What should you do when hiring a non-profit consultant?

write it down2When a non-profit organization wants to secure my assistance as a consultant, it always seems to happen like this:

  • Someone calls or emails me.
  • We sit down (or at the very least talk via phone)
  • They tell me a sad story.
  • They ask for my assistance.
  • I share with them a variety of different services I can provide. I try to engage them in a discussion to narrow the scope of work so I can write a proposal and ultimately a contract.
  • They don’t really do a very good job of narrowing that scope of work because they want everything (and oh yeah . . . there is typically little to no money available to pay for anything).
  • I go back to my office and take a stab at writing a draft proposal for their consideration.
  • They review the proposal and want to make changes to the scope of work.
  • The proposal bounces back and forth a number of times until the client is happy.
  • A contract is produced and signed by both parties.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Many of you have already diagnosed your own problem, and you know what you need from the consultant to help you fix what ails your agency. If this is the case, then I suggest you take a little time to write a request for proposals (RFP).

write it downOK . . . so you don’t have the time to  write a RFP? I get it. I’ve been in your shoes. How about sitting down for 30 minutes and doing this:

  • Write down in a few paragraphs what you see the issue being.
  • Write down what the situation looks like after it has been fixed.
  • Jot down a few bullet points that speak to your thoughts on possible deliverables (e.g. things you want to see produced by the consultant).

Doing these three simple things before sitting down with a consultant will save both you and the consultant time in the beginning.

Here are a few additional blogs and online resources I found online, which I think give some good advice on this subject:

Have you ever hired a consultant? If so, what would you have done differently in the beginning? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC


  1. Eric, it is always a pleasure and a value to read your thoughts and ideas. I would like to say that I think you are spot on with your focus of this post. In my capacity at my organization, even though it is pretty narrowly focused (in theory), my consulting role often gets lost in a miriad of other issues, activites and lack of focus.

    It would seem that this is a bigger issue for many organziations- both profit and not for profit- in that the operation is operating in a state of “activity” (oft times chaotic activity) and not necessarily planned, directed or purposeful. If organziations would take your idea and invest the effort to sit down and write and “RFP” that has a high likelyhood of helping focus and dirve positive outcomes.

    1. Hello Kelley! Long time, no see. I hope all is well. I couldn’t agree with you more. Even though I’m discovering that there are a number of important differences between internal and external consulting, the reality is that the contract phase (which is where any engagement gets framed and staged) is critical for ANY consultant. Even when an organization takes the time to write and RFP, you still need to ask lots of questions and do your due diligence. Or else . . . you could walk through the door on day one and find lots of road blocks, resistance, and other things that make the job you contracted to do very difficult if not impossible.

      Great hearing from you, Kelley. Don’t be a stranger. I always love it when you share comments because you are wicked smart! 🙂

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