2019 is my 25th year with Avalon, and I’ve been thinking about how the consultant’s role has changed over the years—now we’re fundraisers, marketers, communicators, digital experts, telemarketing and direct mail creators, major donor advisors, advertisers, and coaches.
Fundraising coaching seems to be gaining traction—people who work one on one with nonprofit leadership on best practices and strategies. Recently, I read a Q&A with Kimberly O’Donnell, head of the Professional Coaching Program at Network for Good in the Nonprofit Marketing Blog titled How Professional Fundraising Coaches Improve Fundraising Skills and Outcomes—a good outline of how a fundraising coach can help a nonprofit fundraising program.
Some think of consultants as people who tell you what to do, and coaches as people who help you grow and become a better version of yourself. I see my role as a hybrid of the two. Coaching is definitely a part of the mix, but for me, it’s not a one-way street.
Working with Avalon clients is always a close collaboration. As we’re beginning the onboarding process with new clients, they become our coaches, helping us to know their organizations from the ground up; where their expertise lies; the roots of the passion for their missions; how they successfully communicate with donors…I find I always have much to learn throughout this process; their coaching is critical to our success in helping them to raise the most money for their cause.
Once the client is on board, Avalon takes on the coaching role, centering on the expertise of our deep bench of senior staff on down—many of whom, pre-Avalon, were in those same trenches as nonprofit staffers and leadership. We advise and coach the team by putting fresh eyes on long-standing problems, debunking fundraising myths, helping to justify further investments, interpreting analytics, deciding whether to consider implementing innovative ideas, etc. All the while, making sure we’re not leaving any money on the table.
Like a good athletic coach, we always recommend what’s in our clients’ best interests—although sometimes the recommended route to a win isn’t the easy path. These kinds of difficult conversations about risk and reward are at the root of our client relationships—trust going both ways as we work out a decision together.
We look for ways to take tasks off our clients’ plates, and our multiple skill sets—senior managers with 18+ years of industry experience make up half of Avalon’s client services team—enable us to bring the highest level of expertise to every client account.
And to me, that’s the key—our staff. In fact, Avalon was just named a Best Place to Work for the second year in a row by the Washington Business Journal. That recognition means that we not only know how to run a business well—we’re knowledgeable, committed to excellence, data driven, accountable—we also know how to retain a happy team.
Ten Avalon senior staffers have been with us for more than ten years—and 25% of the whole company has been with us for that long. This consistency benefits our clients’ fundraising programs, as well as our company. And our well of specific expertise and hands-on experience (budgeting, production design, analytics) runs across departments that directly impact our clients: client services, digital, analytics, and Merlin by Avalon, our performance reporting system.
So when it’s time to take on the coaching role of helping our clients to strengthen their programs and grow professionally within our industry and become better fundraisers—we’re ready to go. And every day, as my clients coach me, I always learn more about how to be a better team player.