There are dozens of reasons a nonprofit may decide to part ways with its fundraising agency, and inevitably when the decision is made, it’s for a combination of them. Reasons range from big to small and – truth be told – right to wrong. But the truly big and right reasons boil down to just four. Be sure to pay attention to these key considerations in judging whether your agency is on the job, or out of one.
1. Your agency is not willing to compromise, ever.
Your business relationship with your fundraising agency is just that: a relationship. And successful relationships mean compromise. Is your agency open to discussion on project budgets? Are they willing to try doing things a different way? Will they revisit their fees with you even if you’re in the middle of a one-year contract? You should be able to talk about anything with your agency, and your agency should approach your ideas and needs with a spirit of sensible accommodation. Remember however that your relationship with your agency is a two-way street. If you are not willing to listen and compromise, you might find yourself getting fired by your agency.
2. Your account management team is inexperienced. (AKA the person that sold you on the agency goes AWOL.)
Because fundraising firms are a relatively small and specialized breed of marketing agency, most don’t have dedicated sales departments for drumming up new business. In fundraising agencies, it’s often actual senior account people, along with executive staff, that pitch new accounts and win your trust – and business. So when the star fundraising strategist who sold you on the agency never writes, calls, or shows up at meetings anymore, and you’re left with junior staffers who just don’t inspire your confidence, it’s time to rethink whether the agency deserves the privilege of your organization’s business.
3. Your results aren’t as good as they can be.
Kirk’s demands for seemingly impossible feats of engineering and medicine drove poor Scotty and McCoy to routine desperation on Star Trek. But they always pulled through because although ambitious, Kirk knew what results were possible. In the fundraising universe, good results mean strong analytics, strategic planning and creative, as well as healthy client-agency collaboration. If your agency is giving you all they’ve got, and you have good reason to believe all they’ve got isn’t good enough, then you should think about whether they’re the right agency for you.
4. You share your concerns – and your agency doesn’t address them.
When your agency isn’t living up to your reasonable expectations, it’s your job to let them know right away what isn’t working and to give them constructive feedback on how to address your concerns. When problems are addressed early, they can almost always be resolved easily. But if left unattended, little issues have a way of multiplying and becoming much harder to resolve, usually to the detriment of your program. You also need to be prepared to turn a critical eye to your own organization. Are there ways in which your organization is contributing to the less-than-stellar working relationship? And how can you support a stronger client-agency relationship through changes on your end?
Your agency’s job, in turn, is to listen to you and make real efforts to address your concerns. The best case scenario is they do, and you get back on track with a mutually rewarding partnership that engages donors and raises critical funds for your organization. But even if they don’t, the worst that will happen is you will part ways and develop a new agency partnership that works better for you, your organization and your program.