Seeking Expertise

By Dan Woychick

During a recent conversation, a friend asked me “How do you get all your clients?” It got me thinking about the flip side of that equation: How do non-profit organizations search for and hire consultants or firms? More importantly, what can be done to ensure that they hire the right consultant?

While each organization has unique circumstances, based on our experience, taking the following approach offers the best chance for a successful collaboration.

Have a well-defined problem.
This has greater impact on the work than anything else. If the problem to be solved is unclear, the work will be too. Allowing time and budget for an experienced consultant to help refine the project brief leads to even greater clarity – and great work.

Be candid with prospective firms.
If an RFP must be issued, by all means include a budget. Providing complete responses to questions before proposals are submitted shows respect for others’ expertise and time, and indicates an interest in establishing a mutually beneficial relationship.

Hire the best expert you can afford.
Relevant experience and expertise matters. A consultant or firm is hired to solve a problem or seize an opportunity that the organization does not have the capability to address internally. What’s that worth? It depends how much a successful outcome will mean to the organization.

Define success.
Use objective, specific language to help both the consultant and internal team understand by what measure this project will be considered successful. All measures should be defined to allow acknowledgment of progress along the way to the ultimate goal.

Follow the leader.
Every project needs a champion with the authority to make decisions and the public, explicit backing of the organization’s leader. If you’ve watched much football, inevitably you’ve seen a close play at the goal line in which two officials run toward the ball carrier looking at each other without signaling a call. Your consultant needs to know who has the final say, and that person needs to be decisive.

When good intentions aren’t enough to address an organization’s toughest problems, it may be time to bring in someone to help. By following the steps above, the chance for a successful outcome will rise dramatically.

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