From reputation and chemistry to briefing documents and submission assessment, Martyn Hartley shares his experience in selecting an agency partner.

From reputation and chemistry to briefing documents and submission assessment, Martyn Hartley shares his experience in selecting an agency partner.


selecting an agency partnerAs fundraisers, at some point in our careers we may well be responsible for managing the relationships between a charity and its external fundraising agencies. As part of this process, it is likely that we will need to review those relationships and make some important decisions about whether we have the right partners in place.
It can be difficult to know where to start, and while there are no hard and fast rules around how to select agency partners, below are some guidelines that may be worth considering, gleaned from my experience working in the corporate and charity sectors on both client and agency sides.

What to look for

While a company’s past reputation is important, ultimately what matters most is whether you feel comfortable trusting your agency partner with the stewardship of your most valuable resources – your brand and your supporters.
Different agencies also have different areas of focus and expertise, so start with the end in mind. Think about the relationship you want to have and work back from there, considering what’s most important to you, whether that be pricing, supporter experience, results, return on investment, client service, strategic support, data insights or some other criteria altogether. 

Chemistry and shared values

Ideally, an agency partnership will last for many years and will improve over time due to a greater understanding and shared history. As such it is a good idea to spend time with the senior team and get to know them, but also speak to the people who will be representing your cause each and every day. Find out what motivates them and whether they are treated with care and respect. Learn about their training, coaching and ongoing management. These things matter and will impact on the quality of work they produce on your behalf.

Selecting an agency

Inviting agencies to tender or pitch for your fundraising activity is the most effective method of collecting standardised submissions so you can assess these using specific and measurable criteria. This involves creating an invitation to tender briefing documents, which can be daunting but ultimately will be a huge help in making the right choice for your charity.
If finding the time to do this is a problem, you may want to consider using a fundraising consultant to assist with the review. There are many great consultants working in the industry and a little investment in this process now can save a lot of pain further down the track.

Understanding and communicating objectives

By letting the agencies know exactly what you will be judging them on, you should be able to compare and contrast each submission and find the best fit for your organisation:
•     Start by explaining your goals, objectives, vision and values. Provide a background to your fundraising strategy and current programs. Detail your supporter profiles and their motivations for giving. This information will help the agency to develop a response and show they have understood who you are and what you are looking to achieve in the short and longer term.
•     Next provide in-depth information around each individual program you are looking to run: the scope, targets, audience, locations, restrictions, timings, inclusions/exclusions.
•     Finally, be extremely clear about the timeline for the review process, what questions you want answered, what mandatory information you need to have included and what criteria you will be using to assess the submissions. Give as much detail here as possible – you get out what you put in and this will help to make sure you receive all the information you need in one round.

Assessing the submissions

Start the tender process at least three months before the work is due to commence, and
allow yourself plenty of time to review all of the submissions. Depending on the scope of information you’ve requested – these may be long and detailed, and all deserve your attention and due consideration.
Creating a scoring matrix for yourself and taking notes will also help with finalising your decision-making and selecting your agency or agencies of choice (remember, it’s never a good idea to put all your eggs in one basket!).
We know how important the supporter experience is and we also know it’s good to try before we buy. So remember, when assessing your agency partners, always make time in the review process to go and visit them to see for yourself how they work and whether you will feel comfortable with them representing your cause. If it’s telemarketing, go and listen to live calls – it’ll be worth your while.
And don’t forget to ask for references! Like any interview process, seek out the opinions of your peers and ask about the experiences they have had with the agencies you’re considering.

Ongoing relationship

One final point to note. Once you’ve made your decision and locked in your partners, don’t just set and forget. Like any normal relationship, there may be ups and downs. Open and honest dialogue is essential in navigating through any difficulties and letting the other party know how you are feeling.
Transparency of results and performance with regular campaign reviews, and comparing results between your agencies and the wider industry benchmarks will help to ensure your campaigns are firing and reassure you that you made the right choice.


Martyn Hartley

Martyn is the Founder and CEO at WAYS Phone, a telemarketing agency working exclusively with charities. He believes the key to great supporter experience comes from the passion, knowledge, empowerment and training of the people making the calls, and says this is the foundation of the culture at WAYS Phone.



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