There are a lot of “experts” out there trying to help nonprofits raise more money. Who should you listen to and when?

With over 1.5 million nonprofits in the United States alone, there is a burgeoning support sector of for-profit services. Just top of mind, I can rattle off about 20:

  1. Full-service Fundraising Firms
  2. Direct mail firms
  3. Mailhouses
  4. Print Shops
  5. Digital Fundraising Agencies
  6. Online Giving Companies
  7. Event Fundraising Firms
  8. Wealth and Donor Data Analytics
  9. Donor Databases and other Information Technologies
  10. Training, Coaching, and Counseling
  11. Capital Campaign Services
  12. Marketing Agencies
  13. Government Lobbying Services
  14. Auditing and Accounting Services
  15. Freelancers like graphic designers and copywriters

Ok… so I only got to 15, but you get the point. 

There are a lot of “experts” out there!

So who should you listen to and why?

The first question is difficult to answer. 

I can’t speak for everyone out there serving nonprofit customers, but I know first-hand that there are many experienced, wise, and talented people helping nonprofits grow and fulfill their mission. Many of them are my colleagues.  Many are my competitors.  But there’s never been more fantastic resources available to nonprofits looking to take the next step. 

However, with the good often comes the bad⁠—and there are certainly bad apples out there. So I truly understand nonprofits who are worried about trusting us or any third-party expert. 

It’s a scary thing to put money entrusted to you by your donors into the hands of a so-called “expert.”

But the second question of why you should listen to an expert like RaiseDonors is something I can answer. 

In fact, this is an easy question because RaiseDonors listens to third-party experts all the time.

My experience with an expert

Whenever RaiseDonors sponsors a conference, event, or meets with a customer⁠—we always make sure to bring a variety of t-shirts to give away. It’s a fun way to have people take home a nice gift and also spread the word about RaiseDonors every time they wear it. 

A few years ago, we started purchasing our t-shirts from a friend of mine who owns a screen printing business. 

For the first run, I let him pick the shirt. He told me, “This is the shirt you want to use.” 

The problem was, it was one of the most expensive ones.

Was he suggesting this one just because he’d get a little more out of the deal? Did it really matter which shirt I chose? 

He’s my friend, but those thoughts ran through my head. I bet you’ve had them too.

It was my first run with him, so I felt like it was best to trust him. 

“Great. Let’s do it!” 

The results

I bit the bullet and bought the more expensive t-shirt. People loved it!

To this day, years later, I see people wearing it. They tell me, “It’s one of my favorite t-shirts!” 

Because of that print, more people become aware of RaiseDonors and the work we do with nonprofits. It was a simple and smart marketing investment.

What happened when I didn’t listen 

For the next run, I wanted a slightly darker shade of blue. My friend informed me that the shirt we used the first time did not come in the darker blue. But he did have a cheaper shirt that came in the color that I wanted.

He advised me to go with the nicer, more expensive shirt and compromise on the color.

More money. Again. And it wasn’t even the color I wanted!

Sure, he’s my friend. But would I trust him again with more of my precious marketing budget?

Not this time. I ordered the dark blue shirt. 

The results

No one ever talks about the dark blue, cheaper shirt. Not one of my customers have ever mentioned it. 

Honestly, I still hear about the t-shirt from the first run! 

“That first shirt you gave me – I wear it all the time.”

So, I saved money by going with the dark blue shirt. But I lost all the opportunities I could have had to raise awareness of RaiseDonors. 

A missed opportunity and wasted money. I didn’t listen to my friend, the expert, and it bit me in the you-know-where. Hard. 

Why nonprofits should listen to experts

There are very good reasons to listen to the experts (and pay them money). It’s important to know these reasons so you can choose the right vendor to work with and justify the purchase to your board or superiors.

1. No one’s an expert at everything.

No one has the time to study everything about marketing, fundraising, accounting, business management, logistics, information technology, etc.

You just can’t know everything. 

More than that, you can’t be good at everything. I know more than the average person about programming and development, but I leave that to Chris and his team. That’s their strong suit, not mine.  

None of us can do what we’re best at without the help of other people in our lives. That’s both true in our private lives and our professional lives.

2. You can’t hire every expert to be on your staff.

There’s a limit to how many people you can fit on your staff. 

You’ve only got so much money for hires, and you only have so much office space.

Hiring third-party experts allows you to leverage the expertise of professionals without taking on all the burden of another hire.

Which leads me to the next point.

3. It’s much harder to fire people than a third-party vendor.

Firing someone is much more difficult than hiring them.

Of course, there are the logistics of firing someone, like paperwork, or scheduling meetings to review their performance, and to have “the talk.”

But there’s also the emotional difficulty of firing someone you’ve grown close to. Perhaps they have family, and they depend on this job to provide. 

No one wants to be in the room when a good teammate gets let go.

But with a third-party expert, the context of the relationship lends itself to constant re-evaluation.

I know this first-hand because I’ve spent the vast majority of my career as a third-party voice. The best relationships are the ones where we regularly revisited why and how we would maximize our working relationships.

One of the lesser touted benefits of working with third-party vendors is that you can often transition to a different vendor with minimum risk to your organization.

4. They have experiences with other clients you can leverage.

When RaiseDonors solves a challenge or unique situation with an individual customer, it equips and enables us to help more customers in the future. 

Each day, our expertise in the area of digital fundraising grows as we work through the challenges of large, small, and medium-sized organizations.

RaiseDonors customers benefit from all the experiences we’ve had with other customers.

As you grow and your needs evolve, you can be assured that RaiseDonors will be able to help you every step of the way.

5. They have every reason to give you their best advice. 

Our first reaction when an expert recommends a more expensive option is to question their motives. 

Are they doing it for selfish reasons, or is this really the best route to take?

The emotion behind this question is so natural. 

But the truth is third-party vendors only succeed when their customers succeed.

RaiseDonors has every reason to give you our best advice. 

We understand that sometimes we ask our customers to take a course of action that requires an investment upfront. But we’ve been down the road enough to know what’s on the other side.

If we give bad advice that lines our pockets in the short term, we lose in the long term. 

This is true for all third-party “experts.”

Unfortunately, there are bad apples out there. But these are rare cases.

So when should you listen to the experts?

The answer is simple. You should pay for and listen to experts when…

  1. Your knowledge in a certain area is limited.
  2. You don’t have time to learn something and/or do it.
  3. The thing you need done will take you away from a critical task only you can do.
  4. You don’t have the budget to hire more staff, but you can afford a third-party service.
  5. You see that this third-party expert has experienced more success in their area than you have.

No one can change the world alone. No matter how awesome you are, you need an internal and an external team of collaborators and experts.

Don’t make the same mistake I did. Listen to the experts!

Stephen Boudreau serves as VP of Brand & Community at Virtuous Software. For over two decades, he has helped nonprofits leverage the digital space to grow their impact. To that end, Stephen co-founded RaiseDonors, a platform that provides nonprofits with technology and experiences that remove barriers to successful online fundraising. He is an avid (but aging) soccer player, audiobook enthusiast, and the heavily-disputed UNO champion of his household.

Copyright ©2024 Stephen Boudreau.