Are you looking for a consultant to run a board retreat, facilitate your organization’s strategic plan, turn the staff into a cohesive team, or mediate a merger? There are many individuals or groups standing ready to accept your challenge. However, you could make an expensive mistake if you haven’t done your homework. You must be able to articulate your organization’s needs, concerns, and goals before you pick up the phone.  Otherwise, even the best consultant may wander aimlessly, racking up costs and frustration.

The consultant will want to know the issues, problems, or promises you feel need to be addressed. Since it is better to determine these things off the clock, draw up answers to the following questions.

  • Why do you feel these things need to be addressed?
  • What are the manifestations that indicate a need for intervention?
  • What is the significance and scope of these manifestations?
  • How do they affect the staff, board, volunteers, clients, and/or community?
  • How do you want the organization to be different after the consultant leaves?
  • How will you know when your goal has successfully been achieved?

The consultant will also want to know:

  • The resources you are willing to commit to this project,
  • Any non-negotiable issues with which he or she must work,
  • The degree of authority he or she will be given,
  • Any time constraints,
  • The outcomes you expect him or her to achieve, and
  • The specific tasks for which he or she will be responsible.

Choosing the right consultant is almost like choosing a spouse. Because a consultant works closely with professional and lay leadership, and has the potential to significantly influence your organization, you must feel comfortable about the match. Consider:

  • The experience level the consultant has with these tasks and with nonprofit organizations,
  • The degree to which the consultant listens,
  • The ability of the consultant to help you balance the big picture with day-to-day operations,
  • The level of respect the consultant has for the skills, experience and history of your organization and the people in it,
  • The degree of flexibility he or she demonstrates,
  • Any specialized training the consultant has in the field,
  • The consultant’s reputation,
  • The time and interest the consultant has to devote to your project,
  • The degree to which the consultant’s image and style fit the norms of the organization,
  • The ability of the consultant to get along with all those in the organization with whom she or he will have to interact,
  • The consultant’s specialty (you don’t want to hire a governance specialist to spearhead a promotional campaign), and
  • The consultant has any required credentialing (for instance, most states require fund raising consultants to register with the state and – if soliciting – post a bond).

No consultant has the power to make all your organization’s problems disappear overnight. However, a good one, working closely with people in the organization, can play an important role in furthering the organization’s mission. By spending some think time prior to asking a consultant to submit a proposal, you can ensure that your organization hires a competent, well informed consultant and not just the proverbial suit that carries a briefcase and lives at least 50 miles away.