By following these suggestions for managing the consultant, you can gain maximum value from your consulting investment.
Orient the consultant
Before the consultant starts working, give this individual as much information about your nonprofit as possible. Start with an oral orientation about the organization’s mission. Introduce the consultant to any staff members he or she will be working with, and give a tour of your facilities, including any off-site locations which may be relevant. Help the person understand the services you offer, what your market is, and who your key stakeholders are. Much of this can be communicated through materials you already have, such as strategic plans, budgets, policies, annual reports, or promotional literature. Even if the consultant will be working primarily off-site, have the person spend some time in the office to get an idea of how you organization operates. The more a consultant understands about your organization, the more the individual can customize the work to truly meet your needs.
Check in regularly
Even if the consultant is working with a number of staff members, the lead contact is still responsible for being the official liaison, monitoring progress, and ensuring that the project is on track. Holding regular meetings is a great way to keep on top of potential issues before they become real problems. Be sure to be an active participant, rather than “switching off” during meetings and simply assuming that the consultant knows what he or she is doing. Even a good consultant can fall into trouble spots without realizing it. It’s the job of the lead contact and the management team to keep the consultant on track.
The lead contact should also make sure that other involved staff members are not procrastinating. If a consultant is waiting for a decision or more information before moving forward, you could be wasting the person’s time, and therefore, your money. The lead contact should check in regularly to make sure the consultant is on target and that staff members are holding up their end of the deal.
Pay attention to warning signals
In the often-busy nonprofit world, you may not be motivated to deal with consultant issues that seem small, such as late interim reports or the consultant appearing distracted at meetings. However, these issues can signal the start of larger problems which could threaten the success of your project. It’s important to trust your intuition when there are consultant actions or inactions that make you uneasy. Potential signs that something is going wrong include:
- Projects falling behind deadline
- Staff or board members not wanting to work with the consultant
- Confidentiality being breached
- Poor quality of work
- Consultant avoiding contact or not wanting to work with you
If you have a hunch that something is amiss with your consultant, communicate with this person promptly and directly. You may discover that everything is fine, or you may catch a problem and resolve it before it becomes serious.
Evaluate at several points in the process
Evaluation should happen at the end of the project, as well as at regular periods through its duration. By evaluating as you go, you can keep the project on track and recognize shortfalls in the consultant’s work or in your organization’s contributions. However, remember that it can be easy to get “false positives” when it comes to evaluating consulting work. A firm or consultant will obviously be eager to declare that a job has been well done. Also, the lead contact or manager often has a stake in the situation; staff members will look good if the project is successful. Therefore, they may be inclined to declare a positive result prematurely. Lead contacts and managers should be aware of this potential conflict of interest on both sides and make sure that the evaluation process involves an honest look at the work.