The Ideal Client/Agency Relationship

Last week a new client asked me to describe the ideal client/agency relationship. That’s a great question.

Before I answer that question here, let me provide you with some context.  Most of my career has been spent as a client. And as a client, I’ve had multiple agencies work for me.  In fact, most of Masterworks’ “competitors” today worked for me at one point or another.

I have also worked on the agency side for the past 14 years at Masterworks. So, I have a perspective that is informed by having been a client and working at an agency.

Here are four keys I’ve discovered to excellent client/agency relationships:

  1. Shared Goals — one of the most important aspects of the ideal client/agency relationship is shared goals. That means that both agency and client develop and own fundraising goals together. Often, a client simply gives their agency a fundraising goal that is not realistic . . . then holds the agency accountable to hit the goal. That results in tension, stress and undue striving to achieve an unrealistic goal. Contrast that with hitting or exceeding a realistic goal and being able to celebrate together at the end of the year.
  1. Team Effort — the ideal client/agency relationship is a team effort. During my years as a client I came to understand that the agency was an extension of my team.  Practically speaking, that meant that I would encourage them, treat them fairly, evaluate them honestly and work together with them to achieve our shared goals. The best client/agency teams are characterized by creativity, collaboration and enthusiasm for achieving the goals. Think about how good you feel after a meeting marked by those attributes.
  1. Honesty — it goes without saying that we all want open and honest relationships. In the context of the ideal client/agency relationship, honesty should manifest itself in the form of telling each other what’s working and what’s not. In Jim Collins book, Good To Great, he talks about the principle of confronting the “brutal facts.”  Sometimes in our effort to have cordial and friendly working relationships, we don’t confront the brutal facts as we should. One outcome can be that we don’t hold each other accountable. Rather than honestly sharing concerns, we let those concerns fester until they become irreconcilable differences.  To avoid that, agree with your colleagues to keep short accounts.  Given that most of us hate confrontation, how do we do that?
  1. Clarify Don’t Confront — for most of us, it is human nature to avoid what we feel will be confrontation. Many years ago, I was having a conversation with Bobb Biehl, a mentor and consultant who has been strengthening Christian leaders internationally for nearly 40 years. I told him I was dreading confronting a situation with a colleague. Bobb suggested that rather than think of my forthcoming conversation as confrontation, I could think about it as clarification. That little word substitution has had a profound effect on my life and I’ve shared this principle with dozens of friends, family and colleagues over the years. So, the next time you feel like you have to confront your agency (or anyone else for that matter), substitute the word confront with clarify. Now, the conversation begins with, “There is something I’d like to clarify . . .” That will take the edge of the conversation for you and the other person.

Finally, have some fun while you strive to achieve noble goals. I know it seems contradictory in some respects when what you do could literally mean life and death (physically and spiritually) for those your ministry serves. At the same time, you should enjoy your working relationships including those with your agency team. Life is too short not to enjoy the folks you work with.

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