive director and board members, as a deciding factor.

Phil Mazzara added, “Once we determine scale/mission-fit, we frankly make a selection based on the ‘goodness of fit’ between the firm’s folks actually doing the work and our CEO and CDO.”

Lisa Moore summed it up nicely with the following:  “Finally, while experience and stats were important there was absolutely nothing more important than cultural understanding and fit. I interviewed three firms in person, two of which had not done their homework, did not understand my goals and priorities as a new leader, and presented as though my senior staff had never worked in development before. It was essential to me that the firm we would eventually choose truly believed in us, wanted us to succeed, and would be there with us during good times and bad.”


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