When nonprofits seek advice from a consultant it would serve them well if they knew something about the personal background of the individual. Has the consultant you want to work with ever acted as an executive director or managed a for profit company? If not, then the person will obviously have a different perspective than one who has performed these tasks. Likewise, it would be nice to know a consultant that has made
a significant planned gift of his or her own estate to nonprofits versus one that just tells you how to go about getting someone to do this.
In any arena but especially in the nonprofit arena a person’s past and present work and volunteer experience speaks volumes. Yet often in the world of nonprofit consultants it is hard to really judge and separate the wheat from the chaff. So many people look good on paper or have a professionally done website. How can you tell who is good?
First, you have to be realistic and understand that no individual will know every aspect of this vast arena. There are far too many facets and nuances for this to be the case. However, like in many professions people’s impressions via word of mouth advertising can help you find individuals that might be worth exploring. It also helps if you can find someone who has written information on the subject you are trying to learn more about. Read his or her work on the subject and see if it makes sense.
I also recommend at least two people interview a prospective consultant and allow each to explain your situation being specific on what you need help on. If the consultant insists on charging you for this initial visit or seems overly preoccupied on how they are going to get paid then you should find another consultant.
Ask to see your consultant’s resume and read what it says on paper but also read between the lines and ask yourself this very important but simple question: Does this person practice what they preach? Do they have all book or head knowledge or heart knowledge or both? If your nonprofit was to hire this individual do you know what you are getting or really want out of this relationship? You need to be clear before you sign a contract.
Being involved with a consultant is a matchmaking process that takes time and a willingness to understand the motivation of each. However, establishing clear goals for this relationship is probably one of the most important aspects and often overlooked points. Consultants are here to help but it is up to you and your board to do the daily work necessary to make your nonprofit a success.
DISCLAIMER: This information is not intended to provide legal or accounting advice, or to address specific situations. Please consult with your legal or tax advisor to supplement and verify what you learn here.