How To Be a Genius At Hiring NonProfit Consultants

BTP Adventures in Freelancing 1106Right now, many nonprofits throughout Chicago are entering their heaviest fundraising period....and that may mean hiring nonprofit consultants or freelancers to assist or take on short term tasks. (Social enterprises and social ventures are also constantly seeking marketing and consulting assistance). As a communications consultant, I find myself competing for work for a variety of causes and agencies....and one of the biggest "moments of genius" that I have had is simply this: sometimes, nonprofits don't know what to look for in a consultant. So today's post is focusing on precisely that issue: how to think and plan for hiring nonprofit consultants.

(There's also a great chapter on thinking about hiring consultants in The Mission Myth: Building Nonprofit Momentum Through Better Business. I've written about the book previously, and it's a great resource for a variety of nonprofit administrative functions. It's also a very good, easy read.)

And so, without further adieu, here are some things to consider:

  • Spend Your Time Defining The Consultant's Scope of Work - Many consultants are often told that there are two main issues: "fundraising" and "marketing". Usually, those are catch-alls for very specific problems, such as "we need help with this extensive grant" or "we need assistance in developing a new web site." Listing out a consultant's task list - and determining what issues require external help - can be critical in developing an request for proposal (RFP). It is also important to consider budget, for reasons that will soon become apparent.
  • The Consultant's Main Gifts Are Time and Expertise - When you're hiring a consultant, please consider that this is not an intern or a volunteer - the consultant is a paid professional with a very specific skill set. Consultants bring a well-rounded focus to their work, but we are focused on one thing - the work. And on that note...
  • Do Your Due Diligence and Check Out Your Consultant - Doing a quick search on their Linked In profile can bring you insight into how they're presenting themselves. Let me use my profile as an example. And for the consultants who are reading - you can check out agencies via Guidestar and a variety of other sites as well. Both sides want to be sure that there's a good match. And once there is a match....
  • Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate - Most consultants work on either a project basis or an hourly rate depending on the time required to complete. Many nonprofits lack resources, but there may be other resources that can be shared. Don't allow sticker shock to throw you...but also keep in mind that consultants trade on their time and effort.
  • Get It In Writing - Contracts are not bad things, and having a written contract with a well thought-out scope of work that outlines every aspect of the business relationship (and yes, nonprofits, this is a "business" relaitonship) benefits both parties. For a better explanation, check out this video (with NSFW language) about contracts - it focuses on design, but many of the prinicples work in nonprofits as well.
  • Establish a Communications/Check-In Plan - Whether your consultant is working remote or working in town, you need to have regular check-ins to determine progress. For remote clients, it may mean conference calls or free services like Skype to keep in touch. (Although e-mail is adequate, having regular "face time" is also important to maintain the relationship, and to also make sure you're on task and on target)
  • Stick to the Contract - With many nonprofits lacking resources, it may be tempting to "add on" to the consultant's list. Be sure you talk with the consultant to insure that it falls within scope, and amend the contract if it does. (Some consultants may decline pro bono work, but only because their time is valuable, and adding on tasks may not be in their best interests)
  • Make Sure You End on the Right Foot - If the consultant completes their work well, be sure that they leave on good terms. If, for some reason, the consultant doesn't work out, you are still responsible for making sure the ending is handled in a professional, responsible manner.

Let's face it - hiring consultants is probably not one of the "hotter" topics in nonprofit administration. But hiring a nonprofit consultant can be critical in growing a smaller agency, or helping a larger nonprofit maintain its presence. Hopefully, today's post has helped clarify issues and has provided some insight into the process.

What do you think - have we missed anything? Any other guidelines you can suggest? You're more than welcome to leave comments below. You can also get updates via our Facebook page, and you can contact me directly via the About page.

And as always, thanks for reading!

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