Tony Martignetti began a conversation yesterday with his provocative videocast. In it, he complained that too many consultants don’t do the hands-on work. He felt too many offer only “tip-sheets” and brief recommendations. And that doesn’t help the organization get ahead.
I thought it was an interesting conversation. So I’m continuing it here. I’d love your input.
I’ve spent more time as a staff member than as a consultant. Years, in fact. During that time I’ve seen consultants (both fundraising and other) who were enormously helpful. And I’ve seen those who may have caused damage. The most helpful consultants, in my experience, did roll up their sleeves. At least to the extent of training, not just telling, staff.
When I began to work in development, the marketing director and I rebuilt the entire giving program. Fundraising had been board-led, with one staff member writing grants. Since neither of us were experts at that point, one of the smartest things we did was bring in consultants. Two of them, actually, working as a team. One focused on outward-facing work. He talked generally, and attempted to translate his political fundraising experience to a nonprofit. It was helpful, in a big picture, theoretical way.
The other was the geeky numbers guy. He sat with me and taught me about lists and segmentation and tracking results. This was before we had computers. He had me create a simple paper form to keep our records. I could tell you how each mailing performed from that day on. His hands-on work made a huge difference, because knowing where we were kept us pointed in the right direction. He had a measurable impact on our work.
They also pointed us to a professional copywriter. But we didn’t use the copywriter for long. Because a print newsletter taught me to write copy. Jerry Huntsinger had a fabulous newsletter back then. He mailed it once a month. And I couldn’t wait to get it. That $75 a year investment paid huge dividends for my organization. (You can read more from him on SOFII now). He and I never spoke. He hasn’t a clue who I am. But he started me down this path.
Now you don’t have to wait for a monthly newsletter in the mail. There’s a wealth of experience you can access online. As someone who loves to learn, I’m always reading. And I’m very grateful to the consultants and others who share their knowledge this way.
But what’s a consultant supposed to do? There is no one answer. There may be as many as there are organizations. A consultant can be anything from interim staff to a way to add a public gloss to your internal efforts. Your consultant can train you or step in to persuade the board to follow your advice. It depends on the needs of the organization. A consultant can even help you figure out what those needs are!
My personal bias is for working hands-on. (What, you figured that out?) But that’s a reflection of my personality, not a slap at other ways of working.
Here’s what I think it comes down to:
- Knowing what you need. (Even if knowing what you need is what you need to know.)
- Clarity about roles from the beginning.
- A common understanding of goals for the work.
- Integrity on both sides.
What do you think? Please give me your thoughts in the comments.