3 Things to Consider When Using a Consultant

Whether it’s a consultant hired to develop a strategic plan, facilitate a board or staff retreat, or analyze the overall health of your organization, consulting professionals can provide the expertise we all need from time-to-time to strengthen and better manage our nonprofits. There are many factors to take into account when hiring and working with consultants, and these three considerations will ensure that your experience is constructive and meaningful.

1. Clearly Define Your Project and Consulting Needs

Before you hire a consultant, know WHY you need one, and make sure all of your stakeholders (board, staff, partners, etc.) are in agreement and on the same page. Don’t focus on the outcome, but on clearly understanding and defining the problem you want to solve. Know what you want from the consultant and how you plan to use the results of the project. Make sure everyone who has agreed to hire the consultant is willing to commit to the process, and ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is the problem and how does it affect the organization? (And is it important enough that it needs solving? What happens if we leave it alone?)
  • Will solving this problem advance our mission?
  • What work needs to be done to fully define and solve this problem? What parts of the work would the consultant take on, and what parts would board and/or staff be responsible for?
  • What resources do we have available for the project, including budgeting for consultant fees, materials, and staff/board time?
  • What is our timeline? How quickly does the project need to be completed?

2. Understand the Consultant’s Job

Consultants can play different roles for your organization. Some serve as advisors, evaluating situations, identifying problems, and proposing solutions to those problems for your board and/or staff to implement. Others execute specific tasks, such as conducting an executive director search or leading a board retreat. Your responsibility is to know what you need a consultant to do before you hire one. You may consider hiring a consultant when you’re facing a key challenge or are considering a significant change to your organization’s programs or mission. For these types of challenges, a consultant can provide a deeper knowledge of best practices, as well as guidance that can inspire new solutions and new ways of thinking. A consultant can be an educator, a facilitator, an advisor, or even a cheerleader. Nonprofit organizations often hire consultants to help with strategic planning, board development, legal compliance, program development, marketing, fundraising, and more.

3. Be Prepared

Prepare yourselves and your consultant by providing the most recent version of as many of these documents as you have available, and that are applicable to your project. You may need to work with your consultant to identify which documents are most important and relevant to the project you are working on. These documents may include:

  • Mission, vision, and values statements
  • Program plans
  • Fundraising plan
  • Board development plan
  • Budget
  • Communications plan
  • Annual report
  • Promotional materials

Help your consultant understand the history and culture of your organization. Be available to your consultant and keep your appointments, or your project may take longer and become more expensive than you originally intended. Be open to new ideas and constructive criticism, and practice good and open communication. Make sure you are staying involved and attentive to the project, providing feedback to the consultant periodically.

Knowing what your organization needs, what the role of your consultant is, and what materials to prepare will ensure that you get the most out of your consulting project.

Did you know that the Alliance for Better Nonprofits helps organizations connect with consultants? ABN’s customized approach will meet your organization’s specific needs and interests, and projects can focus on a narrow topic or on the entire scope of your organization. We’ll help you develop a consulting plan, and then match you with the best expert for the job. To make it even easier on you, ABN has flat hourly consulting rates, and will make all of the arrangements and manage the contract with your consultant. If you have questions or would like to get started on a project, contact Jeanna Beck, Director of Consulting, at jbeck@betternonprofits.org. Learn more about ABN Consulting HERE.