March 15, 2013, 2:43 pm
As more governments move toward democracy and greater privatization, nongovernmental organizations are popping up in new places—and the worldwide marketplace for consultants to nonprofits is heating up. For instance, some consulting companies now define themselves through a global mission, with international markets and services. And large consulting firms like Accenture have extended their global reach to encompass nonprofits as well as businesses and government.
In addition, existing nonprofit groups, especially giant international organizations are growing fast and need specialized consulting services for new challenges.
Greater individual wealth going to countries outside of Europe and North America has helped fuel this revolution. Bill Gates has been focusing on worldwide concerns, and a growing number of other philanthropists from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East are…
October 30, 2012, 1:38 pm
I was in India this past summer to facilitate an intensive four-day training for Packard Foundation grantees working on family-planning issues. The curriculum covered a lot of territory on social media and online collaborations, but every day after we came back from a delicious Indian meal, the after-lunch slump would set in.
I planned for this by incorporating an after-lunch energizer that used movement to get people’s brains going. Energizers are activities designed to awaken a sleeping audience or activate a jaded one. Energizers are typically done right after lunch and during mid-afternoon breaks, when energy tends to be low, but they can be done any time. The energizer can be connected to the content or just a movement exercise or stretch.
In India, I designed the first one to celebrate the local culture: It was called “Bollywood Moment.” I asked colleagues from India what was…
September 19, 2012, 7:13 pm
Among the decisions charities must make when it comes time to hire a fundraising consultant is whether to use someone local or someone outside the community. There are advantages to both.
Locals already know about donors in the community and will not need to be brought up to speed. Board members and staff who have already worked with them may trust and be comfortable with them.
Consultants who have been around a long time, however, even if they’re very good, may have detractors in the community. We’ve all heard the saying that “familiarity breeds contempt.”
Certain kinds of work–like feasibility studies, organizational assessments, board training, and strategic planning—sometimes benefit from the fresh perspective of an outside firm, unencumbered by preconceptions or community politics. An example: One well-known local consultant insisted that a particular donor had not, an…
August 21, 2012, 12:57 pm
Complex problems may require complex solutions. But no matter how complicated the issue, nonprofit consultants need to find a way to discuss both the problems and the solutions in simple, concise language. Good communication means making sure your message is accurately received, not just that you sent it.
It’s far too easy to hide behind jargon or consultant-speak or to expound on management theories that clients aren’t familiar with. We use jargon because it’s easy. It’s a shortcut. It’s much harder to explain something in a way you know people will understand—not just the words but also their implications—and to do it using as few words as possible. If that’s too much of a challenge, it might be a sign you don’t fully grasp the issue yourself.
Albert Einstein once said that if you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well enough.
July 11, 2012, 1:40 pm
Nonprofits expect their consultants to work miracles by helping them do more with less. However, with the most recent “Giving USA” report that fundraising grew just 1.1 percent last year after inflation—and predictions of very little growth in 2012—it could be a long time before charities are raising funds at the rate they did prior to the recession. What’s a consultant to do?
Logic and experience lead us to traditional responses in hard times: Grow revenue or cut expenses. But restricting our response to these strategies is flawed.
The first response to a tough economy is often to work harder on raising revenue. “Development Director” seems to top the wish list of every nonprofit that doesn’t already have one. A quick look at these job descriptions reveals a demand for people who have previously brought in large gifts, have managed aggressive campaigns, and are…
June 22, 2012, 9:22 pm
A nonprofit consultant is rarely a charity’s only source of advice. Usually other consultants—lawyers, accountants, vendors, etc.—are working for the same client. Occasionally, one of those advisers will say something unprofessional about another or withhold information that would be helpful to that person’s work. This is both a practical and an ethical problem.
Let me share something a nonprofit executive told me about just such a situation. The client said that in her experience, consultants often seem to think they are somehow floating through the company without anyone really knowing what they are doing and with no obligations to other advisers. In reality, she is keenly aware of how consultants interact with each other. And the quality of this interaction and mutual support are key elements of her consultant evaluation.
If one consultant is being unprofessional toward …
June 13, 2012, 3:30 pm
“You need chutzpah, audacity.” That’s how Tom Wilson, a vice president at the consulting firm Campbell & Company, answered the question of what it takes to be a great consultant. Tom was one of a number of consultants we interviewed at the recent conference of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Here’s how others answered that question. Consultants must:
- Have self-confidence and be as adept at delivering bad news as good. There’s nothing worse than consultants who are not sure of themselves, especially when they’re being asked about sensitive issues.
- Have a good understanding of the business and of themselves. A consultant has theoretical and practical knowledge. It’s important to know what solutions have worked in the past and to have ideas about how to improve them.
- Have transferable skills. Cookie-cutter…
June 1, 2012, 12:14 pm
When I was in Bologna, Italy, in May, making a presentation at the Festival of Fundraising, I was reminded of two things: First, consulting is less accepted in other parts of the world than it is in the United States. My Italian colleagues told me they were not easily accepted as an important tool for organizational progress. And, second, for the most part consultants in Italy must have management backgrounds, in contrast to the United States, where it is not necessary for those who restrict their practice to fundraising, for example.
Audience members welcomed the opportunity to share their experiences and to learn about what is going on elsewhere.
Have you had a chance to meet with your counterparts in other areas of the world? Do you seek out chances to talk to other nonprofit consultants when you travel, to compare notes? What have you discovered about consulting in other …
April 4, 2012, 8:09 am
Every year at the Association of Fundraising Professionals conference, dozens of consultants and vendors exhibit their services and wares in the conference marketplace. Some have been doing this for decades. But this year, at the conference in Vancouver, many of the exhibitors were of a far more recent vintage, well equipped to help and advise charities that use social media and other technology to raise money.
As professions mature, they have to change with the times, adapting to confront new needs and realities. But it’s a good idea every now and then to look back at our origins, remind ourselves of the spark that led to a whole new line of work, and look how far we’ve come.
Management and fundraising consultants originated around the same time and placein the late 1800s in Michigan.
Early management consultants came from engineering and science. The first known one was…
March 30, 2012, 10:12 am
Consulting for philanthropic groups bears little resemblance to what it was a decade or two ago, when the field was dominated by large firms and most consultants focused on basic fundraising. These days, the work is broader, more specialized, and more strategic. And in many ways, it offers greater flexibility—and broader appeal—than ever before. Here’s how:
- Greater specialization: Information technology, social marketing, globalization, donor-directed philanthropic advisers, and blurring of the lines between profit and nonprofit (e.g., cause-related marketing) are a few examples of consulting specialties that have emerged in the past 25 years or so.
- More breadth: Though consulting specialists abound, there is an equally strong demand for experienced consultants who can advise clients strategically–meaning the problem a client walks in the door with is seldom the real…