As a nonprofit leader, when is it time for you to look for help in addressing the weaknesses in your organization? If you are from the corporate world, how do you engage your company's resources in philanthropic ventures that align with your values and those of your employees? How do you develop the relationships that can lead you along your best path, toward growth and visibility and success? It's a given that you will not always have all the answers you need to do your work. Sometimes you need someone with an objective perspective to spark fresh thinking, or someone who has a deeper understanding of the issues you are facing and the possible solutions, or someone with an awareness of best practices that can help you make choices. Who is that someone??
A consultant can play the role of advisor, analyst, diagnostician, teacher and problem solver, depending upon your needs. They can help you identify and address key challenges, changes in organizational structure or direction, and questions about mission alignment. The right consultant can perform specific tasks such as conducting a search for a new CEO, providing a board development workshop, creating and implementing a strategic planning process, and helping to cultivate new relationships with corporate partners.
I like to think that in my role as a consultant, I am the student to my client in some ways, and the instructor in others. The dialogue that evolves from this dynamic is candid, objective, inquisitive and informed, and leads to workable goals, shared expectations, and long-term, sustainable success.
You can find the consultant who is the best fit for your needs by asking a few questions of yourself, your organization/company, and the potential consultant:
- What AREN'T we capable of doing ourselves to foster growth or maximize our mission? Almost every organization faces this at some point: what needs to happen next that we just don't have the skill set to accomplish on our own?
- What outcome(s) would we like to see? You will need to have some idea of what you want a consultant to focus on.
- What are the costs of hiring a consultant? Especially for smaller organizations, it can be difficult to justify spending needed resources on something (or someone) outside of program or operations. But sometimes you need to invest in the future, and there are many consultants who will work with you on their fees to fit with your budget.
- What are the benefits of hiring a consultant? Aside from addresssing the specific needs you are hiring them for, a consultant can provide a different, objective perspective on various aspects of your business.
- What is our timeline and what are the deliverables? Being clear about this from the beginning, and having shared expectations, will enable you to have the best outcome.
- Are we able to give sufficient time to a consultant to orient them and keep them on track? This is something many clients don't realize is an important part of the consultant/client relationship. A consultant will need direction from you in order to do their job properly.
- How do we vet the capabilities of potential consultants? Ask questions about previous experience, get references and request work samples. If the consultant will be working with staff and/or Board members, have them participate in the vetting process.
- What type of experience do we want in a consultant? Someone whose capabilities and strengths are a good match for your needs.
- What other attributes should we look for in a consultant? Someone who will listen as well as speak. Someone whose opinions come after careful consideration. Someone who will be honest with you. Someone you can trust to keep your confidentiality.
Good luck as you search for the best way to find your path!