It’s now just over two and a half years since I stopped being a charity staff member and became a consultant to non profits instead. The time has flown by which must be a good thing.
I never thought that I would end up as a supplier to charities rather than working for them directly. But life has a way of surprising you. A particular revelation for me has been that actually I rather like being a consultant.
There’s negatives, definitely. It is uncomfortable the first time you meet up with your charity friends and everyone realises that our relationship has changed. I got used to being the client and there’s definitely a change in the power dynamic being the other side of the table. A very small number of times I’ve had experiences with people I thought were friends when I found that I had been moved to a different category altogether.
But these for me have been the exceptions. Most people have been lovely. When starting out I got a lot of help from people I knew in the sector and that has continued. All the consultants I talked to before making the move told me that business came essentially from recommendations and that has certainly been the case for me (which is fortunate because I truly suck at business development). Friends, thank you.
I’ve learned loads along the way. Both being a consultant and how to use consultants effectively are very specific skills and these need to be developed.
The people who work as consultants for charities are the same sort of people that are employed by non profits which means they are overwhelmingly individuals who want to make a positive difference in the world. There might be chancers out there trying to make a quick buck but the people I know are not like that. They need to earn a living but this isn’t fundamentally about the money.
There’s no getting over that using a consultant is expensive. People like me usually earn about what we did when we were employed by charities but the economics of consultancy means that very few people bill more than 100 days a year in chargeable days (the rest are days we work but don’t get paid for doing business generation, accounting, admin those sort of things). So that will add up to a chunky daily rate.
So you need to make sure that you are getting value for this investment. There are some simple rules about using consultants which should allow you to make sure that charity money is wisely spent.
- Be very clear why you need a consultant. There are a variety of reasons why a consultant may be needed. It might be for specific skills or knowledge the organisation doesn’t have. It might be to add a capacity in a specific area. It might be to add external validation or work done within the organisation. These are all valid but different reasons to use outside resource and you need to be clear which is it you are looking for.
- Have very clear terms of reference. Being clear on why you need a consultant will help you draft very clear and specific terms of reference for the work. These terms then need to be kept clearly in mind for the duration of the project. Terms of reference can be changed as the project developed but this needs to be dome in a managed way.
- Set a time limit. There’s no right amount of time to use a consultant for but every project ought to be time limited. It can be extended if necessary but again it shouldn’t just drift. All consultancy projects need to come to an end.
- Choose the right person or company. Which means Aldrich & Ward of course…actually there’s a very wide range of consultants of all sorts with very wide ranges of skills and experience with costs differing accordingly. Ensure you get someone with the expertise you need and uses references to check that all bears out. But also don’t buy a Rolls Royce if you only need a…I’m rubbish at cars but a cheap and reliable one. Meet a good range of different people and companies to ensure you get the match that is right for you.
- Contract properly. Every consultancy project no matter how small should have a proper contract but my real bugbear here are organisations (you know who you are) who tender for consultancy contracts. Consultancy is all about finding the best match between people and organisations, it’s about chemistry and trust. Some charities award such contracts on the basis of a written tender document without meeting anyone which is, basically, crazy.
- Be realistic. Consultants are just people. We have skills, at varying levels, but universally lack magical powers. Sorry. So if the organisation wants to double fundraising income while cutting costs without the leadership of the charity doing anything very different, even hiring the Rolls and Royce of fundraising consultants isn’t going to get you very far.
If after all of that you’d like to have a chat about a fundraising project, you know where to find us.
(Other consultants are, of course available).