Many thanks to the Agitator readers who responded to our Punch Bowl Survey, looking at perceptions fundraising consultants and clients have of one another. Today we discuss the results.

We’ve teased you the past few days with some of the more provocative — some caustic — verbatim comments our respondents have made. So at the outset, let us assure you that some positive comments were indeed offered. Here are two examples …

From a client: “GOOD consultants (and there are many) keep their ear to the ground and are able to test with multiple clients and then hopefully others (us!) can benefit from their experience.”

From a consultant: I admire “their passion and dedication to the job, and their enthusiasm to continuously learn and improve.”

And roughly two-thirds of each group are ‘satisfied’ (or better) with their dealings with the other side of the table — 67% of consultants and 64% of clients.

But then it gets a bit murkier.

For example, Roger and I expected that a core aspect of the relationship involved learning from one another. But 53% of clients said they learned something from their consultants ‘once in a blue moon’ or even less! The infrequent learning percentage was 41% for consultants, suggesting they do more learning in the relationship than their clients (we might ask: who’s paying whom?!).

Indeed, a frequent client comment was one version of another of: We use consultants to confirm what we already know … and/or need help selling to our bosses. Even though our question was tongue-in-cheek, it’s still noteworthy that that the #1 response (39%) of clients to why they ‘admire’ consultants was: ‘They can make my boss believe anything.”

That suggests fundraisers have a fair amount of difficulty selling their ideas (and maybe even competence) up the chain of command … and we suspect that includes boards.

Interestingly, there was no mention of the role of boards in the comments. Have boards become irrelevant to fundraising? Lost causes? Or what? Does something need to be done to get top leadership more educated and engaged?

For their part, clients seem to view consultants as hired hands to help with very specific tasks or expertise (‘I need the extra hands to get the job done’ – 58%; ‘They bring a very specific expertise to the table’ – 51%), as opposed to a more strategic role (‘They expose us to wider experience’ – 40%).

Is there any more fundamental reason to retain a fundraising consultant than to improve results? Roger and I thought not. But there was scarcely any mention of improving performance in the comments … other than each side asserting the other was prone to claiming the credit when things went well, and blaming the other when they didn’t!

Generally, improving performance requires changing something … which makes these further results somewhat distressing.

The main complaint of consultants seems to be, in its most charitable  formulation, that clients are indecisive and slow to move … and in a more dejected formulation, that their advice is simply ignored (especially where change or risk is involved). Consultants said their ‘favorite’ term (again, we were being cheeky) used by their clients was: ‘I’ll need to think on it’ – 28%.

Look at this range of consultant responses to the statement: ‘I view my clients as … (and note they could have checked as many boxes as they wished):

  • 83% – Strongly dedicated to their mission
  • 45% – Pleasant to work with
  • 27% – Competent
  • 8% – Well-dressed (stuck in there for fun)
  • 8% – Open to change/risk
  • 7% – Decisive

What can we say to that, other than WOW! Committed, nice people … but stuck in place. And we’d note that no one used any derivative of the word ‘innovate’ in their comments. What comes across — whoever is more at fault — is a climate of caution.

However in deference to our client readers, we remind you of the observation made at the top of this post: more than half of clients claim they don’t learn much from consultants; and many comment that they use consultants, instead, to legitimize ideas they already have.

We would have guessed that many of our readers (certainly the consultants) have a notion of the consultant/client relationship as a sort of teacher/student relationship. But that doesn’t seem to be the case … certainly not in any deferential ‘we speak, you listen’ sense.

A perhaps more apt model that comes to mind is the relationship between a top tennis pro and his/her coach. I often wonder, what does Nadal or Federer actually learn from the coach? Obviously they find the coach valuable. The coach’s contribution might be some small tweak, but one that makes a huge difference to the end result. And of course … the talent needs to be there in the first place.

In this regard, it’s worth noting that our respondents are not amateurs – 60% of client respondents have more than ten years of fundraising experience (including 20% with more than 20 years). And 76% of consultant respondents have more than ten years of fundraising experience (including fully 42% with more than 20 years).

In short, this is a pretty savvy group of fundraisers, rich in experience on both sides of the table.

At a time when the pressure has never been greater for fundraisers to perform, and the challenges never more daunting, and the trends never so distressing, isn’t it cause for concern that the relationship between the two parties (and the most senior players at that) doesn’t come across as more mutually positive … more committed to innovation … more focused on results?

We intended to have some fun with this survey. And we did — clients need to improve their wardrobes!

But there’s plenty of serious food for thought in these responses. There’s a crucial relationship here that needs to be taken to a more mutually productive level. Hopefully our survey opens some eyes to that.

You can view the full responses, including the verbatim comments, here.

Roger and Tom

P.S. And for sure, tell us if you think our analysis is too pessimistic.

P.P.S Maybe it’s a psychiatrist/patient relationship — both are equally crazy.

P.P.P.S. Sorry for the double sending of yesterday’s post. It was our Feedblitz consultant’s fault!






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