Hiring the Right Philanthropy Advisor


I’ve talked about how RFPs are not an effective means to find philanthropy advisors, so how do you find the right one for your foundation?


I recently wrote a two-part blog series about the fallacy of requests for proposals (RFPs) as an effective means to find philanthropy advisors and the myths and facts that surround them. If you missed them, you can read the first part here and the second part here.

In both of those blogs, I stressed how important it is to find the right philanthropy advisor or consultant. I guess you could call this blog part three of the RFP series. A philanthropic advisor, with the right characteristics, can make your life easier and your giving exponentially more impactful.

They can help you with any aspect of your philanthropy, from identifying your goals, creating strategies, processes, and structures for achieving them, and determining measures for success. They can help you start a new foundation, sunset an existing one, and everything in between. A great philanthropy advisor will help you recognize what’s holding you back and help you stay accountable to achieving the life and impact you seek. And just as with any other professional advisor, you’ll want to make sure you’ve found the right fit.

But how do you find one? Here are six ways you can find the right philanthropy advisor or consultant for you:

1. Continuously source advisors and consultants


It’s important to continuously meet and build relationships with philanthropy advisors and consultants. That way, when you need help, you likely know several people and firms you can quickly reach out to. Don’t wait until you desperately need a consultant to start looking for one! Reach out to colleagues to learn about their experiences and create a list of talented consultants, advisors, and coaches. One of my clients at a national private foundation always advised his staff to do this as soon as they began working at the foundation. He encouraged them to build their own “stable” of consultants they could turn to for guidance and project support.

2. Use a Request for Qualifications (RFQ)


When looking for an advisor, it can be beneficial to issue a “Request for Qualifications” (RFQ) instead of a “Request for Proposals” (RFP). RFQs are exactly what they sound like – you are requesting consultants to share their qualifications to help you with the project you describe. Then you can follow up with those whose qualifications best match your needs. RFQs are much less time-consuming for you to prepare and review all the responses. It’s also much easier and faster for the philanthropy advisor to submit a two-page list of qualifications than a full-blown proposal. By using an RFQ, you will also likely identify terrific consultants who aren’t the right fit for this particular project but who might be good for future needs. Keep their information as part of your consultant sourcing efforts for future reference.

3. Seek referrals from colleagues


Another effective way to find philanthropy advisors and consultants are through referrals. Word of mouth is often the best source of information. Send an email to colleagues in your organization or at other foundations, family offices, and corporate giving programs briefly describing what you’re looking for and asking for suggestions. You can also use listservs provided by philanthropy-serving organizations and associations to find valuable contacts and referrals. These sources can provide a wealth of information on consultants who have delivered exceptional results in the past. This is also a great way to find diverse philanthropy advisors, such as advisors of color, and consultants who are LGBTQ+, who have disabilities, or who have lived experience in whatever issue you are seeking to address. Because you can state specifically these are the qualifications you are looking for.

4. Intentionally find and build relationships with diverse consultants


Speaking of which, one of the myths I bust in my previous blog about RFPs is that RFPs are a great way to find diverse consultants and advisors. They aren’t. But it is extremely important for philanthropy leaders to actively seek and engage consultants who bring diverse experiences and expertise, especially those whose lived experience reflects the issues they are trying to address and the communities they seek to help.

Instead of issuing an RFP, try this idea. Make a plan to identify and build relationships with 24 BIPOC philanthropy consultants and/or consultants who represent other marginalized communities in 2023. That’s two per month. If that seems like too much, aim for one per month. It doesn’t matter if you don’t plan to retain a consultant anytime soon. Think about all the potential types of help you or your organization could potentially benefit from executive coaching, evaluation, strategic planning, engaging the next generation into family philanthropy, fund development, succession planning, governance, sunsetting your foundation, policy advocacy, communications – anything! Then seek out philanthropy advisors who meet your criteria and schedule a conversation to get to know each other.

Be honest that at this stage you are simply seeking to build a relationship so that if the need arises in the future you will know who to turn to. Stay in touch with them. Imagine how much better positioned you will be a year from now to retain talented philanthropy consultants who represent diversity in terms of race, gender identity, socioeconomic background, upbringing, religion, education, sexual orientation, disability, ethnicity, neurodiversity, and life experience.

5. Utilize philanthropy consultant directories


Here are two to get you started:

National Network of Consultants to Grantmakers (NNCG). NNCG is a valuable resource for finding qualified consultants. NNCG’s mission is to increase the quality, effectiveness, and capacity of grantmakers by mobilizing and strengthening the work of knowledgeable, ethical, and experienced consultants. They host a free online directory that offers a list of vetted consultants in multiple disciplines. This is a great way to find consultants who are well-suited for your needs project and have a track record of success. Additionally, NNCG strives to support a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive field of philanthropy consulting and offers the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Toolkit for Consultants to Grantmakers and resources on Disability Inclusion in Philanthropy. I was one of NNCG’s co-founders and served as Steering Committee Chair for many years and highly recommend the organization.

Exponent Philanthropy’s Directory of Foundation and Philanthropy Advisors
Exponent Philanthropy is a philanthropy-serving organization for lean funders and small-staffed foundations. Not surprisingly, this free directory lists highly respected and vetted professionals who regularly work with these types of funders. This includes accountants, asset managers, foundation management, HR outsourcing, lawyers, philanthropic advisors, and software providers. I’ve been a professional partner to and a fan of Exponent Philanthropy for many years and I also highly recommend it.

6. Be open and honest with prospective philanthropy advisors


When working with prospective consultants, it is important to be open and honest with them about what you are doing, what you are looking for, and the stage you are in. If you want some free advice, tell them that, limit their time, and buy them breakfast or lunch.

I recently received an email from a funder that read “I am looking for an initial conversation with a consultant regarding the development of a grant program – from hiring a grant manager to awarding grants. We are a statewide organization with small grant award experience. This would be a broad, overview type of conversation as I simply don’t know what I don’t know.” I love this! She is clear she is looking to learn through several conversations. If I choose to reach out to her I’m clear that I cannot expect this to turn into a paying engagement. It might, but then again it might not.

If you need more of their time, pay them for a half or full day to come in and brainstorm and vet ideas, with no expectations of any further work. By being clear about your needs and expectations, you can ensure that you are working with the right consultant for your project.

Whether you are just getting started on your philanthropic journey or a seasoned professional seeking to make a change, hiring a philanthropy advisor might really benefit you. If you are looking for a qualified philanthropy advisor to help with your most pressing goals, challenges, and questions, schedule a call with me. I’d love to chat with you to see if I can help you!

Kris is a sought after philanthropy advisor, expert and award-winning author. She has helped over 90 foundations and philanthropists strategically allocate and assess over half a billion dollars in grants and gifts.

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