So, you’ve taken the leap. You’ve figured out your weak areas, you’ve gotten board and funding approval, and you’ve hired a consultant to help you run your organization more efficiently. Congratulations on your first big step towards a nonprofit that runs like a well-oiled machine! In theory, at least…
Let’s get real about how this relationship can go off the rails, because it can happen fast!
Some things that must happen in order for this client/consultant relationship to move forward efficiently and effectively are clearly defined goals, a solid lines of communication, transparency, and, let’s face it, a commitment to honesty. Here are some of the stumbling blocks in these areas, and how to avoid them.
Once a consultant has assessed the situation, they will develop a plan to move you and your organization forward. Whether it is a new development plan, a new communication plan, an overhaul of the organization's image, or even all of these, the consultant will present their ideas to you based on the scope of what you need, and probably offer a few suggestions that you hadn’t thought of. It’s what we do!
However, if you feel something is either too little or too much, speak up! If you have doubts about the time commitment, speak up! If anything is making you feel that the plan is not exactly what you are looking for, speak up! A good consultant will listen, and either adjust things accordingly or, if they are certain something will lead to success, be able to explain the how and why of their plan. Once the hours of research, planning, and timeline mapping have been put in, and everyone thinks they’re ready to head down a well-laid path to achievement, it is a huge waste of time and resources to start over or never begin down the path of implementing the plan at all.
After putting in all the work of finding the right consultant to help you, why not make sure they know who to speak with to help you reach your goals? It may seem like a no-brainer, but it is shocking how many times it feels like the consultant is getting the runaround simply because they are speaking with the wrong people within the organization. This leads to wasted time, but luckily, there is a very simple solution: a concise, short contact list.
If there needs to be multiple people involved throughout the entire process, choose someone as the lead organizational contact. This will not only save the consultant valuable time, it will for you as well! Knowing who the point person is, especially on a multi-faceted implementation, will make less of a headache for everyone involved. (Pro Tip: At KFA, we identify, and limit, points of contact directly in our contracts.)
Knowing who to contact isn’t entirely helpful if the contact isn’t responsive to communication. Read your emails, reply to them, and please, return phone calls! If you must, set a schedule for doing so, one that you can stick to no matter what. The action plan that will be given to you is set according to what the consultant knows to work best - that’s why you hired them! If they are waiting for a response, and a deadline is missed in spite of their best efforts, it can throw a kink in the whole operation. Last minute issues may arise, and can be dealt with as they happen, but if something is planned weeks or months in advance, it should be a priority to follow through and make sure it happens.
And now the BIG one - Honesty:
As professionals, we expect others to follow through and deliver on their commitments. Sometimes life happens and things don’t work out as planned. But when that is the case, own it.
Working with a consultant is a relationship. And just like any relationship in life, nothing can ruin it faster than dishonesty.
When a consultant sticks with you into the implementation of a plan they have carefully crafted to help you reach your goals, they are invested in both the plan and your success. You may feel that you have placed a great deal of trust in them by investing your organization’s hard-earned resources in paying for their services (you have!). But, know that your consultant has invested their time and effort in you too, and wants to walk with you to success.
It is a kick in the teeth to find out a couple of weeks before a deadline that the work supposedly covered over the months leading up to it has not been done. All the consultant has to go on is what they are told is being handled. They can check in daily, they can cover what they are supposed to, they can offer to help in certain areas, but what they cannot do is know when someone is lying about what they are doing. And this one is the trickiest one - how does one ensure honesty?
Unfortunately, this is an area that has no easy answer. But we would offer this advice: if you are the ED, or the Board President, or in any position as the lead organizational contact, stay on top of things. No one needs to be singled out, but requiring proof of tasks being completed isn’t out of the ordinary. In any other work environment, this is how one is paid. In the nonprofit sector, even though people may be volunteering their valuable time, it should not be considered taboo to make sure everyone knows that they need to be able to show their progress...especially if they volunteered for duties that can make or break the plan you hired the consultant to put in place! If you find that this is the case, and things are not being handled, it is imperative to (diplomatically) find someone else to take over that area. The consultant may even be willing to change the scope of work to include some help for this. But they can’t offer help they don’t know is needed. (Pro Tip: At KFA, we use a project management system to manage tasks and deadlines, not just internally, but on a client-facing portal, to create the transparency and accountability necessary for us to have great relationships with our clients.)
Choosing to work with a consultant can be intimidating, we know. We feel the same butterflies when we agree to work with a new client. But just like any relationship, it can lead to great things. We know that too; it’s what keeps us coming back, taking these risks over and over again. We’ve learned some hard lessons over the years (think we stumbled upon those Pro Tips by accident?). But, we’ve had the pleasure of helping a lot of organizations do a lot More Good. Check out our full range of consulting services. Maybe we should take a chance on each other.