In the last blog post, I outlined the reasons why the best consultants don’t respond to public requests for proposals (RFP).
Likewise, we discussed why an RFP will not help you find the best consultant. If you haven’t already, you may want to read the full blog post here.
So how do you find a great consultant for your next strategic planning or board development initiative? I’ve outlined a six-step process that will help you hire an expert consultant while saving you time and heartache:
Step 1: Achieve clarity on your project.
You can achieve clarity on your project by answering the following questions: What are your project goals? How do you want the organization to be different at the end of the project? What is your budget? What other resources can you devote to the project? What are the skills, abilities and personality you believe are essential for a consultant to succeed with the project? Check out this blog post
Step 2: Think about your own networks.
Do you know a consultant whose work you respect? Have you met a dynamic consultant at a nonprofit conference (possibly even as a conference speaker)? Add them to the list of individuals you want to at least have a phone conversation with.
Step 3: Ask for referrals.
Ask colleagues for referrals of nonprofit consultants they have used for similar projects. As an example, you might want to develop a strategic plan that can lead to explosive growth. So ask colleagues who run organizations that have enjoyed significant growth. Find out who facilitated their last strategic planning process and ask if the plan served as a catalyst for the rapid expansion. Also, be certain to ask your colleagues what they liked about the consultant. And just as important, ask if there is anything they wish the consultant had done differently.
Step 4: Research recommended consultants on the internet.
Someone who is engaged as a full-time consultant should have a very prominent web presence. Read information at their website, check out their blog and review their social media posts. This will undoubtedly help you weed out some prospective consultants.
Step 5: Have a five-minute phone conversation with the consultants still on your list.
This simple call will help you gauge if they may be a good fit based on expertise, availability and cost. Make it clear that you only need five minutes and time the call to ensure that you stay within that time frame. This ensures that you can make a dozen calls in 90 minutes and keeps you from getting trapped in a long conversation with one consultant.
Once you’ve set boundaries about your time limits, describe the project and ask if it is the type of work they succeed at. Then inquire about their availability to start the project. Remember that the best consultants are often unavailable for a few months. Share your budget range with the consultant and ask if they can complete the project within that budget. This will save both you and the consultant time if the budget range is not in alignment with the consultant’s usual fees.
At the end of the call, give the consultant an honest assessment if you feel they might be a good fit. You can save yourself the time of meeting in person and reviewing a full proposal by telling a prospective consultant, “Looks like you’ve got some great experience, but I don’t think this is a good fit for us.” Schedule a 60-minute conversation to learn more about the consultant and their work if you think they might be a good fit.
Step 6: Meet with the top consultant candidates.
Select three to five consultants to meet with face-to-face based on your referrals, research and initial conversations. Invite key decision makers to this meeting and thoroughly discuss the project. Make sure you understand the consultant’s process and approach to the engagement. And don’t be afraid to discuss money. This is also a great time to ask the prospective consultant some hard questions. This post offers a list of questions to get you started.
After completing your exploratory meetings, discuss each of the consultants with the decision makers who participated in the meetings. If you are not constrained by bidding requirements, select the top candidate and ask for a proposal. If you are required to get three bids because of your nonprofit’s procurement policy or funder rules, then ask the top three candidates to submit a bid.
These are the six simple steps to hire the perfect consultant for your next project. If I had understood this as a permanent executive director, I would have saved a significant amount of time and heartache.
Additionally, check out the following Successful Nonprofits® resources if this post was helpful:
Blog: Strategic Planning Part 9: The Role and Cost of a Strategic Planning Consultant