“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 approaches are weak. A great consultant is able to apply learning across different situations to come up with innovative ideas. The result should be practical new strategies that are credible—and that work.
- Have the ability to simplify and explain a problem. Not every customer cares about regression analysis. A consultant needs tools to explain ideas simply, whether through a diagram or a metaphor.
- Have more than one solution to a problem. Stuff happens and things change. Successful consultants foresee multiple solutions. They are also ready to think on their feet when challenged and to improvise.
- Be a good listener. Consultants never assume and don’t hesitate to ask questions until they understand their clients’ needs fully.
- Be a team player. While personal goals are important, the customer’s goal must come first.
- Be able to market. Self-employed consultants are often great at client work but miss out on marketing. You need to be good at both to stay in business.
- Gain client trust. To uncover the real issues, you have to be able to develop a strong relationship with your clients. Passion for their cause helps, but for integrity, you also need to be a critical friend.
- Remember who’s the star. It’s tempting to think you’re clever when you solve a seemingly intractable problem. But successful consultants need humility and must remember that the customer is always the star of the story.
What would you add to this list?
Sudeshna Mukherjee is a fundraising and grant-making consultant in Washington, DC.
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