Walking a Mile in Someone Else's Shoes

It’s not often life hands us the chance to experience things from both sides of the fence. Lucky for me, joining the M&C team offered just that.

Prior to working at M&C, I spent more than a decade in nonprofit fundraising and marketing. Working primarily for major organizations like the University of Missouri (go Tigers!), the American Cancer Society and The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, I’ve gained valuable experience, insight and knowledge.

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As the saying goes, walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, and you gain even more insight, along with a healthy dose of empathy too.

In my role at the Nelson-Atkins, I was charged with raising more than $1 million annually for the museum. But, what most may not know is that I was also a client. 

I remember all too well being the champion for hiring a consulting firm. They specialized in museum membership acquisition and retention and worked with some of the biggest and best museums in the country. Internally, it was a tough sell. Previous experiences with less than stellar consultants shaped opinions. Fears surfaced that they would never “get us” and it would be more work than if we just did this in-house. Relevant concerns? Yes. Did they turn out to be unfounded? Yes. I had done my homework. I knew this relationship would result in our gain. Additionally, our in-house team needed to be troops on the ground, building relationships and implementing strategies to deepen engagement with existing members and convert museum visitors into members. We already had our work cut out for us. Plus, we were not direct mail experts, nor did we have the capacity to become experts.

Fast forward to a year after hiring the consulting team, and membership was growing by leaps and bounds. In addition to focusing on acquisition, they recommended we ask existing members to increase their support (something that hadn’t happened in quite some time). All told, during my time working with this consulting team, the museum not only grew membership, it also generated meaningful revenue by acquiring new members and upgrading existing donors. It is important to note acquisition donors don’t generate revenue in their first year. Yet, we did for countless campaigns, year after year.

If you’re considering a similar partnership, here are several factors to consider.

  • Does it take time to develop a strong working relationship between your team and the team of consultants? Yes. But, that’s to be expected. Building trust and adapting to organization-specific branding guidelines, practices and communication styles takes time.

  • Is it valuable to have an extension of your team, who can bring years of industry knowledge and case studies from other clients to the table? Yes. In the case of the consultants I worked with at the museum, having a team of experts willing and ready to offer sound advice and serve as a sounding board, in addition to successfully executing campaigns, was invaluable.

  • Will the consultants work dilute your role? Not in the least. In my experience, it only served to increase my fundraising results and generate even more support for the museum.  

Today, I am incredibly grateful for the chance to have been a client for all of those years. This experience guides me in my role at M&C. Every. Single. Day. I don’t underestimate what it takes to build a good working relationship with clients, nor do I take for granted the trust they place in us to do amazing work on their behalf. I also have a deeper understanding of the challenges nonprofit colleagues face. After all, I’ve walked a mile in their shoes too.