Whether your organization has a small, dedicated communications team with limited bandwidth or is looking for someone with a particular expertise to help with a short-term project (strategic planning, capital campaigns, crisis counsel and more), consultants can be excellent partners for your nonprofit. But how can you ensure you’ve picked the right partner for your organization? We’ve broken down the top five things to consider when hiring a nonprofit consultant.
1) Do your values align?
As part of a mission-driven organization, your staff is committed to your vision and values, and any good consultant relationship should begin with a demonstrated alignment with your organization. For example, do they conduct business with the same level of nuance and transparency that you expect of your own staff? If you are an organization serving a diverse community, what are the company’s own diversity practices?
When everyone believes in your mission and goals, it motivates them to ensure that the organization flourishes. An environment without this may breed miscommunications and misunderstandings.
2) Is the consultant a good fit for your organization?
Not only will you want a potential consultant to share your values, it is also important that they understand your organization. Do they know your organization’s strengths and weaknesses? Do they understand your competitors and key players in your overall industry?
If they don’t have this working knowledge of your organization, it may be time to move on in your search.
3) Do they have the correct expertise?
Another important point to consider is whether the consultant’s background and expertise line up with your needs. A general guideline is to look for someone who has already worked successfully in your field. Chances are they’ll know the lay of the land and can offer a fresh perspective.
A good way to get background information is to request case studies and testimonials. Is the consultant working with organizations similar to yours, and is the work they’re doing similar to the projects you want them to do for you? Don’t be afraid to ask for references – it’s one thing for the consultant to say they do what they do well, but it doesn’t hurt to take the extra step to have a conversation to see if others are saying the same thing. If others in your field are happy with the work that the consultant has done, chances are they’ll do great work for you as well.
4) Do they have the correct local context for your organization and/or project?
The environment around each organization can vary drastically, with different social, environmental and cultural context. Do you serve a specific population, or a specific neighborhood? A successful consultant will have researched the context surrounding your organization and provide a customized plan that demonstrates this understanding.
5) Are there clear expectations for your work together?
In a true partnership, it is vital to clearly articulate your expectations. This may include defining frequency of meetings and check-ins, a clear timeline for completion, and how you’ll evaluate the success of the program. If both parties do not have a clear understanding of what is expected of them, it can cause problems further down the line.
A good consultant will work with you to determine expectations up front and ensure that you understand each other’s goals. The more communication, the better.