What Questions Should I Ask a Nonprofit Marketing Agency?

8 min read

If you’ve read our post on why we don’t typically respond to RFPs at Prosper Strategies, you know we believe that the standard process for finding and choosing a marketing and communications agency is broken. Instead of presentations and pitches, we believe in conversations and collaboration. Effective client-agency relationships begin with deep discussions about the client organization’s needs, goals and challenges, and the agency’s ability to address them. The very best relationships begin with discussions that go even deeper than that, getting into the organization’s ideal future state and vision for impact, and the role the agency may be able to play in helping the organization make that vision a reality.

So how can you ensure you’re having conversations like these next time your nonprofit wants to hire an agency or consultant? It’s all about asking the right questions and avoiding asking the wrong ones. Allow us to provide some guidance.

Instead of presentations and pitches, we believe in conversations and collaboration. Effective client-agency relationships begin with deep discussions about the client organization’s needs, goals and challenges. Click To Tweet

Questions to Ask a Nonprofit Marketing Agency

The following is a list of questions you should consider asking a marketing agency before you hire them. These questions are all useful vehicles for exploring your needs, vision, and fit with a potential agency partner.

  1. What type of client or organization do you specialize in working with? How does that specialization inform the way you approach the work you do?
  2. Who are some of your past clients? How does your experience with them inform the work you might do with us?
  3. Can you give us some examples of results you’ve generated for other clients with challenges like ours?
  4. What type of work do you specialize in? How is that specialization similar to or different from what we appear to be looking for?
  5. Do you focus on strategy, implementation or both? How will that focus impact the way we work together?
  6. Do you have proven methodologies for solving challenges like ours? What are they?
  7. What types of work do you do in-house? What do you outsource?
  8. How do you get up to speed on our organization and the nuances related to our cause or issue area?
  9. Who will we work with on your team? What are their backgrounds and skill sets?
  10. Will we have one main point of contact on your team? How and when will they communicate and collaborate with our team?
  11. How do you plan your approach to projects like ours? Where and how will we be able to give input on that plan?
  12. What processes do you have in place for capturing input or feedback from our team and reflecting them in your work?
  13. How do you deal with creative conflicts or differences in opinion?
  14. How much time will be required from me/my team to ensure we have an effective relationship that produces results?
  15. What do your best clients do differently than everyone else?
  16. How will you engage our various internal and external stakeholders in the work we may do together?
  17. How do you set goals and measure success? How will you help us understand the results of our work together?
  18. Is our budget sufficient for achieving our goals?
  19. What does the typical timeline for a project like ours look like? How long will it take to see results?
  20. How do you ensure your team is staying current (or ahead of the curve) when it comes to your area of focus, our sector and the types of work we might do together?

Questions NOT to Ask a Nonprofit Marketing Agency

The questions you do not ask are just as important as the ones you do. The following is a list of questions you should avoid because they may harm your ability to find and work with a perfect fit agency more than they help. We’ve also included some thoughts on questions you can ask instead.

  1. What specific creative ideas do you have for our campaign/brand/plan?
    Instead: ask about the agency’s process for generating and vetting creative ideas
  2. What are your specific plans for helping us achieve goal x?
    Instead: ask about the agency’s approach to planning and measurement
  3. What tactics will end up in our marketing plan and how much should we expect to spend on executing those tactics?
    Instead: ask about the tactical mix the agency has used for other, similar clients and how their spends have ranged for those tactics
  4. Can you guarantee we’ll hit goal x?
    Instead: ask how other clients with similar goals have fared and what factors impacted their success or failure?
  5. Can you complete this “test assignment” to show us how you think and the sorts of creative ideas you come up with?
    Instead: ask for examples of existing client work that best exhibit how the agency thinks and the sort of creative ideas they come up with
  6. Can you just put a proposal together so we can get a sense of price ranges?
    Instead: ask what the firm will need to learn from you to determine if you’re a mutual fit, who they’ll need to talk to to get that information, and how they prefer to discuss the ways in which you might work together

Questions We May Ask You

Any agency worth its salt won’t leave this all up to you. They’ll guide you through the process of determining whether there is a mutual fit between your two organizations by asking you smart, strategic questions. If they are effective at this process, their questions will get to the heart of your needs, goals and vision and help them assess whether they’re the best firm for the job. The following is a list of some of the questions we at Prosper Strategies may ask you as we explore a relationship.

  1. The Dan Sullivan Question
  2. Why do you believe this work is essential to achieving your goals/mission/vision?
  3. What happens if you don’t achieve your goals/mission/vision?
  4. Is this project/relationship on your wishlist or your must-have list?
  5. What does success look like to you?
  6. What’s your budget for this work? Why?
  7. Who is involved in making the decision to work with an agency like ours? Can we talk to them?
  8. Can you share your organization’s strategic plan with us?
  9. When do you need to get started/go live/achieve goal x? Why?
  10. Have you hired an agency like ours in the past? What went well/not so well?
  11. Have you gone through a process like this to hire an agency in the past? How did it work?
  12. Who else are you considering working with on this project/engagement? Why? Why are we in the mix?
  13. Who would we work with at your organization if you were to hire us?
  14. What sort of access would we have to your organization’s leadership if you were to hire us?
  15. If we could guarantee we could achieve your goals/mission/vision, what would the value of that be to your organization and the community or cause you serve?
  16. What methods or processes do you have already in place for listening to community voice, engaging your diverse stakeholders and getting input on the lived experience of the people you aim to help?
  17. What barriers do you think might exist to a successful relationship between your organization and our agency?
  18. Can you tell us more about _______________? We might fill in this blank with all kinds of specific questions about your organization’s situation, strategy, revenue model, cause, team, and more.
  19. What concerns or hesitations do you have about working with us?
  20. Do you feel there is a fit between your organization and our agency?

Believe it or not, these 46 questions only scratch the surface. There are so many things an agency and client can and should discuss when determining if they are a fit to work together. That may make you feel overwhelmed, but it shouldn’t. If you enter into your discussions with a potential agency partner ready to share openly and honestly, asking and answering questions like these will come naturally, and the relationship that ensues will be far stronger as a result.

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