Hard Economic Times Haven’t Dampened the Appeal of Nonprofit Consulting

The allure of corporate consulting may be on the decline, thanks to changes in the business environment as well as scandals like the indictment of Rajat K. Gupta, a former managing partner for McKinsey & Company, on insider trading.

But consulting for nonprofits is taking a different turn: The number of graduates from top-level business schools entering the nonprofit sector has actually increased. Some  students, disillusioned with questionable ethics in the for-profit world and job instability…


Ask, Don’t Tell: Using Power Questions to Win New Business

Many consultants harbor a misconception about what impresses a prospective client. They believe that giving the right answers—that being quick and clever—impresses people and builds trust in their ability to deliver.

But in truth, you’ll win more business by asking the right questions.

In today’s economy, for example, there are lots of conversations with potential clients that go nowhere. Have you experienced this? You talk and talk, hold meeting after meeting, but nobody makes a decision. You…


Beware of Nonprofit Management Fads

Managing a nonprofit is hard, and it is about to get harder. But rather than figuring out what’s wrong with old ways, too many nonprofit leaders and consultants who advise them instinctively look for new tools and approaches.

When times are difficult, it’s logical and natural to seek new ideas. It makes sense that staff members think they need a new approach, and, by good fortune, whenever your clients start thinking this way, some new article or book appears detailing how someone has already so…


How Do Consultants Find Fresh Ideas?

Consultants are supposed to be thought leaders. To live up to that role, they are always searching for new ways to think about organizations, to serve their clients, and to distinguish themselves from their competitors by producing fresh ideas.

The average life span of a management idea today is about three years—far shorter than 50 years ago, when it was 15 years. In fact, Management Consulting News reports that in just a month’s time the largest 25 consulting firms in the world published…


Putting Organizations Through the Smell Test

I’m sure we all have a favorite holiday smell. Often it’s from a favorite food with a rich aroma. But we’ve all had a time when we thought the smell signaled something wrong even before we’d sat down to eat.

After working with nonprofits for many years, I’ve realized that you can tell when something’s not right through a quick smell test.  I sniff the air for signs that things need to change the first time I enter the CEO’s office.

There are some variations on the smell test. Here are some I us…


Big Consultants Increasingly Turn to Nonprofit Clients

As nonprofits have grown in size, complexity, and number, many of the nation’s big management-consulting companies have stepped up their efforts to serve charities and foundations.

Most of the help these companies used to offer came in pro bono assistance. But now they are going beyond that to offer aid for a fee, sometimes through a nonprofit arm and often at a lower cost than they would charge businesses.

Among the companies that have started or expanded specialized nonprofit services in the p…


Using Social Media to Deepen Your Expertise

Twitter, Facebook, and other social media are excellent for promoting your expertise, but as a consultant, you also need to stay on top of trends in your field. Social networks can help, but you need to plan how to absorb what you learn and avoid information overload.

To figure that out for myself, I borrowed ideas from the management consultant Harold Jarche, who advises thinking about this task into three approaches—seek, sense, and share. Here’s how I put his advice to work.


Social med…


Helping a Nonprofit Find Its Soul

Nonprofits value consultants for their expertise but also for their independence and objectivity. In no process are these characteristics more critical than in helping an organization outline its values.

Values are what a nonprofit stands for, the principles that an organization would defend and follow no matter what the consequences.

But it is not an easy process, and many nonprofits fail to achieve the following when spelling out their values:

Authenticity. Many groups state the values they as…


Foundation Seeks to Help Consultants Help Nonprofits

When most foundations want to strengthen the management of the organizations they support, they hire consultants to work with grantees. They figure that the consultants will help nonprofits grow in their ability to serve the community.

In Phoenix, St. Luke’s Health Initiatives believes in investing directly in the consultants so that local nonprofits of all kinds (not just the foundation’s grantees) will have access to the kind of training they need.

The strategy evolved naturally from other wor…


New Organizations Pose Challenges for Nonprofit Consultants

Some organizations have found a way to get the best out of the nonprofit and business worlds.

A growing number of organizations combine business and nonprofit structures that offer them the best of both nonprofit and for-profit worlds. They can retain profits but are also able to raise money from both shareholders and foundations. As these organizations grow, they present new challenges and new opportunities for consultants.

First, it helps to understand how two of the most popular socially orie…