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Fundraising Fundamentals, Section 3.4


Using Consultants

As happens any time the institution engages a consultant, you need to consider carefully if using a consultant will bring you closer to your goal, if this approach is the best use of your budget and if the institution would be better served by cultivating the skills of current staff through an investment in training.

Development offices tend to engage consultants more often than most other offices to:

  • Fill a gap in knowledge (because of the vast constituencies served and areas that one can specialise in, such as legacies, events, government funding, etc.),
  • Offer counsel and advice (e.g., lead a feasibility study or a campaign),
  • Help with peak workloads (e.g., events, campaigns) and
  • Take on a task that is best suited for an external consultant (e.g., having off the record conversations, leading a feasibility study, etc.).

Consultancy support can benefit an institution in many situations.

  • Consultants can bring an objective point of view and tackle difficult issues without becoming embroiled in internal politics.
  • External prospects, donors and partners often will speak more openly with a consultant, as he or she is one step removed from a frank conversation with the institution.
  • Typically, consultants are highly experienced, bringing new perspectives and knowledge of what works and what does not and can often benchmark your activity against other comparable institutions.
  • Consultants’ impartiality and credibility can be usefully employed to deliver difficult messages to people.
  • Consultants have the ability to focus on the task outlined in the brief and should not be distracted by other calls on their attention.

Even well-established offices often find the independence of consultants or counsel helpful to optimise performance.

Activities Where Consultants Might Be Useful

Consultants can be useful in a number of areas, from the strategic to the very technical. Here are some suggestions:

  • Feasibility studies
  • Recruitment
  • Data cleansing/mining
  • Technical advice on database/information management systems
  • Legal/finance operations (legacies, tax efficient giving, data protection, etc.)
  • Fundraising strategy
  • Establishing an annual fund
  • Online communications
  • Mentoring staff
  • Training
  • Helping with problem areas

You can use consultants to deliver one-off projects, on retainers providing ad hoc support or coaching for staff, to cover periods of staff absence, to deliver training or to provide additional capacity for advancement activities.

Getting the Best Value for Money

There are several well-known consultancy companies in the advancement field and numerous freelance development professionals. If you have a large-scale consultancy project in mind – such as a feasibility study – then you might want to consider a competitive tendering process.

The most important thing is to provide consultants with a clear, comprehensive brief. A good brief might contain:

  • A contextual statement outlining why you need their help and what you want them to do,
  • Some information about your institution and details of where they might find out more (website, annual report, etc.),
  • What you want your main deliverable to look like (e.g., a detailed feasibility study assessing the institution’s current ability to commence fundraising and what investment might be needed),
  • How you expect them to achieve this (e.g., through a mixture of quantitative and qualitative research),
  • Who should be involved (e.g., which stakeholders),
  • Schedules, milestones and/or interim deliverables,
  • Any special requirements (e.g., presenting the report to the governing body),
  • Details of who will manage the contract on behalf of the institution and the level of contact anticipated between that person and the consultant,
  • Details of any information or additional support for the consultancy project that the institution will take responsibility for providing,
  • Information about the skills, experience and attitude you expect the consultant to provide,
  • A general budget (although you may want to leave out specifics if conducting a competitive bidding process) and
  • A statement about confidentiality. (You might want to ask the consultant to sign a confidentiality agreement to protect the interests of the institution.)

Most consultants will be flexible on how their fees are structured. You could consider a day rate or payment against milestones or a fixed fee for the whole job. Be cautious of structures in which fees emerge as the project develops. Build in regular reviews or set a cap so that fees do not spiral out of control.


There are risks associated with using consultants, but these can be mitigated by researching who you use carefully, investing time in developing a comprehensive brief and closely managing the delivery of this brief rather than simply letting the consultant ‘get on with it’. However, it is worth noting the following risks:

  • An institution can become over-reliant on a consultant, stifling the development of in-house expertise.
  • If a consultant is on the frontline of fundraising, prospective donors may develop stronger relationships with the consultant than with the institution.
  • Consultancy costs can overwhelm your budget.
  • Your consultant might not tell you anything you did not already know.

Action Items
  • Carefully weigh the pros and cons of hiring a consultant before doing so.
  • Develop a brief so that all expectations are clearly agreed upon.

You Might Also Want to Read:

Commissioning a feasibility study


CASE provides numerous resources about using consultants and external professionals.

Peters talks about using consultants in development.