Strategic Planning Part 9: The Role and Cost of a Strategic Planning Consultant : Successful Nonprofits

Strategic Planning Part 9: The Role and Cost of a Strategic Planning Consultant

by goldenburggroup

Strategic Planning Part 9: The Role and Cost of a Strategic Planning Consultant

by goldenburggroup

by goldenburggroup
As a strategic planning consultant, there are two questions that nonprofit executives and board members ask me all the time:

  • What do you charge for strategic planning?
  • What is your role as a strategic planning consultant?


The person typically asks about money first and role second, but I always answer the question about the consultant’s role first. I choose to answer the question about cost second because the role your consultant plays in strategic planning will ultimately determine how much they charge for a quality product.

                                              What is your role as a strategic planning consultant?

Let’s explore the three main models of strategic planning consulting:

  • Consultant as facilitator
  • Consultant as planner
  • Consultant as both facilitator and planner (hybrid)
Consultant as Facilitator:
The consultant merely facilitates the strategic planning process and a core group does the work. So the facilitator provides a general structure, templates and tools, and project management. The work group is fully responsible for the environmental scan and drafting the final product. This is often the least expensive form of strategic planning consulting because the heavy lifting is done by the work group.

Consultant as Planner:
In this model, the consultant is the primary planner. For this reason, the consultant conducts the environmental scan, prepares for the board retreat, and writes the plan following the board retreat.

In the participatory strategic planning process described in this blog post series, your volunteer work group invests a couple hundred hours in the strategic planning process. Consequently, delegating all this work to a consultant also makes this the most expensive strategic planning option.

While I could make more money doing all of the planning work myself, I don’t ever use this model because it isn’t good for the organization. I believe the Consultant as Planner model does not engage the organization’s leadership sufficiently for them to have ownership of the plan’s success, and it certainly doesn’t not strengthen the organization’s capacity.

Consultant as Facilitator and Planner:
This is the most common type of strategic planning consulting, and it allows the organization to rise to its planning abilities while knowing that a consultant will do the work that the organization  cannot.

Many different options exist for assigning work between the consultant and the organization within this hybrid model. For this reason, I typically offer three different work-share options to a prospective client, with a corresponding cost. This allows the organization to determine the work they have the capacity to complete, while leaving the rest of the work for me as the consultant.

                     How much will my nonprofit organization pay for a strategic planning consultant?

This is without a doubt the most common question I get, and my answer is always “it depends”.

A prospective client recently asked me for a strategic planning proposal that ranged in cost from $13,350 to $21,500. The cost would normally be $15,000 – $25,000, but I knew that this engagement would be made easier because they have a high performing board and staff.

You can review each option below to better understand the work included in each:


Option 1: $13,350*

  • Create timeline and framework for planning
  • Facilitate work group meetings before and after the retreat
  • Provide BaseCamp or similar platform
  • Provide project management, including reminders about deadlines
  • Provide templates for all necessary tools for strategic planning (and modify the templates with group feedback)
  • Provide advice and research on sector- accepted best practices
  • Provide advice and research on sector-accepted best practices
  • Facilitate work group as it conducts environmental scan and analyzes results
  • Analyze metrics of board performance
  • Provide template for environmental scan presentation to the board
  • Facilitate board retreat
  • Provide template for final strategic plan document
  • Provide feedback on final document to the board
  • Written report summarizing engagement deliverables, with suggestions for additional opportunities to strengthen the organization

Option 2: $17,500*

  • Includes everything listed in Option I
  • Interview board members as part of the environmental scan and board analysis (instead of the work group)
  • Draft the initial report on environmental scan, recommendations, and priorities in preparation for the Board retreat (instead of the work group)
  • Draft a revenue plan to support strategic plan implementation (instead of the work group)

Option 3: 21,500*

  • Includes everything listed in Options I and II
  • Draft strategic plan, including goals, action plan, timelines, and resources for work group review and feedback (instead of the work group)
  • Facilitate strategic plan “deep dive” with board prior to approval
  • Option III requires the least amount of time and effort from work group members

*Plus travel expenses if the organization is not within a one-hour drive of downtown Atlanta

The prospective client came back genuinely agonizing over the cost; they knew that they wanted the deluxe package but had also received three other quotes at $5,000, $6,000 and $15,000.

A quick word about the consultants who offer to “do a strategic plan” for $5,000. Ideally, you want a consultant with the skills and abilities to earn a six-figure income as a nonprofit executive. And a consultant with the ability to earn that kind of money as an employee with benefits would be very unlikely to charge just $5,000 for strategic planning. The one exception is someone a consultant was an accomplished nonprofit executive and is discounting work during their first year as a consultant to build a client list and reputation.

In general, however, strategic planning is much like hiring a contractor to renovate your bathroom.  First you decide how much of the work you can do yourself. Maybe you want the contractor to do everything, or maybe you’ll save money by pulling the permit yourself, doing the demo, and taking care of the finishing touches like painting and installing towel racks.

Then you look at the skill of the contractor (while also considering the cost).  You wouldn’t hire the contractor who offers to renovate your bathroom for $2,500 because you know they won’t do a good job.

While my price points range between $13,000 to about $25,000 for planning projects, most organizations should anticipate paying least $10,000 – and no more than $35,000 for the services of a qualified strategic planning consultant. Again – it all depends on how much work you are willing to do as an organization.

So those are the answers to the two most commonly asked questions: How much will this cost? and What is your role as a consultant.

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