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Why hire a consultant

(Unknown source, North American perspective.)

When your organization is faced with problems that won't go away, a consultant may be your answer. In the long run, you can save time and money by funding the right assistance to help you overcome a current obstacle or avoid costly mistakes in the future.

A good consultant, looking at your situation objectively, should be able to identify and implement the solution to the problem more quickly and efficiently than you or your staff. The trick is knowing what types of problems warrant a consultant's services. Here are basic guidelines:

  • When you need an objective point of view. When you are very close to a situation, there is often a tendency to favor a predetermined - rather than creative - solution
  • When the problem or situation is short-term, such as public relations around a special event
  • When the problem requires special expertise, such as knowing how to buy a computer system, manage accounting or address legal issues.
  • When your organization's financial situation is not favorable toward hiring permanent staff with all the consequential financial obligations.
  • When your agency is facing a major crisis, or when it seems to be operating in a crisis-management mode.
  • If your situation fits into any or all of these categories, a consultant's services are probably a worthwhile investment.

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Why hire a consultant?

  • To supplement staff time.
  • To supplement staff expertise.
  • To ensure objectivity.
  • To ensure credibility
  • To obtain a variety of skills.
  • To deal with legal requirements.

1. Define the Problem

Consultants are available in more than 800 specialized categories, offering assistance on everything from absenteeism to Xerox copiers. To identify the type of consultant you need, you must first accurately define your problem.

Managers often mistake symptoms for problems. Such an error could interfere with the consultant's ability to help you, as that person may be misled by statements pointing her/him in the wrong direction. However, looking at the symptoms is a necessary step in your effort to identify the source of the problem.

As you review symptoms, begin an outline of your organization's needs in relation to the present outcomes. For instance, let's say you are consistently over budget on campaigns to raise awareness of your mission. You have identified the symptom, i.e. you are over budget. With the system you are currently using, you find your agency is spending too much on direct mail.

2. Clarify your expectations –

  • What work do you need to have accomplished - Will there be a report, new system in place, a new person hired, etc.?
  • What skills are required - Do you need a facilitator, someone with specific technical skills, a generalist who can achieve agreement?
  • Establish a project committee - They will scope out the work, develop an RFP, identify and screen potential consultants.
  • Establish a time-frame - How much time will you allocate to this project? How quickly does it need it to be performed?
  • Determine who will be responsible for the project - Who will be the lead contact for the consultant, who will make decisions when they are required?
  • Who will do the work?
  • Who will be involved? How many staff members will be allocated to this project, and how will they be supervised?
  • Resources - Where to find information about specific consultants

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The Most Common Tasks That Consultants Undertake In The Nonprofit World:

  • Diagnosis And Assessment - They'll identify your problems with you and state them.
  • Problem Solving - They'll suggest ways of solving your problems.
  • Research And Analysis - They'll investigate the trends, events, obstacles and opportunities affecting your organization's goals.
  • Training - They'll teach your board and staff essential skills.
  • Mediation - They'll help resolve disputes with or within your organization.
  • Facilitation - They'll help set goals for an important meeting, such as an annual retreat or membership meeting, and lead group members through a series of structured steps to meet the goals.
  • Contract Services - They'll hire out to plan and execute high-skill tasks of limited duration.
  • Systems Development - They'll devise reliable methods for conducting daily business or they may concentrate on providing the best available equipment to accomplish important tasks.
  • Executive Search - They'll locate candidates to fill key staff positions.
  • Organizational Process -They'll help identify and resolve problems in communication, personnel conflict, and collaboration that hinder you from attaining your organizational goals.
  • Planning - They'll work with the board to devise and complete a strategy for the organization's future.
  • Fund Development - They'll assist board and staff in developing strategies for fundraising or in carrying out fundraising plans.
  • Board Development - They'll help you identify goals for your board, help you plan to recruit new members and train the board to meet their goals.
  • In practice, consultants rarely take on just one of the tasks outlined here. A good consultant can and often will work on several fronts simultaneously and comfortably.

    (from Succeeding with Consultants: Self-Assessment for the Changing Nonprofit by Barbara Kibbe and Fred Setterberg for The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, published by The Foundation Center.)

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