Many nonprofits have enlisted the aid of an independent professional fundraising consultant to help with capital campaigns, leadership development and fundraising strategies. While there are many consultants to choose from, it can be difficult to find the one that’s best for your organization.
Linda Lysakowski and Susan Schaefer, two distinguished fundraising consultants, recently joined us for an episode of Bloomerang TV. They shared their experiences as independent consultants and their advice to nonprofits who are looking for help. You can watch the full episode below:
Steven: OK. We’re live. Well, hello there. Thanks for tuning in to this
episode of Boomerang TV. My name is Steven Shattuck, and I’m
the VP of marketing here at Boomerang. And Boomerang TV is our
new video podcast, so once a week we’re going to sit down with
some leading experts in the non-profit sector. Fundraisers,
people who work with non-profits, and we’re just going to chat.
We’re going to chat for about 15 minutes. We’re going to give
those folks a chance to share their expertise. It’s going to be
a really fun conversation, so thanks for watching. Thanks for
tuning in. And today I’m really excited to be joined by two
leading non-profit fund raising consultants in the sector. The
first is Linda Lysakowski and Susan Schaefer. Hi there, ladies.
Thanks for joining us.
Linda: Hi Steven.
Susan: Thanks for having us.
Steven: Yeah, this is great. This is a great way to kickoff the
podcast. So, Linda, I’ll start with you. I’ll, kind of, let you
introduce yourself to the folks who are watching and listening,
and then I’ll let Susan do the same.
Linda: OK. Well, thanks so much, Steven. And I’m Linda Lysakowski. My
company’s called Linda Lysakowski, LLC, easy to remember. Not so
easy to spell, but easy to remember. I’ve been consulting for
more than 20 years. I’ve been in the non-profit sector for close
to 30, working for a university and a museum. And I love the
field of consulting and I was really thrilled this year to work
with Susan Schaefer. Actually probably for the last two years on
our book, The Non-Profit Consulting Playbook. So, I’m going to
turn it over to Susan.
Susan: Thanks Linda. I’ve also been a consultant for quite some time
now, for about 13 years. And before that, served in various
educational organizations. And the consulting piece has been so
interesting that Linda and I did spend a good amount of time
collecting stories from our colleagues around the country to
help fill in the blanks for those who are interested in
consulting and who have done it for a long time. When I’m not
working on that, my fund raising consultancy firm is Resource
Partners LLC, and I work primarily with organizations in the
greater Washington D.C. area.
Steven: Great. Great. Well, thanks to both of you for joining us. I
know you two are both pros in the non-profit sector. Obviously,
your book has been very well received, and actually both of you
are going to be joining us for our full-blown webinar later this
week, where you’re going to be talking about the kind of the
things that you lay out in the book. So, Susan, I’ll start
things off with you. If you could tell us about The Non-Profit
Consultants Playbook, and what kind of information you share in
Susan: Sure. I’d be happy to. As I mentioned, it’s been a labor of
love for Linda and for me. We both went into consulting with
very little, we thought, formal information about it,
particularly within this field. So we reached out to dozens and
dozens of colleagues around the country and solicited essays
from them about what makes their businesses successful. These
were all folks who had at least 10 years of experience as
consultants. They were all very successful in their own right.
And we were just overwhelmed and thrilled with the volume and
quality of essays that we collected. So we put together a volume
that would take folks on a journey, whether they were just
considering consulting or whether they’ve been doing it a long
time, and even considering closing shop, and presented in the
book numerous perspectives about what to do on the marketing
front, or how to write your contract, or even how to work with
clients, so that the result was very diverse, and the response
has been terrific.
Steven: Yeah, it’s great that you’re putting that resource out there,
because like you said, I know there’s not a lot of things out
there for people who want to get into this sort of profession.
And it’s interesting that we’re doing this hangout, we’re doing
this webinar. I’ve actually had a lot of people who are college
students, reach out to me and say, you know, I’m interested in
being a fund raising consultant. Now what resources are out
there? And there wasn’t a whole lot that I could point them to
honestly. So, I guess my first question, and Linda, you could
start by answering is, for someone who wants to do this for a
living as their profession, what is the number one thing they
should know going into this sort of area, where people who want
to be a fund raising consultant? What would be your number one
piece of advice be to those folks?
Linda: OK. It’s really hard to narrow this down to one piece. One of
the things that we said about the book was, if you could take
out 25 experts for lunch and learn from them and pick their
brains, it would be so valuable, but in order to do that, you’d
have to fly all over the country and beyond. But some of our
contributors were from Canada. But I think, if it were me, I
would probably narrow it down to, it’s really hard to pick
between two, but I would say, having a solid business plan,
knowing what kind of services you wanted to offer, how much
you’re going to charge, where you’re going to do these services,
what kind of organizations you want to work with. I remember
back when I started my business, I was actually sick as a dog
with the flu, and when I crawled out of my bed long enough to,
while I was sick I made up my mind I was going to start my
business. And I crawled out of bed and literally the first thing
I did was go to my computer and write a business plan. And as
soon as I got better, I marched off to see the accountant, the
attorney, the bank. Everybody else with my business plan in
hand. And I would say that’s probably number one.
Steven: Susan, what do you think, if somebody asked you for one major
piece of advice? Now what would you tell someone? Maybe a
college student who’s interested in doing this?
Susan: Well, from a college perspective, I’d say that spending some
amount of time in the field at a non-profit organization is
really critical. It’s very tempting to do, particularly in this
entrepreneurial environment. You just want to jump in and want
to start your own business. But it’s interesting, the variations
between working in-house and doing the consulting can be quite
significant. So you need just incredible amounts of experience
to be in-house for some time, and even at a few different
organizations. And if you really know you want to be a
consultant, you might think about, almost a pre-business plan in
advance, and try to work at the kinds of organizations you would
ideally like to see as your own clients, so that you get a great
understanding of what it means to be, let’s say, a grassroots
organization, or a college or university. And then when you’re
providing that outside expertise, you have a real insight or
grasp on what those challenges and opportunities are.
Steven: Yeah, I thought you might make that suggestion. That someone
actually go work in the field for a little while, because it is
such a unique sector and there’s a lot of different non-profits
who serve lots of different missions. How did you two decide
what non-profits you would work for? Because obviously, there’s
a lot of organizations supporting various different causes. And
Susan, maybe I’ll let you respond first. How do you decide what
customers or clients to take on?
Susan: It’s a great question. I’ve really just loved working with
interesting people and interesting missions. So, those are the
biggest perks, I think, of this job. And some people do
specialize, that is part of the business plan. I really love the
diversity. So in my estimation, the bigger the learning curve,
sometimes the better. I really love just digging in to
something, a subject I haven’t done in depth. The fund raising
ends up being similar, but it’s really fun to just get my arms
around an issue that I’m less familiar with. So there’s really
nothing for me, like finding a driven group of people, and a
group that has very focused vision.
Steven: What about you, Linda? I mean, you’re a legend in this sector.
You worked with a lot of non-profits. How do you decide who to
Linda: I think there’s a lot of different factors, the geographic
location of where they are. But to me, the overwhelming thing
is, that I have to have a passion for the organization and I’ve
been very fortunate. The two organizations that I worked for in-
house, before I became a consultant, were my alma mater, the
university that I graduated from. So, obviously, I had a passion
for that. And then I was fortunate enough to work for a museum
that my father worked at when I was a little girl. So I had a
real close personal interest. And luckily, I have a very broad,
a ray of interest and so it’s easy for me to find organizations
that I do have a passion for. And along with my own passion for
that organization, I think another big factor is, do I see
passion in the leaders of the organization? And I will
oftentimes work with an organization because the compassion and
the leader is so contagious that you can’t help but want to work
Linda: And I’ve had that experience as well.
Steven: I’m going to ask you both a question that wasn’t on my list of
questions when we were prepping, so I know I’m going to spring
this on you, but it just, kind of, dawned on me as we were
talking, and I know you’ll both have great answers, but people
who are going to watch this video are probably going to be non-
profits. They’re not going to be fund raising consultants.
There’s going to be a lot of non-profits seeing this video, and
reading the blog posts. What advice would you have for those
people who are looking for a non-profit consultant and maybe,
aren’t sure who to work with, or who to hire and bring on to
help them. What advice would you have for a non-profit who’s
looking for someone, like you two? And Susan, I’ll let you
Susan: There are so many factors, and actually a number of them are
covered in the book, because it is a complex dance that
consultants and non-profits do, I think, before they work
together. So, I think, it’s important from the non-profit side
to really look for someone who primarily fits your
organizational values. And that assumes that you’re, first of
all, finding someone who’s got the right experience. And
that’s a given. But I think finding someone who understands your
values and fits your culture is important, so that if you have a
group that’s very formal, for instance, you may not want someone
who has very informal approach in their consulting. And if you
have a very blunt board, and you have a consultant that tends to
dance around issues, that’s probably not going to be a good
match. So, I think it’s important for the group that’s hiring to
do a little internal exploration at the outset and consider the
kinds of characteristics that are important. A lot of times, I
think that gets overlooked for the experience of the consultant.
So, I think it needs to be an even balance between having that
experience, and also fitting the values and cultures of the
Steven: What do you think, Linda. I mean, I’m sure there’s been
organizations you’ve worked with, or talked to, where, maybe,
you mutually decided it wasn’t a good fit or whatever. What
advice would you have to non-profits who are looking for some
Linda: I think my advice is actually very close to what Susan said. To
me, I would boil it down to the word, chemistry. You have to
feel that connection between the consultant and the
organization, and I do think that every organization has a
different culture, and as Susan was talking, I was chuckling to
myself because I remembered an incident where I was interviewing
a group in rural Nevada, and when I say rural Nevada, I mean,
really rural. And they told me that one of the reasons they
hired me was, they had a major national firm come in and talk to
them, and they said, these people showed up very nicely dressed
and with a lot of fancy jewelry, and they said, I can’t see
these people working with the cowboys and the people that are
major donors. And I think there’s a lot to say about that. Every
organization has a different culture. And some organizations are
looking for one thing in a consultant. I always tell people,
don’t look so much for, if you’re a YMCA, you don’t have to have
a consultant to work with 40 different YMCA’s, because if you’re
hiring a consultant to do fund raising, fund raising is not that
much different in the YMCA than it is anywhere else.
Linda: I think, certainly the experience that they have helps, but
instead of just looking at those things, look at the chemistry.
And you can pick that up right away in an interview whether you
really relate well, and whether your board members relate well
for that consultant.
Steven: I believe it. Well, great. Hey, we’re about up to our 15 minute
limit. I, kind of, wanted to keep these short and sweet and
informal. Ladies, it was great having you both. If you’re
watching this, if you’re interested in getting into non-profit
consulting, buy their book. Check that out. It’s really
excellent, and these are definitely two experts that you want to
hear from. So, Linda and Susan, why don’t I give you the last
word. I’ll let you both tell folks where they can find out more
about you, find you online, find you on social media, or
wherever you happen to live online. So, Linda, why don’t you
tell some folks where they can find you.
Linda: OK. Well, my website is LindaLysakowski.com. As I said, easy to
remember, not so easy to spell, but, L-Y-S-A-K-O-W-S-K-I. And
that just sounds the way it’s spelled. And on my website, I have
linked in Twitter, Facebook, and all those connections, so
that’s probably the best way to find me, and you can also find
links to all my books and a bunch of other books on that
Steven: How about you, Susan?
Susan: Thanks. My website is ResourcePartnersOnline.com., and there’s
information there about the book. I’m not sure if we’ve even
mentioned the title. It’s The Non-Profit Consulting Playbook,
and it’s always where we’re thanking the 25 consultants who
contributed, because they really did a terrific job, and I think
a lot of people are learning a lot from their experiences.
Steven: Yeah, you really got the best of the best to write for that.
Susan: We did. They were terrific.
Steven: OK. Well, great. Well, thanks for hanging out with us for about
15 minutes. It was a nice chat. Hopefully everyone watching
learned a lot, and will check out these two fine experts, and
all their great contents. So thanks for watching. We will do
these once a week, so look for our blog for more episodes of
Boomerang TV, and we’ll sign off for now. So have a great rest
of your day.
Susan: Thank you.