Foundation and nonprofit staff are spread thin enough. And sometimes expecting hardworking staff to strategize and carry through an entirely new project, on top of handling their ongoing responsibilities, is asking too much.
Consultants can take some of the burden off of staff while providing a new perspective and expertise. They may also increase your organization’s credibility. Here are the five reasons most foundations and nonprofits enlist the help of outside consultants.
Staff temporarily busy, or not enough staff? A consultant can fill in for a staff member on leave or serve as a “staff extender” to an existing team. For example, one of my family foundation clients was growing quickly. The CEO planned to hire more program officers – after she developed new grantmaking programs. Meanwhile she retained me to review proposals, conduct site visits, and research new grantmaking strategies. She added staff capacity without making any long-term commitments.
Rarely can we have all the skills we need on staff at any given time. Consultants can fill in the gaps with expert knowledge or with specialized skills in research, evaluation, facilitation, strategic planning, marketing, and more. You can hire a consultant with preexisting knowledge, or one without content expertise who brings a fresh perspective.
The best solution is not always the most obvious one. For example, if you want to get at the underlying reasons teens don’t succeed in school, an outside consultant can provide much-needed objectivity. A consultant can be a “neutral voice,” conducting objective research, assessing opportunities, and developing new solutions.
Nonprofits often feel they can’t disclose their real challenges – they’re worried that they’ll lose your funding. An outside consultant, however, can inspire a sense of confidentiality, then explain the issues and concerns to you without sharing exactly who raised them. Nonprofits, grantees, and stakeholders often feel more comfortable telling a consultant what’s really happening and what’s really needed.
A consultant can increase a project’s credibility in the eyes of the target audience. For example, an organization seeking to replicate a program across multiple states might hire a nationally known evaluation firm to inspire confidence among national funders. For a grassroots effort, you might hire a community-based consulting firm with experience in your target region.
No matter what your goal, hiring a consultant may be the right next step. For more information, click here to learn more about working effectively with consultants.
Posted by Kris Putnam-Walkerly © Kris Putnam-Walkerly and Philanthropy411, 2014.