Three Reasons to Hire a Consultant, and Three Reasons NOT to Hire One
Is your organization considering hiring a consultant? You’re in good company, as consultants are increasingly sought by a range of nonprofits and agencies needing specialized expertise. But knowing when to hire a consultant–and having appropriate expectations of that relationship–are critical to a successful consulting engagement. Below are a few tips on how to determine if your organization might benefit from a consultant…or not:
You May Benefit from a Consultant If:
- Your organization needs an outsider’s perspective. Sometimes being too close to your organization’s work makes it difficult to generate new ideas, or to bring innovative solutions to existing problems. A consultant may be able to bring the “fresh eyes” your organization needs.
- Your organization requires specific, deep expertise. From time to time, you may need highly specialized skills that your staff or board members lack. Perhaps you need to develop a customized training for your executive team, or you need to overhaul your organization’s website and social media campaign. Maybe you require financial or legal expertise to address an impending merger. Consultants can be useful for these sorts of discrete, specialized projects.
- Your organization is at a crossroad. Maybe your nonprofit is seeking a new executive director or launching a multi-year capital campaign. Maybe you’re unsure how to choose and implement new technology, or how best to bring new energy and strategies to existing programs. Consultants can work with your organization to help you overcome “paralysis by analysis,” bring focus to the issues at hand, and generate potential paths forward.
You Probably Won’t Benefit from a Consultant If:
- You are looking for a silver bullet to your organization’s woes. Consultants cannot conjure up quick fix solutions, magically make money appear, or turnaround your organization overnight. If the issue at hand is a nuanced or complicated one, it is likely that potential solutions will require measured, thoughtful analysis and implementation.
- You expect to “hand off” a project for a consultant to complete on his or her own. Effective consultants work in partnership with organizations–they are not lone wolves. Successful consultants regularly “check in” with an organization’s leadership to seek input and ensure that the project goals sought by the organization are being achieved. Working with a consultant requires an investment of time and process from the partnering organization.
- You don’t know what you want to accomplish. Consultants work best when they have a clear vision of what needs to be achieved. Just as it’s difficult to reach a destination unless you know where you are going, detailing specifically what outcomes your organization hopes to achieve will dramatically improve the likelihood that your consulting engagement will be successful. For example, a consultant who is simply told, “Our board needs some training” is unlikely to know where to begin being helpful. But if instead she is told, “We are looking for a consultant to provide new board member orientation, specifically in helping our board strengthen their fundraising capacity”–well, now we’re getting somewhere.
A Few Other Things to Keep in Mind:
- All successful consulting engagements result from strong relationships. Strong relationships are, in turn, based on trust. Take time to get to know the consultants you are considering hiring before you enter a contract. Make sure that all key decisionmakers in your organization feel comfortable with the consultant, and that a solid relationship has been established prior to the consultant commencing work.
- Not every consultant is right for every organization. Each of us varies in terms of our preferred work style, communication approaches, adaptability, candor, and general “fit” with others. While it’s advisable to seek recommendations from colleagues, recognize that a consultant who is a great fit for one organization may not be the best for yours, and vice versa.
- Perform your due diligence. Terrific resources are available to help you decide whether and how to hire a consultant, where to find consultants, and potential pitfalls of engaging a consultant. Be sure to ask for references before you contract with a consultant, just as you would before hiring a new employee.
Looking for more information on how to select, hire, and engage a nonprofit consultant? Check our Resources page for links to guides, websites, and blog posts on these topics.