Hiring a consultant is a big investment for a non-profit organization. If this is your first time working with a consultant, or if previous consultant engagements weren’t successful, here is some advice from our consultants to you.
What You Should Do
- Share your pain We all want to be (or at least appear) competent and strong in the work we do. However, if you're not sharing your pain points with your consultant, it's like going to a doctor to treat a sore throat when you really have a broken leg. If we aren't in tune with your challenges and obstacles, it's tough for us to effectively assess and guide the work ahead. We can go further faster when all the cards are on the table... and you let us know where it hurts.
- Trust our experience You hire a consultant because their experience in a particular area means they have models and tools to address the situations you find yourself in. What may seem overwhelming to you is probably just an average Tuesday for your consultant. Lean into their experience and work the action steps they suggest.
- Act on recommendations One of the best things a consultant can do is keep you out of the ditch. We will see when a plan isn’t working or the right elements aren’t in place sooner than you will. By acting on your consultant’s advice, you can course correct with much less hassle and keep moving your plan forward.
- Disagree without being disagreeable It’s not a consultant’s job to flatter you. They should disagree or challenge your organization so that you will be stronger and more effective in the long run. And you should push back too. Healthy disagreement will help everyone be better.
What You Should Expect
- Let us speak the hard truth Consultants can say things to boards or staff that others can’t. We can point out where people are falling short or encourage them to move past their comfort zones, allowing your organization to move through tough issues with minimal interpersonal fallout.
- You are unique, but maybe not as unique as you think you are A good consultant won’t have a one-size-fits-all approach, but they will have a good handle on best practices. Speak up when something doesn’t feel right to you, but also know that your challenges probably aren’t all that unusual.
- Define success early and often A plan needs to be able to flex to accommodate the inevitable challenges and changes that arise during a campaign. Make sure that your board, staff and consultant are in alignment throughout the campaign so that expectations can be adjusted if need be.
- You’re still the leader As in whitewater rafting, your consultant should “steer from the back.” Your board and your executive leadership are all still in charge and are ultimately responsible for the decisions made. Don’t abdicate that authority to a consultant, and never abdicate your donor relationships to an outside consultant.
- “Obvious” questions are asked for a reason Sometimes a consultant’s job is to point out the elephant in the room that everyone is afraid to talk about. But other times, we dig into practices and organizational norms that you might never have thought to question, but are having a negative impact on your progress.
What about you? What have you learned from working with consultants? Share your advice for your nonprofit colleagues in the comments below.