The goal of Pebblebeach is to be the agency we would want to work with if we were back on the charity ‘side’ of the fence. Our team works incredibly hard to deliver great results and an exceptional working experience. Occasionally, however, things don’t always go to plan.

Now in my thirtieth year of fundraising – and having spent years on both sides of the client/agency relationship – here are my six top tips for how charities can achieve a positive, harmonious and, ultimately, successful partnership.

  1. Know what you are asking for

Firstly, the clearer and more specific your objectives and parameters are from the start, the easier it will be for the agency to understand what you need – and give you a response that makes sense.

We will always ask questions about five key factors:

  • Audience – who is this campaign/appeal/project going to? What do you know about them? What’s their giving history/relationship?
  • Proposition – what do you need the money for? How much do you need? Who will benefit and how?
  • Media – how will it be delivered? Do you know the split between print and digital?
  • Timing – when does this need to happen?
  • Creative – are there any rules regarding words or images?

If you can provide clear answers to the above, wonderful, you’ve saved yourself a lot of time and effort! But, if some of your answers (or even all) are, ‘I don’t know’, then say that – and let the agency help you to find the answer.

  1. Agency fees are an investment

The reason you would consider an agency in the first place is because a) you don’t have the skills in-house to deliver the thing or (more usually) b) you are too busy and need someone to step in to help. Either reason is fine – but remember the ‘cost’ of an agency is only the difference between using them and delivering the project yourself. That ‘cost’ should be recouped within the project income – you should always expect to bring in more net income by using an agency.

And remember – costs will vary depending on what you ask the agency to do. If you have all the answers to the above – wonderful. But, if you need help to figure out some of the stuff, you should expect to invest more in the relationship to cover that time. Don’t be tempted to try and fill in any blanks with guesses or assumptions – it will undoubtedly impact the project’s potential. (Also, you want the agency to take responsibility for their work and the results it delivers – so make sure you both sign off on the parameters before you get going.)

  1. Work as partners

The agency team you work with will ideally be your ‘critical friends’ – and thus you should be comfortable if they gently challenge you on some of your initial thinking. You are buying their time and expertise, gained over many charities and many years – don’t be afraid to exploit that knowledge for the benefit of your charity. Ultimately, it’s always going to be your decision, but allowing yourself to be guided – even challenged – will help to create the very best outcome.

Agency staff are as passionate and committed as you are – they just happen to work for many charities all at the same time! Treat them as you would a colleague, with the professionalism and respect you would want to receive. But don’t be afraid to challenge – it’s your budget, your project and if you are uncomfortable with anything then you should say so.

  1. Agree a budget and stick to it

There can be tension over money sometimes, but don’t be afraid to have direct conversations. Before you start a project, get a firm, fixed budget from the agency and an agreed list of outcomes and deliverables – that’s what you’re buying. Make sure you get what you’ve paid for. There shouldn’t be any hidden or unexpected fees – and you should challenge if there are.

And remember, you and your colleagues will equally have a large input into everything being finished to budget and on time. Agencies will often give you a couple of chances to comment on copy and visuals, for example, but will then charge you an additional hourly rate for changes after that. So, be organised and efficient at your end – and manage internal colleagues to give you constructive feedback when you need it.

  1. Share the outcomes, experience and results

It’s surprisingly rare that we get to see the full results of a project we’ve worked on. But this is a vital part of the relationship – and will help you (and the agency) get better results in the future. After a project has been delivered and matured, get together with the agency (and yes this will cost but it’s a massively worthwhile investment) and review everything.

Review the relationship, how expectations matched up to the final outcome, what could have gone better and what worked really well. Look at the income results, identify where the successes (or disappointments) were, so that they can be fed into the brief for the next time.

  1. Do what you can, but accept there will often be times you’ll need help

The point of any agency is to bring knowledge/experience/resource to your charity. Your objective should be to learn as much as you can each time (hence why the review is vital) and it should be your goal to bring in-house what you can confidently and successfully deliver. But, be comfortable in seeing agency involvement as a part of your fundraising future. Their skills and expertise are there for you to exploit – and you’ll benefit from opening your work up to skilled, creative people that want you to succeed.

Here endeth the lesson. Go and be wonderful! And ask for help if you need it!

Ash Gilbert
Founder and Director