The FBook

On Hiring a Consultant

In Retail ideas on June 14, 2010 at 4:16 pm

You’re experiencing problems in your organization. Maybe you’re losing donors. Maybe your board is not working together, not working at all, or maybe you’ve lost board members. Perhaps you are experiencing high turnover of staff. Or maybe you don’t think you are getting as much out of your staff as you think you should.

Or maybe you’re just not making enough in philanthropic revenue as might be possible.

What ever your reason, you’ve begun to think about bringing in a consultant to help fix it all.

So what’s next?

BEFORE THE HIRE

Before making a phone call and sending out an SOS, get your thoughts in order. Get on paper answers to some of the following questions:

  • What are your problems ? (what are you seeing and why do you think they exist?). Categorize if more than one or two exist.
  • What do you expect to accomplish by bringing in a consultant?
  • What are you specifically interested in having the consultant do?
  • What outcomes would you need to see, that states “Job well done”?
  • Do you have enough staff resources to support this endeavor?
  • How long do you have to accomplish this?
  • How much financial resources are you willing to spend on this?
  • What financial resources can you commit to spending on this?

Having a thought out plan to share with the consultant will help in delineating if they can help you, and if they can, what areas might be the focus and what resources can be allocated.

THAT FIRST MEETING

You’ve made the call, maybe a few calls, to consultants that came recommended. Having recommendations from colleagues, other organizations, membership groups you might be a part of, board members, volunteers, donors, etc is a pretty important part of the process. It’s not a good idea to open the Yellow Pages to C for consultant. There are plenty of people out there who have used a consultant that they will either rave or ravish. Reach out and get those names.

So now you have a few meetings lined up to review your problems with some consultants. The purpose of this first meeting is twofold: Do they have the capacity to help with the problems AND are they a good fit with you, your board, your staff, and your organization. Finding the right fit is actually 99% of what will make or break your experience. No need to fret over whether you go large or small, with regard to the size of the consulting firm, right now. Get a good mix of both to sit with you and review the issues. It’s your time to decide if the person they send is a match. In rare cases, during a really good economy, large consulting firms may not be interested in your issues if they do not feel the value of the contract is worth their time. In today’s economy – 2010- we are seeing much less of this.

It’s a good idea to send your cheat sheet, as developed above, out to each consultant ahead of time. If you’re not comfortable sending financials regarding what your budget is, simply put a range in, or indicate you have a financial pro forma developed that will be shared at a later discussion.

REVIEW OF PROBLEMS

It’s important that the consultant has a good understanding of what you are experiencing and why you think it came to be- it will help them feel confident that you have a good grasp of your business and that you are prepared to be an active part of the consulting process. It also helps them to begin to determine what services and programs might be helpful to your organization, who they might need to bring in, how long it might take.

Be prepared to share info on the details of other areas of your organization. You might not think them relevant in the moment but a well balanced organization is all connected- like a skeleton- so if one part of the organization is experiencing difficulty, it may be directly related to another part not working well, but totally overlooked. For instance, if you are a nonprofit medical facility, and your growth of annual donors is down or stagnant, the consultant may want to hear about your patient base: how many, where from, what socio-economic area, how you are connected in any way.

Set aside about an hour and a half for this first meeting. Really be willing to offer insight and ask questions. Aside from some general questions such as experience, past clients, success stories, size and scope of firm, other firm professionals, be ready to ask some more specific questions as well, such as:

  • What would you indicate is your firms (or your) area of expertise. (Two or three areas are the norm. If they rattle off a laundry list, beware).
  • Will you teach us to do this work ourselves? Will you provide templates for us to carry on with out you?
  • Do your recommendations frequently require the client to purchase a program, service or product from you or from someone you recommend?
  • How many clients do you normally work with at one time? Will you return phone calls or emails the same day? Do you require administrative support from us?
  • What kind of documentation will you give us when the project is completed? Who will own that documentation? Will you sign a confidentiality agreement?

This first meeting is all about the fit and the details on your needs and their ability to meet those needs. It is NOT the time to talk money. Asking a consultant “what would you charge to do this” is like asking your doctor “what is the diagnosis” before he has even done an exam.        The consultant needs time to process the notes he or she has taken (he should be taking notes) and to review some possible scenarios with his team or by himself.

What you should ask for is a written proposal for consulting services. This will usually follow up the first meeting by about 5 business days (a hungry, confident firm will get it to you in two days). The proposal should outline: Background (yours and theirs), scope of work, and approach to the work, timeline and terms. Feel free to offer a template to the consultant if you want to have all of the firms you spoke with bring you similar data you can compare. A template is offered free for download at our website www.harvestdevelopmentgrp.com

FOLLOW UP

Before the meeting ends, ask the consultant if there is anything else they might need from you to get the proposal in by X (give them a date). Also leave them with a contact person, if other than you, to answer any further questions they might have. Ask for the same in return.

When reviewing the proposal, make sure they have captured all of the information on the issues you revealed to them. They should give you insight into some possible causes that may have been unknown or overlooked. The proposal should also provide detailed information on what specifically they will be doing, what they will be providing by jobs end and what tangible benefits should be received by your organization as a result of their consulting services. It should also indicate what resources you will need to provide, what they will bring to the table and what they will want to access during their contract to manage the work you need completed. Finally it should give the costs, broken out by sub contract if more than one area needs to be addressed, the timeframe for completion with milestones, and the terms for payment.

Recently, we have seen nonprofit consulting firms take up a practice long used in marketing and advertising agencies: the packaged product. These consulting firms have a one size fits all process that they will want to use in working with your organization. The packaged product usually has a catchy name, “The Advantage Solution” or “Copernicus Planned Giving Strategies”, and is trademarked for their firm. Avoid these like the plague. These packaged products are meant to raise the profile and the brand of the consulting firm, but do little to address the core needs of the organization they are supporting. Like the McDonalds or Burger King of nutrition, you might enjoy the process, but in the end your organization will not be nourished.

HIRING

The process is complete, and you have found your consultant. Congratulations!! Be sure to run their contract by your legal advisor before signing. Make sure you are knowledgeable about their payment expectations. List out a series of reports and touch points that you will want to see during the process. Introduce them to your board and staff. And off you go!!

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