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The Fundraising Consultant vs. Practitioner Bias

on Oct 5, 2013

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Like it or not, it isn’t uncommon for fundraising practitioners – those employed full or part-time by a charity – to make assumptions about the motivations, abilities, or value of a fundraising consultant.

And – like it or not – some consultants are guilty of making their fair share about practitioners.

Can’t we all just agree that we’re fundraisers?

I’ve been on both sides, and at the time of writing this blog the majority of my career will have been on the consultant side. Because I’ve made the transition from one to the other, it’s not uncommon that young people or career-long practitioners will want my opinion on whether or not they should consider applying for an opening at this or that agency.

Here are what I believe to be some pros and cons of each. Hope it helps!




When the fundraising conferences roll around, you’re the most popular person in the room! You’ve got all the real experience, right? And, you might have the power to hire one of the vendors in the room. When the fundraising conferences roll around, there’s a good chance your charity doesn’t have the budget to send you. If you are going, don’t be shocked if you have to share your pass with a dozen of your co-workers.
It looks great on a resume! The charity sector has very high turnover rates, so it’s likely you’ll be on the market sooner or later. I’ve noticed that some – though not all – charities will value years as a practitioner more than the equal number of years as a consultant. High turnover in the sector is the result of a cluster of issues: high stress environments, long hours for little pay, and unrealistic expectations. This isn’t typical of all shops, but it happens. It’s not impossible that your fundraising dream job is only offered in the form of a three-month contract with no benefits.





You’re in the fundraising fast lane! If business is good for you or the agency then you’re probably managing 3+ clients with 2-3 projects. Each client has unique strengths and weaknesses, and it’s your job to adapt on the fly. That’s a lot of plates to spin at once, and if you can keep up the pace you’ll have amassed a tremendous amount of experience in a short amount of time. You can make all the recommendations in the world, but the final decision rests with the client. Sometimes all the experience, data and rationale won’t help a client make what you believe is the right decision. Then, unless you’re prepared to walk away from the work altogether you will have to spend your time on what you believe is a mediocre, scaled back strategy.
You don’t have to work in a vacuum. Agency or consultant life can be very appealing to an outgoing person with ambition. Every day you’re talking to clients, presenting results, going to conferences, writing blogs and volunteering. Within a few years people will begin to remember your face, name and company. For someone that is entrepreneurial yet want to support the charity sector, this can really be the best of both worlds. As you’re out there presenting, writing, volunteering and networking you will eventually encounter people that believe you’re not a fundraiser, or that you don’t understand what it’s like to be a “real” fundraiser. This can be incredibly frustrating. What these people rarely consider is what led you to becoming a consultant. The best consultants in Canada have decades of experience as practitioners and have raised millions of dollars. Most people in agencies have opted to take on a career path with a social benefit and the agency setting suits their lifestyle better.
This post was by Brock Warner. Hailing from Toronto, Brock works to foster and place value upon the act of philanthropy, no matter the size of gift. As a professional, he values the ‘how’ as much as the ‘how much’ and desire to see the fruits of my labour and energy be a catalyst for positive change. Connect with Brock on Twitter at @BrockWarner.

Fundraising Consultant


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