ask your agency #2

Today we’re continuing our series of the Top 10 Questions You Must Ask Your Agency (or Consultant) with the #2 Question!

If you use a consultant or an agency to help with your fundraising or marketing you have to ask these 10 questions…and be happy with the answers you hear back.

Number 2 on the list of Top 10 Questions You Must Ask Your Agency:
“Will you tell me the truth…no matter what?”


You have to love this exchange from the movie “A Few Good Men.” Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson face off in a military courtroom. Tom’s the young investigator. Jack’s the old warhorse who’s seen it all. Tom thinks he wants the truth and Jack fires a broadside, “You want answers! You want the truth. You can’t handle the truth!”

Here’s the way this plays out for nonprofits and the consultants that serve them.

Tom has the client’s role. As the client, let’s say you have a feeling that you’re not quite getting straight answers. You think something’s slightly fishy about the answers you’re getting (or reports or analysis or whatever). Bottomline–what you’re being told doesn’t quite pass your “sniff” test. But, the people who are your experts are sticking with their story. And now you have to decide…do you believe them?

Jack has the consultant’s or the agency lead’s role. Your client is asking a question that you know they’re not going to like a truthful answer. You know that if you answer with TRUTH, no evasion, no misdirection there’s going to be some majorly bad mojo. Worse yet–it’s your responsibility to keep that client happy and turn a profit for the company. And you know that everything would be smoother if you just fudged and didn’t bring every conclusion to their attention (or don’t tell the WHOLE truth or play “if they don’t ask, don’t tell”). You better believe it, those moments will cause you to do your very best Jack Nicholson imitation and want to throw up all at the same time.

If you’re hiring an agency or a consultant, you have to know you’re hiring a professional and not a sales guy. Nothing against sales people and I mean “guy” as gender neutral (I grew up in Texas, what can I say?).

A professional will tell you the truth, no matter what. Your comfort, your friendship, even the money you pay their firm, isn’t as important as telling the truth to you, their client. The person you want to work with will take this as seriously as your doctor or your accountant or your attorney.

Can you imagine your doctor leaving out the results from a blood test because she thought you’d be upset by what it revealed? Or can you imagine that your accountant decides not to tell you about the mistake that was made on your tax return because he’s afraid you’ll fire him? These are crazy examples because you know that a professional wouldn’t behave like this.

You deserve the same level of professionalism from your agency or consultant. You need someone working for you who will not only tell you the truth, they’ll tell you when you’re making a mistake. Or get this, they’ll tell you when THEY made a mistake, even if there’s no way you could find out.

Professionals are guided by their standards and what is best for you, their client. Your work as a ministry or a charity is too important to leave in the hands of someone who’s not a professional. Period.

How do you know you’re working with someone who’ll tell you the truth?

1. Vetting. Before you hire them check them out. Check references. Google them. Talk to people about them. Ask clients if they tell the truth. Read what they’ve written. Is their website current?

2. Congruity. Do they walk their talk? In the early stages of discussing working together are they trying too hard? Do they seem willing to be or do anything for you to be a client? Do they talk about all the money they can raise for you before they could possibly know anything about your unique situation. Do their actions match their words?

3. Gut-instinct. What does your gut tell you? Do they speak with humility and authority? Are they consumed with themselves or are they listening to you?

4. Relationship. Do you like them? Would you hang out with them?

So how about you? How important is it to you for your key advisors to tell you the truth, no matter what?

Here’s the list of our “Ask Your Agency/Consultant” questions so far:
Question 1: (not announced yet)
Question 2: Will you tell me the truth?
Question 3: Have you disclosed all commissions?
Question 4: How do you integrate fundraising and marketing?
Question 5: Have you worked in a ministry?
Question 6: Is my data secure?
Question 7: (not announced yet)
Question 8: How will the new 990 requirements effect me?
Question 9: Do you walk the walk?
Question 10: Are you a real expert?

Steve Thomas
Partner, Oneicity

Picture of Steve Thomas

Steve Thomas

5 thoughts on “ask your agency #2”

  1. This reminds me of a time in the “way back machine” when in my early 20s I was granted the honor of providing creative and media advice directly to the the top dog of one of the first regional chains of teenybopper fashion stores (Jay Jacobs). This guy was a tough old bird. Many a time I told him something he didn’t want to hear. When I held my ground, he would would simply say “OK, do it your way, but please write down in that report of yours, that Mr. Jacobs doesn’t agree. We’ll revisit at the next meeting.” What I learned from those exchanges? Tell the hard truth be prepared to walk your talk AND…this is a big “AND”….work for brave, confident clients who can handle the truth, and who will take risks and support their teams even if means allowing room for failure.

    So far, in this question series, I have to say, based on my four decades in the biz, you are nailing it with these questions! The agency/consultant to client relationship is just that, A RELATIONSHIP! Good consultants and good clients are HONEST and OPEN with each other, taking risks of failure TOGETHER in order to hit that home run that feeds the hungry, gives shelter to the roof-challenged, frees the oppressed and connects God’s people with God’s work.

  2. @Al–Thanks for the feedback. We’re all grateful to have your perspective on the biz. For you, what’s the 1 key ingredient that the agency or consultant must have to do great work for a client?
    Keep ’em coming Al.

  3. Pingback: ask your agency #7 | oneicity // income solutions for non-profits

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