Working Successfully with a Consultant

Guide to Approaching a Consultant

Members of the Association of Philanthropic Counsel (APC) believe that clear and confirmed understanding of expectations, methods, and results define the best consulting engagements.

APC member firms take pride in listening first, to unearth the potential client’s current needs and longer-term goals and aspirations. This clarifies expectations and helps us take projects where our skills sets will add value, innovation, and enhanced outcomes. If we cannot help, we refer the client to other service providers.

For nonprofit organizations considering a consultant, APC strongly recommends these steps to assure the most beneficial process.

  • Take time to assess your needs and goals. You are seeking a solution to a problem, although sometimes the problem is you know something is wrong and want a consultant to help find it.
  • Engage your board actively in the decision. They will be directly responsible for allocating resources to implement recommendations and need to be involved from the start.
  • Read and think through the methodology the consultant presents. If methods aren’t clear, ask for clarification. Responsive consulting agencies will provide details about how they do their work and why their approach addresses the challenge(s) your organization faces.
  • Read and think through the timeline, or ask for one. APC members typically specify what will be completed by when, interim report dates, and what the final report will include. APC members also often include expectations for what the client will do and by when. This helps set a framework from Day One that can guide the entire engagement.
  • Interview the applicant, or even better, several applicants, to ascertain their experience with your size, subsector, complexity, and needs.
  • Ask for referrals and check the references. Ask about communications and work style, about timeliness, about results.

Look for a good rapport with your consultant. Staff members and board representatives who work in partnership with a consultant will make time for extra work when there is shared priority, energy, and focus.

Each APC member firm seeks to help nonprofit leaders make decisions that advance the organization’s mission. We take great pride in following ethical standards for consulting and serving organizations in the nonprofit sector with best-in-class guidance for fundraising, governance, strategic planning, proposal writing, and more. Part of our service includes helping charitable groups understand better how best to engage our firms or any other consultant.

To all nonprofit leaders, thank you for the work you do and the mission your organization serves.