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The age old question. You meet someone, things seem to be going well, you share views believe in many of the same things and seem to have a united vision but…how do you really know if they’re The One? Make a bad choice, and you could end up outsourcing your fundraising to someone who drives you bonkers after the initial honeymoon faze is over.

Recruitment at any stage can be a daunting process. Making the decision to hire a freelancer perhaps even more so – taking hard-won charity cash and paying an as-yet-unknown person to try and make more money for you is not an easy decision and not one which should be taken lightly.

Having been on both sides of the interviewing table, I have developed a pretty good idea of which questions you should be asking when taking someone on. So, read on to find out how to know when you really have found “The One”.

1) Consider yourself first

Self-awareness is key to finding the right match. If you don’t know who you are, how can you know who will fit with you? You have to stop and think about what YOU want and need. As a charity, are you ready for fundraising? Do you have clear ideas of what fundraising will look like? Joe Saxton of NFP Synergy has already developed a wonderful piece on this so I will keep my reflections brief, but the main things to have really considered are the following:

  • What does success look like for you?
  • What do you want to fundraise for? Do you have one or more clear projects, with costs?
  • How much you can afford to spend on fundraising?
  • Have you researched industry standards for return on investment, to understand if what you want and how much you can afford match up?

Once you have this clear, you are ready to consider potential matches.

2) Ask me no questions, and I’ll tell you no lies

At Money Tree Fundraising, we live by the opposite of this maxim; transparency is key and we are open about all of our processes, strengths and weaknesses. But what to do if your prospective freelancer isn’t so upfront? You must feel empowered to ask questions – after all, you will be paying them with vital funds from your organisation.

In fact, it isn’t just OK if you ask questions, it’s wrong if you don’t. So, what to ask?

  • Ask for clarity on timings. You might not just want to ask how many days they think the work will take, but for a clear breakdown of how days will be spent on each task. And how long after this effort starts will you start to see results? Don’t be afraid to push back – they should be able to justify their timings and you should feel comfortable with them.
  • Are they a member of the Institute of Fundraising? This isn’t necessarily a prerequisite but you should see it as a reassurance if they are (all good relationships are built on shared interests and beliefs!) A good starting point is the Directory of Consultants – this isn’t a vetted list, but all those on it are members of the Institute of Fundraising and as such do sign up to the Code of Fundraising Practice. More established folk can also be members of the Association of Fundraising Consultantsand Money Tree Fundraising, as well as those, is also a member of NCVO and EU Consult. We’ll join the Fundraising Regulator as soon as they let us, too!
  • What guarantees do they offer you? If they offer any, run a mile. This isn’t a joke, the Code of Fundraising Conduct Practice prohibits guarantees. They should, under no circumstances be making these kind of promises, no one with ethics in fundraising would.
  • Ask for clarification on their recent successes and areas of fundraising expertise. I used to be a star-quality community fundraiser, as my CV proudly displays, but I have had no hands on experience of community fundraising since 2007. The benefit of hiring a freelancer is to hire an individual at the coalface – a person who is at the forefront of all the latest trends and developments in their area and can demonstrate recent successes. After all, you are paying them to shine for you!
  • What are their financial results? Whilst fundraising is a lot bigger than the money, then money is important. A fundraiser who doesn’t know how much they have raised isn’t a great salesperson. Put the numbers in context – how many gifts did this take, over what period, how did that compare with the previous year/s, and what was the target.
  • Remember that we won’t work on a no-win-no-fee or commission basis. This may seem like a zero risk option for you but it is a terrible way to fundraise. I go into more detail about the reasons elsewhere. Suffice to say that if your prospective fundraiser works in this way they may be breaking the law by not making a solicitation statement – be careful.

3) Checks and balances

Get to here and your freelancer must be looking like the real deal – maybe even The One. However, there are a few more things to consider:

  • Be clear on what success looks like for you. Be clear with yourself and with this person. Make sure s/he is on the same page before you make even a temporary commitment to each other.
  • It sounds obvious, but ask your freelancer for a CV. I’m amazed by how many people forget to do this. LinkedIn can make for a useful alternative to this, so go ahead and connect with this potential fundraising-mate. Check that there are no major discrepancies about which you feel uncomfortable.
  • After this, ask for their references! Under no circumstances would you take on a permanent member of staff without references – don’t do it with a freelancer either. If they offer you testimonials then make sure you have the date of those so that you’re not getting side-lined by old reports. LinkedIn can be useful for testimonials as they contextualise them both in date-terms and in the relationship between your potential freelancer and the giver of the testimonial.
  • Discuss and agree a break clause after the first couple of months (after all, the best relationships are those that can be reflective!) Build a monitor and evaluate model into the contract: you’d do it for a project with your beneficiaries, so why not for this project?
  • Build regular reviews into the work plan, and make them as often as you want – it may work for you to have weekly updates.

Lastly, and quite simply, assess whether this person is someone you could work with or not. Do they fit with the team? There is nothing worse than starting a relationship with someone that all those close to you dislike…

…Et voila. If you work your way through this quick-fire guide and your prospective fundraiser keeps coming up trumps, then I’m pleased to tell you, I think you have found The One!

Just one last thing… always put your expectations in writing – contracts are really important for both sides. They don’t need to be complex but do need to lay out all of the important things from payment schedule, break clause, activity, reporting, to legal niceties like solicitation statements and data access.