What Wasteful Practice Is This Fundraising Consultant So Riled Up About?

I’m ending this series about consultant Jimmy LaRose’s effort to ignite a fundraising revolution where I began—with a story about Jimmy’s attack on so-called feasibility or campaign-planning studies. Fundraising consultants get paid for these studies to figure out how ready a nonprofit organization is for a capital campaign and what the monetary goal should be.  

My initial story outlined Jimmy’s argument: Charities should never have strangers talking to their donors when they can and should do that themselves. What’s more, he asserts, feasibility studies are usually just auditions for consultants who hope to win a much more lucrative contract overseeing an organization’s entire campaign, so how objective can they possibly be? 

Shortly after that first story ran, not only did I get numerous calls from angry consultants, I was also buttonholed by multiple fundraisers when I attended the international conference of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Everyone, it seemed, had something to say about this issue.

Most people wanted to shoot Jimmy down, but a few conceded he had a point.

Last month, I traveled to one of Jimmy’s two-day “Major Gifts Ramp-Up” conferences in Melbourne, Florida. The proceedings were obviously busier than usual because filmmaker Honnie Korngold of CineVantage was there, too. She’s shooting a documentary about Jimmy and his work that’s slated to come out next year.

At the conference, I got a powerful example illustrating why Jimmy has touched a nerve—and the truth behind what he says about feasibility studies being more about the consultant’s enrichment than raising money for a deserving cause.

During one of the breaks, the executive director of a religious organization approached Jimmy. Speaking with me afterward, she asked that her name and the name of her organization be withheld because she didn’t have her board’s permission to share sensitive information about her charity with the media.  

Her organization, she told both Jimmy and me, had spent $140,000 on a feasibility study and related services provided by a consultant who gave the charity a thumbs-up on its campaign to raise a minimum of $1.4 million with a challenge goal of $3.8 million. 

The result: The campaign raised only $200,000—way, way under the minimum goal and just $60,000 more than the organization paid the consultant.

Chalk one up for Jimmy LaRose.

[Editor's noteThis is our fourth post on Jimmy LaRose and his ideas. Check out the firstsecond, and third posts.]