To get a consulting relationship started on the right foot, you need to take the time to carefully define your project. For example, perhaps you want to focus on fundraising, but for what reason? Is your current fundraising system broken, or do you need advice on how to efficiently expand it? If it is broken, do you know what the causes are? Or are you hoping a consultant will help you identify the causes?
It’s not uncommon, when defining a project, to mistake the symptoms for the problem. This kind of misidentification can send your consultant down the wrong path, resulting in an unnecessary waste of his or her time and your money. Taking the time to really think about your problem can make a huge difference. For example, “We need a new executive director” is one problem. “We need a new executive director within ninety days, while at the same time resolving the communication and conflict problems on our board that led to the departure of the last three directors, and we need both of these things done for less than $10,000” is another problem entirely. These two very different projects would require different sets of skills.
Another important consideration is to determine whether you can legally hire a consultant for the project. For example, in many states it is illegal for a consultant to fundraise or collect funds for you unless they are a licensed solicitor. It would not be a problem, however, for them to train your staff or help implement policies which could increase your fundraising capability. It may also be worthwhile, once you’ve fully defined your project, to once again ask yourself if hiring a consultant is really the right choice. Could this work actually be carried out in-house? Will hiring a consultant for this project be a valuable investment?