Nonprofit consultants can provide valuable insight for their clients, such as assisting with a new marketing campaign, working to improve stewardship efforts, or helping an organization get ready for a capital campaign. There is a wide range of nonprofit consultants, and while many of them focus on the same aspect of nonprofit management, they will likely differ in their services, process, and specialties.
For example, technical nonprofit consulting firms may offer website design, CRM implementation, custom app development, and other services. The exact details of these services will also depend on the size of the consulting firm, how hands-on their process is, and what types of nonprofits they primarily work with.
To ensure you partner with a technical consultant whose services and approach align with your nonprofit’s needs, this guide will review four things to be aware of before working with a consultant.
1. Have an established goal ready.
While a technical consultant can help flesh out the details of your project and provide advice for its direction, your nonprofit should ultimately come to consultants with an established goal already in mind. Having a solid goal allows you to create a request for proposal (RFP) that consultants can then respond to with how they would approach your project.
The more specific you can be about your goal in your RFP, the more detailed the consultants’ response will be. For example, you might approach a technical consultant with the goal of fleshing out your digital strategy to diversify revenue. This is a broad goal and could be improved by referencing what types of revenue streams you’re considering, what your current digital strategy is, and what role you want your consultant to play in creating a new strategy.
Having a clear goal will also help you get consultants up to speed quicker with the direction of your project. Meet with your team to get a sense of who will be involved in your project, the overall scope of your project, what parts of your project a consultant will explicitly need to work on, and what this project will overall accomplish for your nonprofit. In some cases, you may discover other areas of improvement that a consultant can assist with, such as a website update or data hygiene services.
2. Know your budget.
Consulting services are an investment, and before approaching a consultant, you should have a strong understanding of what fees are typical for projects similar to yours and what price range you are willing to spend.
Assess your internal resources and create a budget estimate by taking these factors into account:
- The scope of your project. What is the scale of your project and what aspects of it will you need your consultant to assist with? For example, a website design project wouldn’t just include the time the consultant spends implementing your new design but also the prior meetings to discuss what your design goals are, present prototypes, implement feedback, and offer ongoing support afterwards in case your team encounters technical issues.
- Consultant fee structures. What, specifically, is each potential consultant charging for? When researching consultants, take note of their fee model. Some consultants will have a flat rate depending on the scope of the project, whereas others might have a fee structure based on hours spent working with your nonprofit. Consultants may also offer different packages, such as providing additional training services at a reduced cost.
- Whether you’ll need ongoing support. Do you need help with a one-time project or are you looking for a partner you can continually go to for support? Some consultants have services specifically dedicated to providing long-term assistance, such as regular assistance managing your database, implementing new software updates, and providing technical support.
To set your expectations for consultants’ fees and price models, use resources like Re:charity’s nonprofit consulting firms referrals to compile an initial list of potential consultants. From there, take note of each consultants’ fees and specificities to find a partner whose skills and costs meet your needs.
3. Be aware of consultants’ specialties.
Different nonprofit technical consultants specialize in different aspects of nonprofit technology. Consultants often have a variety of services to account for more of their clients’ needs, but they usually focus on and can provide better assistance for a select few offerings. For example, a technical consultant that specializes in website development may also offer data hygiene and migration services, but not to the same scale as a consultant with a focus in data management.
Reach out to consultants to discuss their offerings and past work. You can learn more about their specialities by asking questions such as:
- What services do they usually provide? While a consultant may have a large list of provided services on their website, they may usually provide a smaller number for the majority of their clients.
- What platforms are they familiar with? There are many nonprofit platforms and software solutions available, and a technical consultant who is knowledgeable about your current software will be able to provide insightful and specific advice. Have a list ready of your technology, including your CMS, CRM, and other third-party tools, when reaching out to potential consultants so you can ask about their familiarity with each platform.
- What types of organizations do they usually work with? Consultants adjust their approach based on the size of the nonprofit they’re working with. If your nonprofit is significantly bigger or smaller than their usual client, their process may not fit your needs. For example, a consultant used to working with large clients may default to planning proposals with higher budgets and longer-timelines, which would work for an enterprise-sized organization with many implementation needs but would be entirely unnecessary for a small nonprofit.
Keep in mind that finding a consultant with a process that aligns with your nonprofit’s needs is just as important as finding one with the relevant skill set. When speaking with potential consultants about their specialties, ask about their usual process, how hands-on it is, how they communicate with clients, and any other questions that are relevant to your unique situation.
4. Research references and check portfolios.
You can get a good sense of what the end-result of working with a consultant will be by looking at projects they’ve completed for past clients. Check out portfolios and case studies on potential consultants’ websites to see what the consultant feels is a strong example of their work, and ask consultants about past clients you can reach out to as a reference.
DNL OmniMedia’s guide to Salesforce nonprofit consultants highlights that this step is especially important for long-term projects, and you should aim to reach out to past clients whose projects were as similar to yours as possible. For a platform like Salesforce that has a wide array of applications and development options, finding similar references can be instrumental for ensuring you partner with the right consultant.
Ask references not just what it was like working with the consultant, but if they’re still satisfied with the results today. Additionally, try to get a sense of what past clients’ initial expectations were and if those expectations were met. This can help you set your own standards for when beginning a project with that consultant.
Nonprofit technical consultants can help you customize your software, advance your digital strategy, troubleshoot ongoing technical issues, and provide a variety of other services. Finding the right consultant for your nonprofit is an investment of time and resources but will result in invaluable insight and a long-term partner dedicated to your technical success.