What Should We Expect
of a Consultant?
Ann C. Fitzgerald, President
So, you want to hire a consultant…
When faced with difficulties in raising money, some nonprofits fall into the trap of thinking: “Once we hire a consultant, our funding problems will be solved.”
The truth is that while consultants can be key partners for nonprofits who are ready to tackle problems such as murky vision, a lackluster board, poor management or weak fundraising skills, they are not a fix-all remedy.
When is it the right time to hire a consultant? And what should we expect of a consultant? Follow these guidelines for creating a successful consultant relationship:
Evaluate your needs and budget. Consultants provide varying services based on their expertise. Do you need a strategic plan? A fundraising audit? An additional pair of hands in the fundraising office? Assistance with a capital campaign? Staff training? Or board development?
Find the right match. Not all consultants do the same work. Be sure to check references to ensure the consultant has the skills you require, as well as accomplishments to back them up.
Put deliverables in writing. Many consultant relationships are soured when the consultant fails to live up to expectations. But sometimes that’s the fault of the nonprofit, which fails to make its expectations clear. Discuss your requirements with the consultant and what you want out of the relationship. Review these expectations every few months to ensure both you and the consultant are on the same page.
Be realistic. Consultants rarely have philanthropists in their back pockets that they can direct to fund your nonprofit’s programs. However, an experienced consultant team can offer other valuable services. For instance, they might: provide focus for your fundraising activities, guide your organization around potential pitfalls, deliver honest messages to management, and build the strength of your fundraising team.
Remain fully engaged. Yes, consultants can reduce some of the burdens of fundraising, but they cannot work alone. The most successful relationships are ones in which the leadership remains engaged and available for conference calls and meetings.
When in doubt, consider the 4 c’s. Look for consultants who are compatible, competent, confidential and who share a belief in your cause.
Finally, remember that the consultant works for you. This may sound obvious, but a good consultant—like any other team member—will benefit from your honest assessment and regular feedback on what is helpful and what is not.
If you are considering hiring a consultant for your nonprofit, contact us for a confidential discussion.
Ann C. Fitzgerald is Founder and President of AC Fitzgerald, using her decades of experience in fundraising, management, leadership, and sales to help nonprofits build their capacity and achieve success. She is a sought-after speaker, writer, and advisor.