Don’t let consultants run amok. Nonprofits usually have limited budgets and should use consulting services wisely to get the most of it. Remember that consultants are there temporarily to solve a problem or to create a software, create documentation for an audit, or…the possibilities are endless. These people should be managed well even though they are not regular employees and may be there short-term only. Below are some tips to keep things straight:
Identify a specific project for a consultant to work on — Select a particular area for the consultant to work on. The more specific, the better. Have a plan and don’t wait for the consultant to define his or her work. Give the consultant a place to work and all resources for the person to succeed and get the job done. If you have many goals, prioritize it and give the consultant the more important one to work on. When the consultant seems scatter-brained, he/she may be working on too many things at the same time, so clarify the primary goal and help the person focus.
Set up timelines and deliverables — Determine a reasonable schedule and get reports and updates regularly, at least once a week. Double check that the project and goals set for the consultant are being met and worked on. It’s very easy to get side-tracked and to focus on something else. Be sure the consultant is on target and not just following someone else’s ideas or requests, which is easy to do. Consultants want to be accepted and liked, and while they do that, they may be too willing to work on areas that are not that important.
Take advantage of the consultant’s “fresh eyes” — One of the main advantages of a consultant is to give nonprofits the benefit of his/her experience and background. This person is not supposed to agree with you all the time. Expect and consider ideas, processes, and recommendations made by a consultant, especially when he/she is new and hasn’t been “tainted” by group-think or politics. In addition, after a while, it gets easier to accept things that at one point seemed odd or non-functional. If you see this going on, ask about ideas from the person’s past that could be used, and remind the consultant about his/her value as “fresh eyes.”
Value your employees — Last, but not least, listen to your employees. It’s too easy to assume consultants are “all that” and forget that the employees should also be considered. Don’t take the consultant’s side right away if there is a conflict with one of the employees. Remember that employees will be there after the consultant leaves, and they need to show that you have their backs. I have seen executives lose good people because of this problem — just because someone is an outsider, doesn’t mean that he/she is a god. Get some perspective here.
Finally, consider consultants as helpers that can do a lot of good to many nonprofits when utilized properly. Beware of consulting firms that start to hire your employees — the idea may be to make you so dependent on them so that they never leave. Don’t fall for that. I have seen this happening in the IT department of a large nonprofit that slowly kept losing employees to the point that the consulting firm became the IT department and that was not a good thing. Remember — you’re the boss.
Check out the second edition of the book”Nonprofit Finance A Practical Guide”– First Edition nominated for a McAdam Book Award.