When you should (and shouldn’t) engage a fundraising agency

Date Published
Debbie Merlino

The foundation for any successful relationship is an alignment of expectations. So, as you evaluate your current fundraising agency – or think about engaging one for the first time – consider this list of what you should (and shouldn’t) expect from an agency relationship.

Consider engaging a fundraising agency if you need to accomplished the following.

  • Add a depth of knowledge — Your team may be full of dedicated generalists who have their fingers in many fundraising pies. Engaging a fundraising agency is an effective way to add a specialized skill set to your team.
  • Bring a critical eye to an existing program and make recommendations for improvement – Sometimes staff may be too close to a situation, and because of groupthink can’t find their way to an alternative. Or maybe you feel that the team is suffering from a minor case of “that’s how we’ve always done it-itis.”
  • Bring new and innovative ideas to the table – Oftentimes fundraising staffs are so strapped for resources that it takes all their time and energy to keep the train on the tracks. If your team doesn’t have adequate time to sit back; evaluate what’s worked and what hasn’t; and draft a plan to take your organization to the next level, then consider engaging a fundraising agency.

Don’t hire an agency if you hope it will do these things for you.

  • Solve your management issues – If you have departments/staff that aren’t getting along or won’t work together, don’t expect an outside resource to fix this internal problem.
  • Do it alone – Your agency partner needs support from both management and front-line team members. No one can know your market, your organization’s culture, or your donors better than you do. It’s the agency’s job to bring you solutions to your fundraising problems, but you need to work together to customize those solutions to your unique situation and make them a reality.
  • Fix your cash emergencies – If the boat is quickly taking on water, it’s likely not the right time to engage an agency. You need your teammates to immediately plug any holes and bail out the water. But, if you’re on a course toward an iceberg, an agency can help your draft and execute a turnaround plan.
  • Deliver the silver bullet – there is no silver bullet.

Why fundraising professionals chose to work with an agency

 “We all have our areas of strength and weakness, and I’m a big believer in finding smart people to help with my weak spots. The art and science of direct response has been a discipline I’ve admired for a long time, but haven’t worked with much. So when it was time to build a direct campaign, I didn’t hesitate to go outside for help.”

​Scott T. Dishman, CFRE
Executive Director
BMW Car Club of America Foundation

“An outside partner is much cheaper than a new employee when you calculate the full cost of employing a person. Not only that, but you professionalize your program, and gain consistency, analysis, and the ability to expand your efforts. Don’t fall into the trap of tripping over dollars trying to pick up pennies.”

Jim Rademaker
Assistant General Manager
WCMU Public Media

Keep the conversation going. Tell us about why you would engage an agency and what you hope to accomplish.

Debbie Merlino
About the Author:
Debbie Merlino
President, Agency Division

As President of Agency Services, Debbie is responsible for overall client satisfaction. She works to ensure AFG’s winning strategies are being shared throughout the organization for the benefit of all our clients. Debbie is frequently out on the road sharing insights with others and listening to your challenges so we can develop solutions.

What excites you about your work at AFG?

I get to meet the best people and hear their stories. Hardly anyone says they planned to work in development. Learning how our clients found themselves in this profession and hearing the stories of the people they serve is inspirational.

If you weren’t at AFG, what would you be doing?

Attempting the life of a freelance journalist, working in a bookstore, and/or doing a podcast for my own enjoyment.

What are your hobbies/interests outside AFG?

Making people laugh. It’s thrilling! Especially when done purposefully and I’m on stage ; ) I also enjoy yoga and a well-crafted cocktail.

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