What is the role of a fundraising consultant vs. a brand partner? What differentiates them?

Supercharge Your Campaign Team with Fundraising and Brand Experts

There are fundraisers who believe a capital or comprehensive campaign is a precisely calculated endeavor, one that relies on forecasts and spreadsheets to plan for every single cent.

Then there are others who believe a campaign is an artistic process, where results spring from pure inspiration and storytelling.

They’re both right. A creative view and an analytical perspective are equally vital to your campaign’s success. Your technical fundraisers are the fundraising counsels of the world. The creative gurus? Those would be your brand partners.

When it comes to creating the most impactful capital or comprehensive campaigns, stacking your team with both left-brain analysts and right-brain individuals provides the expertise, experience, and insight you need to succeed.

A creative view and an analytical perspective are equally vital to your campaign’s success.

How branding and fundraising firms are different …

Fundraising counsel, also known as fundraising consultants or campaign counsel, are distinct from the campaign brand partner. Each provides different benefits to the campaign process. Before you dive into the phases of launching a campaign, you should understand the responsibilities of both.

Your fundraising counsel holds the technical campaign responsibilities. These include:

  1. Running a feasibility study
  2. Identifying and interviewing donors around their capacity and appetite for giving
  3. Devising a fundraising strategy
  4. Developing your Board and development team
  5. Helping with the ask

The fundraising counsel essentially draws a map to achieve the campaign’s financial goals.

On the other hand, the brand partner has more creative responsibilities that set up a vision for the campaign. These include:

  1. Running a discovery study to uncover the audience’s interest and motivation for giving
  2. Helping to refine the vision of the campaign
  3. Developing messaging, naming, and visual identity
  4. Creating collateral and assets to use on the fundraising trail
  5. Developing new initiatives and ideas to fundraise around based on need

If the fundraising counsel finds the fastest route toward the goal, the brand partner is the one plotting the GPS coordinates. Then, the two work hand in hand with the client to build the car.

. . . but better together.

Though they operate in separate lanes, the two should collaborate, sharing insights from their discovery efforts and feasibility studies. This shared knowledge will enlighten and strengthen the overall campaign.

For instance, the fundraising consultant might hold specific learnings from the feasibility study that can help with messaging — key information about potential donors’ financial motivation is vital for crafting poignant messaging.

On a similar but separate track, the brand partner is tapped into a goldmine of useful knowledge. In the discovery session, the brand partner casts a wider net to a broader audience, providing well-rounded information that can, in turn, illuminate the path for the campaign counsel.

The result? A really robust, cohesive approach to a fundraising campaign.

What happens when a fundraising counsel attempts branding?

It’s established that these two roles operate in the same sphere, but with different responsibilities. However, outside perception often conflates the two.  

This means fundraising consultants are often asked to operate as brand partners. But when a fundraising consultant takes on the branding work, they are stretching their capabilities too thin. When this happens, the solution is usually a rapidly assembled team of freelancers that effectively becomes a pop-up-style branding agency. 

The result is like buying a Flinstone’s car with no engine — you’ll end up with some of what you need, but you’ll lack some pretty noticeable and necessary elements.

With just a fundraising counsel, you have an airtight financial roadmap, a deep understanding of your target donors’ appetite for giving, and a thorough technical strategy. But a noticeable amount of momentum will be lost without a brand partner — the brand will fall flat, it will fall short of communicating your goals and vision, and will not inspire your audience.

Fundraising counsel and brand partners are complementary, not substitute, ingredients in your campaign. The creative and analytical viewpoints strengthen each other when they work together.  

3 benefits of engaging with fundraising and branding specialists

Working with fundraising consultants and brand partners provides you with a capital or comprehensive campaign that is cohesive, strong, agile, and robust. When engaging with both, you’ll maximize your resources and ultimately reap the best results. Like a race car and driver speeding toward the finish line, with this pairing you get: 

1. Confidence from donors

Campaigns succeed when they inspire, create authentic connections with your audience, and build trust within the donor base. 

Your fundraising counsel builds confidence that the financial goals are achievable and donors’ gifts will be impactful. The work a brand partner does provides assurance in the organization as a whole and trust that the campaign has the teeth to truly change the world. 

2. Opportunity to assess and adjust

Sometimes the finest adjustment, like a tap on the brakes or a touch of gas, makes all the difference. 

Managing a campaign with a variety of timelines, teams, and projects in motion can seem like driving a cruise ship on a speedway. However, with a full team of specialists, you level up your ability to dive into the details, and iterate and refine your campaign quickly — whether that be the technical aspects that fundraising counsel can handle or the messaging elements managed by a brand partner.

3. A source of partnership and support

The biggest benefit of assembling a specialized and expert team, whether your campaign is large or small and your organization new or established, is that you’ll have a constant partner throughout the journey

Your fundraising counsel provides the grounding, technical details that inform your execution, while the brand partner is there to keep your head in the clouds — always dreaming big.

Together you’ll have a team beside you from the first stages of discovery to the celebrations at the finish line. 

Find the right solution for your capital campaign

In the fundraising world, it’s generally understood that to raise money, you must spend money. But that doesn’t mean it feels natural to take on big expenditures in the name of your campaign. Often, it feels contrary. 

Although fundraising counsel and brand partners come with a hefty price tag, their efforts can supercharge your campaign, and help you surpass your goals. But the reality is that not every organization running a capital campaign has the resources needed to work with both. 

How can you assess your organization’s needs and find the best partner to help you achieve your goals? In some cases, thoughtfully choosing a single partner to work with based on where you see gaps in your capabilities, is the best option.

New, inexperienced organizations or campaign teams without certainty that the fundraising goals they’ve set are feasible must employ a fundraising consultant before they can start considering a brand partner. This is because branding work relies on a solid technical foundation. It’s great to dream up a $1B campaign, but if it’s just not realistic, even the most motivational messaging will not raise money that donors simply do not have. 

On the flip side, sophisticated organizations with prior experience or the knowledge that their fundraising goals are feasible may be more able to move forward without fundraising counsel. A well-established organization with strong insight into its donors and fundraising capabilities can hire a brand partner instead, and leverage its internal team for the technical responsibilities. 

For instance, an established higher ed organization with an ambitious but realistic goal was able to leverage a brand partner and achieve a result four times over the goal they originally planned. This campaign team identified one major gap — the creative partner — and leveraged our partnership to fill it. 

The right experts will turn your vision into reality 

Fundraising campaigns of all sizes benefit from an approach that prioritizes both technical and creative work. At the end of the day, both a fundraising consultant and a campaign brand partner will bring clarity to your capital or comprehensive campaign. 

With fundraising counsel, you receive thorough guidance on the execution of the campaign — how you plan to meet and exceed your fundraising ambitions — while the brand partner provides clarity on the creative vision, messaging, and direction of the campaign. Your brand team shapes how the campaign should look and feel, and how it will inspire donors to give. 

When you have both the creative side and technical aspects covered, you get the full package. A full tank of gas, a map with a route, and the open road ahead, ready to lead you to your goal — and likely beyond. 

Chad Paris

Chad Paris

Principal, CEO
The perfect marriage of strategist, consultant, & rainmaker. Chad loves connecting good people with other good people. He has dedicated his career to brands that are changing the world by helping nonprofits fund progress while also advancing Purpose in the workplace.