Selecting a Consultant

Step One

It is suggested that several people from your organization work together (generally including both board and staff members) to oversee the consultancy process. This is important for board and staff involvement and commitment to the organizational development effort. This small committee should outline your organizational needs to the best of your knowledge, although other needs or approaches may be identified later by the consultant. Determine exactly the issue or problem that you want the consultant to help solve or address. If you are unsure about what your organization’s challenges are, a consultant can also help you objectively assess what needs to be addressed, although fees may be charged for an in-depth analysis.

Develop objectives for the consultancy that identify:

  • What your problems are; define both symptoms and cause
  • What your expectations are; what does your group need?
  • What you expect to be accomplished by the end of the consultancy
  • What areas of expertise are required; what type of consultant will you need? Which board and staff members will be the lead for arranging the consultancy?
  • Identify whom the consultant will be working with during the technical assistance
  • What is your timeframe?

Step Two

Identify at least two potential consultants (more than one is important for comparison purposes), based on your organizational needs. As a starting point, resources include the WNC Consultant Directory (located on-line at www.nonprofitpathways.org), referral from organizations in your area who have used consultants or training, or other resources that you identify through your professional associations and networks.

Step Three

Contact each consultant through a letter and request written information describing their services and fees. This very simple letter format should include:

  • A summary of your organization, including your mission, history and current situation
  • What problem or issue that you are looking for the consultant to address
  • Details about the consultancy, including your objectives and expectations, the time frame and any financial constraints
  • Due date for the consultant’s response/proposal (try to allow at least two weeks)
  • Your contact information
  • Include other information (program brochures, organization chart and organization budget indicating sources of income and major expenses) that will assist the consultant in gaining understanding of your organization’s capacity and need for assistance.

Step Four

Review the consultant’s materials and interview (by phone or in person) the one or more who best match your needs, asking them to describe their experience and types of services they offer.

Suggested questions to ask the prospective consultant:

  • What strengths do you possess that will be particularly helpful in connection with this project?
  • Have you worked on similar projects or consulted with other groups facing problems similar to ours? What did you learn from that experience?
  • How would you describe the challenges we face based on the limited amount you know about us? How do you think your consultation will change or improve our situation?
  • Describe your work process. How would you work with our staff and board?
  • Are there other members of your consultant team who would be working with you? Who are they? How would you propose to divide up the tasks among your team members?
  • Request a recent, complete client list with contact information indicating the person with whom the consultant worked most directly.

Step Five

Always check references. Review their recent client list for organizations similar to yours with comparable need. Call the person who has supervised the consultant’s work directly. Ask them how the project worked out, if they would recommend the consultant to a colleague, and if they would use the consultant again. If you have any concerns or questions about the consultant’s methods or style, you may ask some additional questions. Ask if the consultant was timely in delivery and if the organization was satisfied with the outcome.