Philanthropy

Firm brings big-name help to small not-for-profits: Consultant will offer tiered Web-based advice to help keep its fees affordable

August 18, 2008

Some heavy hitters in the local not-forprofit consulting world have formed Achieve LLC, a company that will use the Internet to make high-end advice available to small and midsize charities.

Its goal is to give organizations experiencing growing pains access to expert advice they usually can't afford.

"The question was, how do you fill that void for smaller not-for-profits?" said coowner and Vice President Dave Sternberg, former associate director of the Fundraising School at Indiana University's Center on Philanthropy and former partner of the Loring Sternberg & Associates consulting firm.

Achieve's other owners are CEO Derrick Feldmann, a former fund-raising executive at national youth-service organization The League and a consultant since 2001, and Ted Grossnickle, CEO of Greenwood-based consultancy Johnson Grossnickle and Associates Inc.

The trio started formulating a business plan a year ago, prompted by informal talks about how to get consulting to those who need it the most: organizations on the cusp of major growth.

With a staff of five full-time employees, the firm also boasts a roster of 12 contract consultants, which includes some well-known names such as Johnson Grossnickle co-founder Don Johnson, who now runs Don Johnson and Associates in Maine; Tom King, former president of Eli Lilly and Co. Foundation and current president of Thomas A. King Consulting; and Chuck Loring, a senior partner of Loring Sternberg & Associates.

Achieve will specialize in helping notfor-profits with strategy and organizational changes, but it won't delve into assisting with large capital campaigns, the bread and butter of many of the larger firms-including Johnson Grossnickle. Its target client: not-for-profits with budgets of up to $10 million.

"If they grow to the point of needing capital campaign counsel, we'll pass them along to someone else," Feldmann said.

To keep services affordable for smaller groups, fees have been set up with tiers. At a basic subscription level of $2,200 a year, a not-for-profit would have access to online training, topic-specific pages with general advice, goal-setting tools, fund-raising letter templates, and live regional seminars.

Organizations would be charged more to consult with an expert as needed, paying on a sliding scale depending on whether they request a face-to-face meeting, e-mail or phone advice.

"Our delivery method is the Web, but it's still about developing a relationship with the client," Feldmann said.

Grossnickle said Achieve recruited industry experts with years of experience, but they have blocked out time in their schedule that they'll dedicate to Achieve. They likely won't earn as much as they would through consulting contracts with large not-for-profits, he said, but the work will be more varied and inspiring.

"This interests them. They get to have some of the fun of being part of something new and exciting," Grossnickle said.

Industry insiders said small not-forprofits often need consulting but can't afford to call in traditional firms, which earn hefty fees advising large not-forprofits on multimillion-dollar capital campaigns.

"In terms of fund-raising counsel and support, there really is a gap because when most people go into the consulting business ... they move upstream" to tackle high-dollar clients, said Bryan Orander, president of Indianapolis consulting firm Charitable Advisors LLC.

Achieve said it plans to have a national client base, but Orander said that may be a tough sell.

"On the national stage, [the consultants'] names aren't going to mean nearly as much as they do locally," he said.

The firm has been in talks with locally based Dance Kaleidoscope Inc. as the modern dance company looks to ramp up fund raising and improve its operations. DK has completed an assessment of potential hurdles, said board President Doug Dilling, and now it wants to hire a consultant to help come up with a strategy for overcoming those challenges.

Achieve is on its short list, in part because its flexible pricing is appealing to the not-for-profit, which has an annual budget of $1.2 million.

"Their price is very reasonable and certainly more competitive than some of the larger firms," Dilling said.

Achieve already has recruited nine clients and lined up some important support on its three-person advisory board-including Center on Philanthropy chief Eugene Tempel, who is resigning to become president of the IU Foundation, and Mike Alley, chairman of Patriot Investments and former CEO of Fifth Third Bank, to the advisory board-that will continue to add members.

The firm's Web site, www.achieveguidance.org, went live Aug. 15, and the company has rented office space downtown at 233 McCrae St. It hopes to grow to about $1 million in revenue in its first year and ramp up to 400 clients in three years.
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