November 3, 2021

3 Missteps Nonprofits Make Hiring Experts: How to Avoid Them

You’re ready to solve your challenge. You are excited to find someone with whom to partner to solve a pressing problem and have it pay off.  How can you maximize the benefits and minimize the risk of working with outside counsel?

As you work with experts, you’ll often find yourself and others around you asking questions like this. To maximize your investment, here are some common errors nonprofits make when hiring outside advisors and suggestions for avoiding them.

🔥 Error #1: Issuing an RFP

You believe you know what you need. You develop a request for proposal (RFP) that requests consultants to provide written bids. If you’re lucky, you get some responses, and a consultant is selected. The work is done as described. The change you envisioned fails to materialize.

Why? It turns out that you told the symptoms and not the root of the problem. Your RFP didn’t match your underlying needs. What’s worse? You may have paid for and worked on what you didn’t need.

💡 A Better Way

Meet with an expert whom you trust. Discuss your objectives. Explore how they might be measured and the value of meeting them. Then, request a proposal with several options with different investment levels.

This approach benefits you  in several ways; you–

  • Look at your situation from a new perspective and often tap into the consultant’s experience diagnosing your situation
  • Gets different options to approach your goals
  • You don’t have to write a proposal request.
  • Will have greater confidence in the process and results.
  • Get to work with better advisors. The best firms rarely respond to RFPs.

Working with a consultant is a partnership to clarify the best path to obtain your goals.

🔥 Error #2. Cost Not Value

You want to work with a consultant but are concerned about the expense. Compared to using staff or volunteers, they look expensive. However, you know the cost of poor help. A “free” expert de-motivated your board, and now they are even more reluctant to engage.

How can you justify investing and be confident that you are making a good decision?

💡A Better Way

Reframe the thinking. You and your board are worried about loss, not gain. Consider the investment in terms of value. What is your potential return on investment? What is the value gained as an organization and for you professionally and personally?

A good consultant provides long-term value at least ten times the fees. If you don’t see that kind of ROI, you might want to reconsider if your goals are worth pursuing. If they are essential. Reflect on the alternatives. What will it cost if you fail to achieve your goals‚ or, worse, move farther from them?

🔥 Error #3 Delegating It

You hire a consultant to help you clarify or execute strategy. You have so much to do, so you delegate the work out of your office.

💡Max the Benefits, Minimize the Risks

Any issue important enough to involve outside counsel will require a time investment and partnership. Work with the consultant to determine where your input is critical and alternative resources. Set up a calendar in advance. Read 10 Time Management Tips for Elephant-Sized Projects. Create work plans that minimize your workload without compromising results. Consider resetting priorities or even making chaos management part of the consulting project.

It needs a place in your schedule for updates if it’s strategic.

This article helps you to avoid three common missteps nonprofits make when they work with consultants. What errors have you seen experts make working with you? Share them with your favorite advisor as you plan your next project.

⊕ For more answers, check out this Nonprofit  CEO Library.

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Karen Eber Davis

Karen Eber Davis provides customized advising and coaching around nonprofit strategy and board development. People leaders hire her to bring clarity to sticky situations, break through barriers that seem insurmountable, and align people for better futures. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.


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