- someone who takes the watch off your wrist and tells you the time.
- someone who is called in at the last moment and paid enormous amounts of money to assign the blame.
--From Consultant Jokes at www.workjoke.com
I got a quick laugh out of the jokes above and several others on this site. At the same time, I’d argue that consultants- particularly some in the nonprofit arena have an undeserved bad wrap. In fact, my experiences, particularly with pro bono consulting, have been incredibly productive and positive...
For example, I recently engaged a pro bono consultant to assist us with the development of best practices for social media. We wanted to find ways to take more engaging photos and utilize them more effectively. Further, we wanted to understand how more established nonprofits positioned themselves with their various audiences. We were fortunate to find a terrific consultant through the Taproot Foundation (www.taprootplus.org). She was thoroughly professional, did an excellent survey for us and was even willing to provide training for our volunteers, board and staff.
I’ve personally taken on volunteer consulting engagements through sites like Taproot as well as Catchafire (www.catchafire.org). Connecting with nonprofits through these sites has introduced me to groundbreaking work being done by small and growing nonprofits. I’ve taken on projects including developing fundraising plans, launching virtual peer-to-peer events and most recently, helping with the restructure of a board. The work has given me an opportunity to grow professionally, volunteer for excellent nonprofits all while helping some great organizations.
The bottom line is that consulting, and as I mentioned this goes double for pro bono work, is an absolute win-win when when done with a clear purpose and plan, offering tremendous benefits to the client and the consultant. Whether for fee or free, the following elements can make for successful consulting engagements:
A clear problem to be solved: Too often clients (none of you of course!) haven’t taken the time to narrow down your challenge. A few examples I’ve heard: Our fundraising is terrible. Our board is dysfunctional. Our programs don’t work. Better problem statements sound more like: We need to identify the best options to create a major gift program. Our board committees don’t function effectively.
An identifiable approach to solving the problem: Be wary of a consultant that can’t share several options for analysing the the issue and developing a solution (or two). A good example: The consultant I recently worked with offered to study the social media of several larger nonprofits and identify best practices that we could follow. She then created a presentation giving clear examples of what we were doing that was working, what wasn’t and how we could correct for it.
SMART Goals baked into the engagement: Chances are if the first two are present, you’re working towards a successful consulting engagement: (S)pecific problems with (M) measurable impacts that can be solved with (A)ctionable solutions matching the challenge (Relevant) with an appropriate (T)ime frame is the way to go.
While the above may seem like absolute no-brainers, my hunch is that too often these three simple ideas aren’t part of consultant agreements. While there are certainly more complex layers to the consulting world, these are a great place to start.