It’s not you, it’s us!



You’re looking for the right consulting firm. We’re looking for the right clients.

Here, our Coordinator of Research and Capacity-Building, Lucy Hart, talks us through how we, at The Athena Advisors, decide whether to work with a prospective client. Spoiler alert: Sometimes, we say no.

The Athena Advisors is a social enterprise that helps nonprofits to identify and secure funds to achieve their social justice mission. Our priority is great client service and creating a thriving nonprofit sector. Sometimes, we love the work and impact of a prospective client, but ultimately feel we just aren’t the right fit.

Our first question is whether a prospective client embodies our firm’s values. We are driven by a dedication to social justice, ethics, passion, and mentoring. If they are not, we will not proceed.

Social Justice, Ethics, Passion, and Mentoring

Social justice – exemplified by our clients, who fight every day against poverty, racism, violence, environmental injustice, educational inequality, misinformation and the dismantling of quality journalism, and encroachments on democracy. We must see our work as having an impact on those fronts.

Ethics – exemplified by our commitment to using ethical global fundraising practices with as much transparency as possible.

Passion – we want to work with people who are excited about what they do. In addition, we want to be involved with organizations that have the potential to have maximum impact.

Mentorship – we believe in building our own knowledge and supporting the leaders of tomorrow. Our team members come from all backgrounds and are at any stage of their professional career. That variety in skills and expertise enables us to be a constantly-learning organization. If a potential client wants to work exclusively with the most senior people or won’t permit newer team members to participate in meetings, they are usually not the right client for us. It’s short-sighted and excludes a lot of talent.

Does our team have the precise skills to do a great job?

Are we ready to give our best with an engagement?  

Our team is well rounded and have a range of skills. We always ask: does our team have the precise skills to do a great job? If the answer is no, we go a step further: we always try to recommend other reputable firms and individuals within our network who are a better fit for the engagement than we are. We are dedicated to the continued professional development of our team but will never claim to have expertise that we don’t. 

We are passionate about the work-life balance of our team. We carefully plan our client pipeline and engagements to ensure our capacity matches the needs of our clients. We always ask: Are we ready to give our best with an engagement? We try to have enough people on an engagement to preserve the health and wellness of each team member. That has costs, and the best clients understand that.

We try to be realistic and not to overpromise. Sometimes, projects are time-sensitive: Maybe a gift acceptance policy is needed within two weeks, or a report needs to be produced by a fast-approaching board meeting. So, we ask: does our availability fit a client’s timeline? If we cannot match the required timeline, although we often can, we say so.

Would we be proud to call this client one of our own?

Would we be proud to call this client one of our own? We have outstanding clients and benefit from the affiliation with them. We want to retain that honour. Our President, Robin Heller, writes: “all organisations, for purposes of managing risk, should have gift acceptance policies (reviewed annually) about how to evaluate a potential donor and acknowledge their contribution, what to do if there is a public relations issue with the donor, and who makes the call on whether to decline or return a contribution.” The same applies when it comes to saying yes or no to clients. We manage risk, we evaluate a potential client, we are scrupulous, and it pays off.

Our reflections on considering clients have led us to the decision to create a “client acceptance policy” in 2022. Our policy will be agile and as the world changes so will we. That said, we will share our policy with potential clients to help make sure that we are aligned. We’d love to hear your ideas about creating such a policy and whether you know of other firms doing the same thing.