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Mistakes That Nonprofit Organizations Make Hiring Consultants

And How to Avoid Them

You are excited to find someone who can help solve a pressing problem.

You look forward to making progress on a long-standing goal. You are ready to invest, and you want your investment to pay off handsomely. How can you maximize the benefits and minimize the risk of working with outside counsel? As you grow in excellence, you will ask yourself questions like this many times. You already know that the right help and the right relationship are great tools to reach your goals swiftly. To help you maximize your investment, here are some common mistakes that nonprofits make when hiring consultants, and suggestions on how to avoid them.

Match Game – You believe you know what you need. You develop a request for proposal (RFP) that involves consultants providing written bids. The consultant is selected. The work is done as described. The change doesn’t materialize. Why? It turns out that you eliminated the symptoms, and not the roots of the problem. You rushed to solutions.

Resolution: Meet with a consultant whom you trust and who has an excellent reputation. Discuss your objectives. Request a bid with several options and different investment levels. You benefit in several ways. First, you create realistic objectives. Second, you benefit from the consultant’s advice in developing alterative paths to reach them. Obtaining your goals is about partnerships that work on the real changes you seek.

Deal or No Deal – You want to work with a consultant. Compared to staff, their upfront costs seem expensive. Compared to volunteers, they are expensive. However, in the past, a free facilitator de-motivated your board. You know from experience the cost of poor help. How can you justify this investment and be confident that you are making a good decision?

Way Out: Turn your thinking around, and consider the effort in terms of the value. What is your potential return on investment? What is the value to be gained as an organization, and for you professionally and personally? A good consultant provides value many times his or her fee. Consider this value from a long-term perspective. Reflect on the alternatives. What will it cost you if you fail to achieve them‚ or worse move farther from them? Just as with other major purchases, consider the investment from a value perspective.

Beat The Clock – You have so much to do. You hire a consultant to help you. Now, you have even more to do!

Answer: Any issue important enough to involve outside counsel will require a time investment and partnership. Minimize your time by sharing your calendar crunches with the consultant. Decide where your input will be required to make the project a success. Create work plans that minimize your workload without compromising results. Consider resetting priorities, or even making chaos management part of the effort.

Bonus: Jen FiIla, an expert on prospect research, was a fellow leader this summer in four presentations on obtaining value with consultants. Here are three common prospect research challenges, and her solutions. (Hear an interview with Jen in Podcast #9 here.)

Password – You research an individual because you want to know something specific, like family history or company ownership, but you do not tell the researcher this goal.

Solution: Have a conversation with the researcher when making a request so that s/he has the clues needed to find the information that will lead you to a gift!

Twenty Questions – You get frustrated with research because information was missing, such as no value for the sale of a private company, or because the wealth screening didn’t find a trust fund inheritor.

Solution: Ask the researcher why expected information isn’t found so you can become educated on the sources available for information. Knowing what is possible helps you use your prospect research budget effectively.

Jeopardy – You decide to buy a tool or purchase a prospect research service because you read that you should.

Solution: Decide what strategic fundraising question you are trying to answer, and then decide which prospect research solution fills that need. Focusing on your goal will help you choose the best prospect research service.

This article helps you to solve common mistakes nonprofit organizations make when they work with consultants. Now that you know, you can take action to maximize your experience working with outside help.

Related Resources

How Can a Nonprofit Consultant Help, Part 1, 2, and 3

10 Time Management Tips for Elephant-Sized Projects

Time Management for Nonprofit Organizations