Do We Really Need to Hire a Consultant?

In Board Development, Evaluations, Strategic Planning by Geoff Burns

It is a question that organizations often need to ask themselves. But how do you go about determining the need for a consultant for various aspects of your organization? The task can be quite daunting, and the cost can be prohibitive for many. Here are some things to consider before you decide to hire a consultant.

First, what are you trying to accomplish? Is the task at hand so difficult that no committee or board member could effectively lead the organization to a consensus? Presumably, your organization has competent people who have knowledge, wisdom, and experience, otherwise they would not be in a leadership role within your organization. It is quite possible for highly functioning boards to handle many of the tasks that consultants can assist with. However, if the task at hand is too important to attempt without help, you may want to consider a consultant.

Has anyone on the board or committee ever been through this proceeds before? In many cases, there are board members or committee members who have been through this before and could provide insight and leadership to complete the task at hand. Even if no one from your organization has been in the situation you find yourself in, high functioning organizations can work their way through the process just by being resourceful. Sometimes, organizational leadership decides that even though they have experience with the task at hand, a professional impartial opinion may be best. In this case, a consultant should be considered.

There are many other questions that you should ask before considering the assistance of a consultant. If you have determined that you are going to hire a consultant, there are some things you should consider before hiring. To start, know what you want out of the consultant. Do your homework and keep focused when considering your options. Additionally, make sure your board or committee is in agreement. Don’t let one or a few people demand a consultant if the majority don’t approve. If you are looking for an outside source to lend credibility to a decision that has already been made, don’t bother. Nearly all experienced consultants will consider this practice as unethical. If they don’t, they are probably the wrong consultant.

Talk to more than one consultant and submit a request for a quote or proposal(RFP). Then, make sure you receive a proposal and quote from interested consultants. Look at relevant expertise, experience, and skill set. Good consultants should propose a contract covering services, dates and deadlines, costs, reimbursable  expenses, scope of work (SOW), payment, etc. Evaluate all candidates for the consultancy, and make your decision. DO NOT HIRE ON COST ALONE!!! Many non-profit organizations are limited by funds, but never use cost as the only basis for consideration. Research the field of options, and select the best candidate that will fit in your budget. Make sure the consultant is an independent contractor and not an employee.

Once hired, don’t have the consultant recommend actions only, your consultant should be assisting in implementation of actions. Help your consultant to know your organization better. Consultants will need to know the nature and purpose of your organization. Having a list of priorities will greatly aid the process.

So, do you really need a consultant? Maybe. If you have no expertise with the task at hand, it is a short term consideration, you want a non-biased opinion, or there is work that no one else wants to do, then you may want to consider a consultant. Additionally, quality consultants have the knowledge, skills and experience to guide you through creative responses to your unique challenges.