Over the past 8 years, we’ve worked more than 80 nonprofit organizations on a wide variety of projects. We believe we are still recognized for the great work we do in the area of nonprofit strategic planning. Humbly, our beliefs are still fueled by our clients. Nearly all, if not all nonprofits engage consultants to guide them through the development of what is typically a three-year strategic plan. Oh, sometimes it’s longer and every once in a great while it’s shorter, but three years is pretty much the de facto standard. And, we’ve seen nonprofits who don’t use consultants to help with strategic planning at all. They do it themselves (usually to save money) and, well, these are not typically the most dynamic or effective strategic plans out there.
So, the process goes like this…
The board and executive staff create a Request for Proposal (RFP) and send it out to a small group of consultants who specialize in blah, blah, blah. Usually there’s at least one consultant that’s known to the organization and there will be a few others that come via referrals from folks known and trusted by the organization.
The proposals come rolling in. Lots of (read: TOO MUCH) time and resources are spent reviewing the proposals. Sometimes references are checked. If they are checked, chock up some more time! Then there might be a phone call or meeting with the top two consultants being considered. Then there’s another in-house meeting to consider the two finalists and voila – you hire the top consultant to guide your strategic planning process.
Of course, it does. This is standard operating procedure.
And the process takes time. Usually lots of time. Sometimes…an ABSURD amount of time.
So, you do all the work and by the time the project is complete and your strategic plan is rolling full steam ahead you can sit back, reflect and decide if you hired the right consultant or not. Right?
Fast forward a little less than three years and now you’re buckling up to start the process all over again.
I’m not sure how other consultants feel about jumping on the strategic planning consultant hamster wheel every thirty months or so but it doesn’t excite us here at interSector Partners.
When we’re hired to do ANY project, we take extreme pride in spending whatever time it takes to get to know the organizations we work with. Every single one.
We get invested in the people, in the organization’s work, in their work styles, in their challenges, in their past success, their past failures. EVERYTHING! We ask tough questions and every single answer provides insights into how we can do our work better and tailor our work specifically for each and every organization. We also build in periodic check-ins to all our proposals. So, imagine how we feel when we’re not invited back for the next strategic planning assignment?
If we didn’t get the job done the first time or there were obvious challenges or issues that would dictate that we are not the best consultants to do the work the next time around – that’s a different story. You, the client knows that. We know that as well.
But, if the first project went well and we all enjoyed working with each other – who, from the outside of your organization, knows your organization better than we do?
If we’ve been checking in all along and doing what we can do to help AFTER he project is “officially” complete, who knows your organization better than we do? If we’ve been able to serve as a resource connecting you with folks that can help with other aspects of running and managing and sustaining your organization, who from outside of your organization has shown that level of commitment? To you personally. To your staff. To your board.
Another consultant? That you have to create and release an RFP to talk with?
The simple answer is NO. CONTINUITY is very important to think about when hiring consultants to help you with any project where you need specialized, professional help. And most certainly for any project that is likely to extend out several years in the future.
You’ve invested time, human resources and financial resources to find who you believe is the “right” consultant/consulting firm. And remember, the consultant has invested the very same resources to create a scope of work that addresses your RFP and makes a case for why they are the best consultant for the job.
You choose your consultant, you engage together over the timeframe of the project. Everything goes well or maybe REALLY well? Everyone is pleased. Maybe REALLY pleased?
Why oh why oh my oh my…would you want to go through that agonizing time and resource sucking process all over again the next time you need to hire a consultant to do the very same work?
A few parting thoughts for clients working with consultants:
1. Add a section to your RFP that asks your prospective consultants to talk a little about what your relationship will look like after the engagement is complete. And when you have that phone call or meeting with the top two consultants you’re considering – spend a little more time on this if you need to. This can and will set the stage for the entire consulting project.
2. Talk about this again in your initial discovery meeting with the consultant/firm who you retain for your project. Does it sound like what was in the proposal? Talk a little about what happens if the project comes off the rails…
3. …If the project starts to come off the rails for you and your team…TALK WITH YOUR CONSULTANT sooner rather than later. Why is everyone so afraid to do this??? (P.S. if no one can do this – you chose the wrong consultant!)
4. As you’re coming to the end of what looks like will be a “successful” (as you and your consultant define before you begin the work) engagement - have some discussion about the future and how you might be able to work together again.
5. And finally, a QUESTION: There are other factors that could be in play over time (change in executive staff, change in board leadership, consultant firm no longer in business/doing the work they used to) BUT, if the last time you worked with a particular consultant…you all enjoyed working together and everyone got the job done and everyone was super happy…why wouldn’t you put that consultant/firm at the top of the list the next time a project like this comes up?