I am a charity and fundraising consultant based in Edinburgh, Scotland.
In most small and medium sized organisations the fundraising function is carried out by the most senior employee. As organisations get bigger and fundraising becomes more time consuming most charities opt to have a specific post for a fundraiser. The current salary range for employing a sole fundraiser in Scotland is between £22,000 and £30,000 plus national insurance, pension, office costs and expenses, based on vacancies currently being advertised.
For this reason, and because it can be difficult to get someone with the right experience, a lot of organisations look to hire a freelance fundraiser rather than employing someone.
If you are searching for a fundraising consultant or a freelance fundraiser then you might be confused by some of the job titles and terms used to describe different types of consultancy. Here is an explanation of those differences and the types of freelance services available to help your charity with its fundraising.
At the simplest end of the spectrum you can hire a freelance fundraiser to write applications to trusts, foundations, national lottery, comic relief or other funders on your behalf. Freelance fundraisers can also be hired to run fundraising events or run specific appeals for specific purposes.
Normally they are paid a daily rate, but smaller charities often want to employ freelance fundraisers on a commission only basis. This rarely works out well for the charity. The fundraiser may raise much more than expected, and be due much more in commission than they would have received as a daily rate. This could leave insufficient funds to carry out the charitable project the donations were given for. There is also an ethical issue. If someone is on commission then they may make claims or use techniques that betray your organisation’s values or ethics. They will also have to declare the basis of their engagement on any applications they write for you, and a lot of funders don’t like this.
I am not saying that hiring a freelance fundraiser is a bad thing, it just requires more hands on supervision and management than you might expect. If you can provide that supervision and employ a freelancer on a daily rate then this is an option worth considering.
This is a catch-all term used to describe any kind of freelance fundraiser or fundraising adviser. Normally charities engage a consultant to draw up a general fundraising strategy or a strategy for a specific appeal. The consultant may go on to carry out the actual fundraising or they may help you hire short term staff to do this. Fundraising Consultants often work on a retainer to advise a charity’s board, or management committee, on fundraising issues. They can also mentor fundraising staff. I provide some of these services (see here), but with some differences which I will explain at the end of this article.
This is a job title you see a lot these days and you might be wondering what it means. A “bid writer” typically writes tendering applications for local authority contracts, usually for social care organisations. This has been extended to cover applications to specific funds established to give grants for specific purposes over a short period of time. For example, themed funding rounds from within the various National Lottery funding bodies or DFID.
You can hire a freelance event organiser to run a fundraising or publicity event for you. If this is tied to a fixed cost contract then it can be a cost effective way of running events without them impacting too heavily on your existing staff’s time. Whether fundraising events make sense for your charity is an entirely different question. They sound easy, but they are very difficult to make serious money from, unless you have a very obvious audience and event in mind. Building an event audience can take many years. Waverley Care’s Come and Sing events are an example of regular events for a very specific audience that have been run for many years and do make money.
How to assess a Fundraising Consultant
One area where charities have to be careful when hiring fundraising consultant is how they can assess the validity of the strategy that the consultant is suggesting. References and track record are obviously important indicators, but the advice being given still needs to be relevant to your charity. There is a duty on charity trustees to make sure that money is being used correctly so it is important that you get this advice independently assessed. One way to do this is to have a trustee who is a professional fundraiser and can make that assessment. Failing this, you could ask a staff fundraiser from another charity to sit on presentations and read their proposals. What you are looking for is a very basic judgement: Is this advice reasonable?
I have done this on a voluntary basis for a number of charities before I was a consultant. In one case I read a donor research report from a consultant that indicated a number of Jewish trusts as possible funders of a Christian charity simply because those trusts had “religious purposes” in their charitable objectives. I could tell that this was not correct and I helped the charity to hire an experienced fundraiser who was able to run a successful appeal that raised the required money within two years.
You also find a lot of cutting and pasting of strategies from one client to another. There is obviously going to be some similarity between organisations, but you need to address each organisation and its internal culture to develop a strategy that will really work for them.
How my fundraising consultancy service differs from these
As you will see from my services page I offer a wider consultancy service encompassing management, fundraising, communication and organisational development. I came to this more holistic approach because I don’t think fundraising can be addressed on its own. The fundraising process, and the issue of what is fund-able in today’s climate needs to inform the mission of the charity. In marketing speak this would be called “product definition”. Getting your core mission in step with the market is as important as selling that mission to funders. This is why charities have to be flexible and change over time to address new needs and new donor interests.
I use the term “strategic fundraising” because I prefer to look at the organisation’s overall needs compared to current income and work out a sustainable way to bridge that gap. In the case of new projects it’s about finding a compromise between what you want to do and what funders might fund. Reaching the right compromise means your charity is able to make more of an impact in the long term.
My aim is to help you tell your charity’s story, but tell it better. It is still be your story, but bringing out the information that funders need in order to ease their decision to give you money. This includes things like proof of impact, project longevity, staff expertise, service user testimony and other validations of what you are doing. There are no guarantees in fundraising, but most small and medium sized charities are not telling their stories in a way that gives funders confidence in them. If you get this right you will be ahead of the game.
Another area I specialise in is individual donor development. This means recruiting new individual supporters and following them through the donor lifecycle from one off donor to leaving yourcharity a legacy. This is an important area of fundraising because it brings in money that can be used for general purposes, but it requires long term commitment and investment.
I also do donor research and fundraising strategy work for difficult causes. I have never worked for a “cuddly” cause and I am not put off doing things because they are difficult.
I have access to other specialists that I can bring in as required, so I am not just a single freelancer. I am more of a gateway to a range of expertise.
One of the greatest strengths I bring to any charity is the confidence to ask donors for more money. This may sound simplistic, but as an outsider I don’t feel any shame or embarrassment about asking people to dig deep in support of your cause. Funders are in the business of being asked for money and they won’t be offended if you ask them for more. If you make a good enough case for funding and you ask them then there is every chance of success.
Pro bono work
This is a problem for all fundraising consultants. As consultants we spend about a quarter of our time looking for work. In my case I also have two or three days a week set aside for interim executive work, so I can’t really work for free, no matter how good the cause. I do offer a free one hour consultation with a follow up set of ideas and suggestions for Scottish charities. If you would like to take me up on this offer then please contact me.