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Does Your Fundraising House Need a Remodel?

Updated: Feb 28

When to Hire a General Contractor vs. DIY

With Google, YouTube, and the blogosphere, it’s easier than ever to DIY just about

everything. Fundraising is no different. I often encourage clients to Google things

and use the internet and AI to help them brainstorm or overcome hurdles. What

I do find, however, is that there is great confusion around the topic of when to hire

a professional, like The Nonprofit People, and when to DIY your project. One of the

best skills needed is the ability to determine when NOT to do it yourself. To achieve this, I am going to draw an analogy around a home renovation project: doing it yourself or hiring a general contractor.


While we all want to be like Chip and Joanna Gaines and "Magnolia" the heck out of

our homes… gutting a place, taking out walls, reconfiguring a kitchen, and even the

interior design isn’t always in our God-given skill set. In addition, the timeline simply

might not match up. While you may be very capable of learning to drywall by

watching videos, removing your walls and learning as you go may not be a luxury

you can afford. Leaving your house torn apart for months on end may not be worth

the savings.

Step one is to be honest with your own skills and the scope/timeline of the project.

It’s usually safe to say that if you have a relatively large project in mind (like

relocating plumbing, moving a wall, reconfiguring a room, etc.) or a project that

involves heavy machinery, turning to professionals is usually a good choice. The

same goes for fundraising. If you are trying to take on a large fundraising endeavor

(like a capital campaign), fix a problem that seems to persist (like a decreasing

annual appeal), overcome a hurdle that you haven’t been able to do on your own

(engaging donors utilizing your existing database), if you are in a development

position without amble outside experience (working your way up), or if you are

looking to restructure a department or build a team, the scope is likely too large for

one person or even a group to undertake without guidance. At this point, hiring additional help and more perspective is an advantage.


When you have the scope and timeline in mind, if you decide you do need help, it’s

time to think about a general contractor or an expert. In the construction industry,

these are called contractors and subcontractors. How do you choose? Subcontractors, or experts, are good for coming in and fixing one thing- unclogging a sink, for example. These are people you find and hire for a specific project. For fundraising, this might be someone to come in and re-design an already-written brochure.

If your scope is bigger, you are going to want help planning or overseeing the

various elements. Hint: that saves you time and money. We call this “project

management.” Think of it like this: If you want to renovate your bathroom… you can

hire a plumber to change out the toilet and re-work the plumbing. But what

happens when the plumber needs to cut a new hole in the drywall, which later

needs to be repaired? Some plumbers can do a respectable job with drywall and

texturing, but it’s likely you will want to hire someone else.

It is easy to see how you might need to paint the wall, but your colors don’t match

perfectly. If you are painting, you want to change out your light fixture and exhaust

fan. That’s an electrician’s specialty. If you want to update the flooring, you may

want to work with someone who can lay tile or who has a wet saw. You must lay the

tile before installing a toilet, and you may need to know the size and height of your

sink and the fixture placement before the tile is in place. Otherwise, you may be

your own worst enemy.

These services could be one handyman, or they can be multiple people, but there is

a benefit to planning things out and having an action plan. You can typically save

both time and money by knowing the overall strategy in advance.  Fundraising is no different. A general contractor can help you figure out what order to do things, oversee the execution, work out deals with the sub-contractors, provide value-added tips and tricks along the way, and speed up the completion of the goal. A good contractor will be worth their fee just as a sub-contractor will be.  The Nonprofit People serves as both at different times.  


Just like the construction industry, sub-contractors could be employees or

contractors of the general contractor… and fundraising (again) is no different. Some

fundraising firms do things in-house, while others contract them out. It is usually

the rule of thumb that in-house, you do whatever you can do better/more

affordably or add significant value, and you outsource other things. Capital

campaign companies often hire marketing companies, photographers,

videographers, etc. – but they do the strategy internally.

The Nonprofit People does things similarly. With a team of strategists and

managers, depending on the budget and the timeframe, they do some things in-

house and outsource when necessary. Because they have done these things

hundreds of times, they have their go-to people who are tested and true. They

won’t be on Yelp figuring out who we need to work with! This helps them to assure

results for their services which DIYers cannot do.

As the client, you can hire these companies as contractors – there is no need to pay,

insure, or cover anyone's overhead. You make one fixed-cost payment, and you are

done. There is no long-term commitment as there would be with an employee.


A good measure of your need to hire a contractor is the “sleep at night test.” I call it

the “gut check.” If you can sleep at night with confidence that your project, effort,

mission, etc. will be taken care of and things will work out, your DIY efforts are

probably ample. If you’re hesitant (for example, of your or some team members;

skillsets, the tight timeline, or the pressure associated with needing to succeed,

etc.), you should consider interviewing a contractor.

Good contractors can totally provide peace of mind because their knowledge and

experience bring confidence and assurance that you will meet your goal or they will

do anything they need to get you there. But they also bring practical and qualifiable

value to the process: experience, expertise, licenses, insurance, history, know-how,

tips, tricks, etc.

If you act as the general contractor yourself, you assume the responsibility for the

end project by yourself. I notice a huge stress relief comes from the fact that when

nonprofits hire The Nonprofit People or another reputable company for a project,

responsibility is shared. If something goes haywire during the process, the

nonprofit knows the contractor will be with them to overcome the obstacles and fix

the issues.


Some things, such as planned and structured giving, are complex. Tax laws change,

and so do many of the underlying benefits of some gifts over others. Just as you

would want your new home addition to have permits and be up to code before

occupying your space, fundraising professionals will come with the right licenses,

skills, and knowledge to make sure your solicitations and operations are up to the

right standards. This expertise saves you both time and trouble of having to learn

on the spot or be forced to hire someone in a pinch.


Contractors bring with them a huge advantage… They've done it before. If the scope

of your project, your timeline, the skills and knowledge needed, or your gut is telling

you to consider seeking help… it’s probably a good idea.

A contractor should be able to express their value, and hiring them should save you

time, money, or sanity (or all three!). It’s always prudent to research and get a bid

before undertaking something alone. From initial planning to final details, a

fundraising project manager will oversee and manage the project workflow like a

conductor would manage an orchestra. They understand the entire composition

from start to finish, how it fits into the whole, and they cue different musicians

when it's their turn to take the lead. The best conductors should all have some

“musical” skills and know how to play many, if not all, of the instruments

themselves. This experience makes them better at their trade.

I, of course, recommend Laura and her team at The Nonprofit People. As a

volunteer, I am biased for sure, but I see Laura and her team address issues with

ease and grace. All of their strategists have been and are currently working in the

trenches of nonprofits – keeping their skills honed and up to date.

It’s up to you to decide if you need professional help or want to DIY it like a boss.

There are no right and wrong answers. If you need help with managing a nonprofit

project… I encourage you to reach out to Laura ( .

She will talk you through the process and see if your project may be a good fit for a

third-party contractor or if you can do it on your own.

If Laura or her team can alleviate some stress or worry from your project, I am sure they would be a good choice to get you through to success.

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