How Your Fundraising Team Can (and Should) Work With an Agency

7 min read

There are few situations more vulnerable than those when we ask for help. As professionals, it can sometimes feel like we’re expected to know how to do everything; asking for help, then, can feel almost like an admission that we can’t do our jobs.

If you’ve ever felt this way, you’re not alone: 59 percent of American employees report that they do not ask for help at work. But, the fact of the matter is: no one knows everything. Just because we’re not asking for help, doesn’t mean we don’t need it.

As a fundraising leader, your job is to identify needs and allocate resources to help your team succeed and ensure your nonprofit is reaching its goals. Sometimes that could mean investing in a new technology; other times, it can mean investing in outside help.  

You’re here because you chose the latter. 

Agencies and consultancies like Prosper Strategies are more than just extra help with the workload; we’re a complement to your existing team. If your team needs help understanding your donors, developing messaging, or creating collateral, a consultancy or agency is the way to go. You bring the institutional knowledge, while we bring a strategic, outsider’s perspective, plus the capacity to take on your project. By hiring an agency, you’ve taken a big step towards helping your nonprofit amplify its mission impact. 

But once the contracts have been signed, the project has kicked off, and the dust has settled, the hard part begins: you have to get both teams to work together. Here’s how to do it.

Resetting your mindset

If you’ve ever partnered with another organization, you probably have group-project horror stories that would make even the least-motivated college students blush. Whether you’re working on an event, a campaign, or simply as part of a coalition, it can be difficult to work on a team with players from multiple different organizations. Your past experiences may have primed you (or your team) to approach your new agency with apprehension or even mistrust. 

There is a key difference between partnering with like-minded organizations and working with a consultancy or agency. Your community partners may share a common interest, but their staff will likely be focused on making sure they’re reaching their organization’s own goals. 

But with an agency like Prosper, you’re not simply adding extra people to CC on emails — you’re adding new team members who want you to win. That’s because agency teams are an extension of your staff. They complement your existing team’s strengths while bringing new perspectives, technology, and techniques to the table. They should increase your capacity, rather than hinder it. As we always say at Prosper, your success is our success.

Set your teams up for success  

As you can imagine, the team at Prosper Strategies knows a thing or two (or three) about navigating new client relationships — especially learning how to work with new, varied personalities. We’ve created an internal system that allows us to provide consistent, high-quality communications for our clients, along with exceptional client services. 

While we can’t give away the whole store (you’ll have to work with us to see our process in action!) here are a few tips and recommendations to help your fundraising team work with a marketing agency.

Choose your point of contact  

Start your new working relationship off strong by establishing two points of contact: one for your nonprofit and one within your agency. This project manager-type role is important for making sure that everyone is on the same page, both internally and externally. It creates a much-needed structure and will help your teams communicate clearly with less room for error.

Plan for the plannable

Regardless of your budget, every expense at a nonprofit is highly-scrutinized. To make sure you’re getting the most out of your investment, take extra time in the beginning to plan out everything. We recommend that you map out:

  • Events, meetings, or other deadlines that may conflict with your fundraising campaign
  • Planned vacation time for all of your team members
  • Clear benchmarks for when projects, tasks, or other milestones must be completed
  • Internal review dates/deadlines

This seems intuitive, but you’d be surprised at how quickly a project can be put on hold, simply because you didn’t know about someone’s vacation time. Do yourself a favor, and plan ahead for it.

Redefine success

During the agency search process, it’s totally normal to get swept away by the idea of finally getting the help you’ve been looking for. That’s ok! Just make sure both teams are absolutely clear on not only what your goals are, but what a successful partnership looks like, too. You’d be surprised at how different those two things can be.

That might seem abstract, so try this mental exercise: what would you and your consultancy or agency have to accomplish for you to brag about the results to everyone you know? 

Communication is key

Our friends over at HubSpot like to discuss marketing in terms of “getting the right message in front of the right person, at the right time.” In their Email Marketing Certification course, HubSpot Academy instructor Courtney demonstrates just how important this is:

“[T]here isn’t anything more frustrating than having a great conversation but in the wrong channel. Take for example, the other day when I was trying to have a conversation with my mom over Facebook Messenger. Sadly, I got no reply. It wasn’t the right channel, but when I sent an email, a reply came right back.”

It’s important to understand not only how to communicate with new members of your team, but also where and when. At Prosper, each of us creates a Manual of Me to help new (or even long-term) colleagues learn how to best communicate and work with each other.

It’s important to understand not only how to communicate with new members of your team, but also where and when. Click To Tweet

Your team and your agency partners can create similar documents, too, so can cut through the getting-to-know-you phase and get right to the Dream Team phase. 

Consistency is also key

Communication sure is important, but so is consistency. It’s what separates good teams from great teams. That’s because consistency is another form of reliability or trust — you know what you can expect from each member of your team so that you can plan accordingly. 

To start, we recommend scheduling regular meetings; either weekly or biweekly, depending on your contract and budget — a good agency will take the lead on this. From the get go, you’ll want to clearly establish what needs to be accomplished by the start of each meeting. This helps create accountability, while also setting transparent goals for each member of your fundraising team. 

Set a schedule — and stick to it

I’ve worked in agencies, on nonprofit teams, and with outside contractors for my entire career. More than anything, there’s one thing that holds up projects and puts them off course: the review process. 

Marketing communications is both nuanced and subjective — what looks or sounds good to you may violate some key best practices, and vice versa. Going through edits and trying to come up with mutually agreeable content takes a lot of time, and any delays, no matter how small, can throw off an entire project.

The best thing you can do is agree upon a reviewing schedule, then stick to it. If your team needs a week to review something, be sure to let your agency know. They’ll be more than happy to plan around that up front; it’s much more difficult to change course midstream. 

Unfortunately, tight turnarounds are inevitable. If you find yourself in a situation where you have less time than you’d like to review something, consider scheduling an internal meeting to make edits as a group. In my experience, this can significantly speed up work times and get projects back on track.  

Ready, set, give

Anyone can come up with great ideas, but it takes a special kind of team to execute them well. In many cases, it all boils down to who had the most discipline, not who had the best plan. Successful strategic communications campaigns require meticulous planning and a tremendous amount of discipline. It’s not always sexy, it’s not always glamorous, and it’s not always fun. 

But it works. Really, really well.

If you think your fundraising team is in good shape but could still use a little extra help, watch our webinar from earlier this month, 7 Secrets to End of Year Fundraising Success.” Prosper’s president and co-founder Alyssa Conrardy was joined by Feeding America’s Noreen Castor to talk about the things your nonprofit can do now to set itself up for EOY success. 

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