Simone P. Joyaux, ACFRE is recognized internationally as an expert in fund development, board and organizational development, strategic planning, and management. She is the founder and director of Joyaux Associates. Visit her website here.
Finding the right consultant is like finding the right staff person. After all the skills and expertise and experience, you seek the right match between people.
Evaluating the match between people requires personal conversation. Via telephone is fine if travel distances are great. Face-to-face is good if that’s possible.
If you expect the consultant to interface with your board members, then make sure some board members participate in the interview, too.
Now you’re ready for my tips. Let’s start at the beginning:
1. Identify the strengths and weaknesses of your fund development program. Involve the board in this discussion.
2. Identify consultant candidates. Refer to consultant directories. Ask other organizations if they’ve hired consultants and whom they liked and why. Probe!
3. Contact 3 – 5 consultants by telephone or e-mail. Briefly explain why you think you need a consultant. Ask the consultants to send information about their practice, representative clients, and other materials that would help you learn about them.
4. Review the consultant materials and identify 2 – 3 consultants who seem to be a potential match with your organization. Contact the consultants for an interview.
- a. You interview the consultant and the consultant interviews you.
- b. Meet face-to-face if possible. Or schedule a telephone interview.
- c. Make sure that several Board members participate in the interview.
- d. The purpose of the interview is multifold:
· The consultant should help you better understand your issues.
· The consultant gives you ideas about how you might work together to meet your needs.
· You get to know each other a bit – to decide if you might want to work together. Then you can request a proposal – or not!
e. After the interview, debrief with your colleagues. Decide which consultants you want to submit a proposal. Contact the consultant(s) and request a proposal.
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5. Check references. Speak with both staff and board members who worked with the consultant.
6. Review the proposals and make your selection. Keep in mind the following:
- a. A proposal is just a proposal. If you have questions, call and ask.
- b. If you like the consultant but don’t like all elements of the proposal, say so. Negotiate!
7. Call the consultant and close the deal.
Please don’t do this!
Don’t ask for proposals without an interview with the consultants! How can a consultant personalize a proposal to your agency without actually speaking with representatives from your organization?
Yes, you can certainly develop a Request for Proposal (RFP) and send it out to prospective consultants. But please! It really is better if you interview the prospective consultants before you ask them to submit a proposal.
Why? Because your RFP may raise more questions than it answers. Because there is nothing like sitting face-to-face and talking. Because you cannot understand the consultant through a proposal. And the consultant cannot decide if s/he is the right match for you based on an RFP.
You are not buying a commodity. You are creating a trusted advisor relationship.
Consulting is about the match between you and the consultant. Consultants will have the same or remarkably similar expertise and experience. But some consultants will be just right for your organization. And others will not.
Meet them. Talk with them. Ask them questions.
And listen to the questions that they ask you. Listen to the stories they tell you about their work. Ask them about their volunteer work in philanthropy. Ask them why they got into this work.
You’ll learn a lot. You’ll learn who is right for you. And the consultants will learn if you are right for them. It’s the match that counts.
So ask your organization: are we ready?