Fundraisers are in the relationship business. Our job is to create relationships with donors and prospects and deepen those relationships — pure and simple.

Fundraisers often rely on partners — like me! Creating and strengthening relationships amongst consultant partners — when using them — is key to fundraising work too, but often takes a back seat to other to-do’s.

I’ve been a consultant/fundraising partner for a decade. I’ve experienced AMAZING partnerships with clients and tenuous ones as well. Here are 5 bright spots from those amazing partnerships. Hopefully they’ll get you thinking about ways to strengthen already great relationships or better ones that might be faltering.

  • Aretha had it right. R-E-S-P-E-C-T.  The strongest client relationships I have are built on mutual respect. Every conversation, every debate, every sticking point …grounded in respect for the other’s experience and wisdom (on both sides). Actions speak louder than words here. If you do not have respect, consider finding a new consultant or a new client.
  • No expert minds. Wait a second. Aren’t consultants supposed to be experts? Yes. But clients are too.  I find that the best partnerships are ones where both client and consultant unite expertise — kinda like the wonder twins.
  • Tough conversations. When things are rocky, or not going to plan, many of us take an avoidance crouch and cross fingers that the storm will pass. The strongest client relationships I have don’t shirk away from tough conversations, but handle them with respect (yes) and process. The framework I use for having tough conversations is Robert Gass’ POP.
  • Expectations. The most tenuous client relationships I’ve had stem mostly from nebulous expectations. What is the consultant expected to deliver vs. what the client is expecting? Get in alignment on this. For most clients, I operate from an annual roadmap. But often, I break this down into a monthly guide that we check in on/update as needs arise.
  • Personality/fun. One of my goals is to make sure the time clients spend with me is one of the more enjoyable parts of their day. This is totally a personal preference, but I find the strongest client relationships are rooted in a sense of fun and personality.  For me, I like to wear down that iron curtain of professional decorum and let my true self shine.

Those are my top five. But I’d love to hear stories from you about what has made your fundraising consulting relationships great. Let me know in comments.