Our third EUConsult interview brings you a story about Mary O’Kennedy. Mary has over 20 years’ experience of working in and consulting to the not-for-profit sector. Having worked with both Trocaire, an overseas development NGO and in Dublin City University’s Educational Trust, she established O’Kennedy Consulting (OKC) in 2002 and works with not-for-profits and social enterprises to initiate and grow philanthropic partnerships, strategic fundraising portfolios and multi-channel stakeholder engagement programmes. She shared with us what does consultancy mean to her and how is it to work as a consultant.

Can you briefly say something about yourself?

I have been a consultant to the NFP sector for almost 20 years having established O’Kennedy Consulting (OKC) in 2002. We work with not-for-profits and social enterprises to initiate and grow philanthropic partnerships, strategic fundraising portfolios and stakeholder engagement programmes.

What does consulting mean to you?

I am committed to playing a role in transforming the philanthropic landscape in Ireland by providing best-practice management and fundraising consultancy to charities and by advising individual and corporate donors on effective philanthropy. I believe good consulting can be a catalyst for driving positive social change that has the power to transform lives.

Some organisations think that they don’t need consultants – why have you been hired?

In general the organisations we work with have excellent, skilled internal teams but they value the external perspective and broader knowledge that we bring as consultants. In some cases, while an organisation might have significant experience in running fundraising events and public fundraising activities, they may not have expertise in major donor engagement, or building corporate or philanthropic relationships, and we will be approached to guide them in this regard.

What has been your biggest success as a consultant?

OKC have been running the RAISE programme for the Arts Council of Ireland since 2018, and we have worked with over 50 arts and cultural organisations to ‘raise’ their fundraising game! It’s been an incredibly busy few years but so rewarding to see these organisations build new relationships and connect with new donors – which ensures Ireland’s vibrant arts sector has the philanthropic support it requires to deliver great performance and artistry.

Would you like to share something that did not succeed?

Sometimes organisations fundraising targets can be a little too ambitious and on occasion we have perhaps been a bit slow to curb their enthusiasm or manage their expectations about what new income can be raised in a specific year which can lead to disappointment – I think the key is to set realistic fundraising targets, particularly if you are an organisation that’s just setting out your fundraising journey or launching a new income stream. So for example, where we have had organisations raising €100,000 per year saying that want to raise €1 million per year we need to manage these expectations.. But of course if they have a compelling and impactful Case for Support anything is possible!

What type of organisations are your main clients?

We work with organisations across the broad not-for-profit sector and also with some companies and philanthropic foundations that are committed partners of the sector. At the moment, due to our work with the Arts Council, a significant number of our clients are arts and cultural organisations but we are also currently working with a school and a children’s charity on capital campaigns, a leading healthcare organisation on a major donor programme and with an overseas development agency on a Covid-19 vaccination campaign.

What did you learn from the Corona pandemic? 

That we all have the ability to learn new skills when we need to – from a consultancy point of view, since Covid-19, we have expanded our services to include new Digital and Sustainability strands and our entire team and are committed to our ‘Building Back Better’ programme.  I have also reflected on how much I value my wonderful family and friends – I missed them a lot when we couldn’t meet each other during the pandemic! I also now appreciate more how lucky I am to have the freedom to move around and visit beautiful places – I am writing this from the wilds of West Cork in Ireland and it feels great to be even allowed to travel around my own country again! And that your health really is your wealth….

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