How can you tell if a fundraising consultant is lying? His lips are moving.
Sorry. Wrong joke. I should emphasize that fundraising consultants are fine, upstanding people. They tell the truth literally dozens of times every year. I myself am a fundraising consultant, and you know you can trust me.
But many consultants have the tendency to -- well, let's call it overstate things in order to land a client. Here are five warning signs that a consultant is not quite 100% above-board with you:
- When their pitch to you is a powerful new way to get young donors. You don't want young donors. Young people are the methamphetamines of fundraising. Unless by "young" they mean "people in their 50s," they're selling you a bridge over the East River. Young donors will kill you with their fickle behavior. Stay away from them! Don't believe anyone who says they're a reliable source of income.
- When their thesis is "[something] is dead." Direct mail is not dead. Neither is email, blogging, radio, Twitter, reading, Elvis, or personal fundraising. (Okay, one of those things is dead.) A sweeping pronouncement that a whole category of communication is "dead" can make a consultant look prophetic, but it's really just a sign that they don't understand that medium and would rather get paid to do something less measureable and useful.
- When they talk about the future, but not the present. This is another way they try to run away from being specific. The future is cool, exciting, and full of possibility; it's important to be looking forward. But the present and the immediate past are what your consultant should be spending most of their energy on.
- When they already know your problem before they've even spent some time with you and your data. They aren't listening to you, and they never will.
- When they won't explain their new cutting-edge product works because it's "proprietary." They have every right to protect their intellectual property. But if they're asking you to accept something on faith, get suspicious. These folks know (or should know, anyway) how to communicate. Insist that they answer your questions and tell you how the thing works.
(This post first appeared on March 24, 2010.)