March 12, 2012, 4:28 pm
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 in formerly secure havens like Wall Street, are beginning to work with nonprofits. Many business schools now offer students opportunities to be involved in nonprofit consulting. Last year a new national organization was formed, Students Consulting for Nonprofit Organizations, whose members include respected business schools like Northwestern and Penn State.
Seasoned management consultants…
February 13, 2012, 5:41 pm
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 can avoid this by asking a series of incisive questions that help you verify that the organization indeed needs your help.
First, figure out if the organization’s leaders see a significant perceived problem or opportunity. If they don’t have one, why would anyone hire you?
To ascertain whether a truly significant problem or opportunity exists, you should ask questions like:
January 23, 2012, 4:23 pm
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 solved their very problem. Just think, you could be a hero (or make your client a hero) by bringing the solution to your client.
However, just as likely, your client will ask your opinion about some new approach. They will be excited about it, and so may you. After all, it provides an entirely new way to look at a persistent problem. It rests on the latest research. It has been tried at…
December 19, 2011, 9:36 am
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 almost 500 books and articles.
Because the pressure to produce new thinking is so intense, there is even a subscription service for consultants—White Space—that tracks and analyzes new material and identifies gaps where consultants might best apply their resources to develop new thinking. Some consulting firms are systematic in the research and development of new ideas, and it is …
November 28, 2011, 8:37 am
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 use:
Smell the coffee. Is the organization alert in a caffeinated way to changes in the environment it operates in? Is it aware of the adaptations it might need in the slow economy? Does it embrace social media and other emerging technologies in how to operate with supporters? If the organization doesn’t smell of coffee, it may be sleepwalking to a slow demise.
Smell the rotten…
November 18, 2011, 12:50 pm
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 past dozen years:
Booz Allen started a unit in 2007 to serve nonprofits that is just like any of the other specialty practices within the company.
Monitor Group created the Monitor Institute in 2007 to serve nonprofits. [Editor's note: This corrects an inaccuracy that previously stated the institute was classified as a B corporation.]
Accenture started ADP Accenture Development…
October 27, 2011, 4:42 pm
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 media can help you keep up with topics so you can be more effective in your work.
Start with making a list of the five to 10 of the best information sources that cover your area of expertise.
Find them on Twitter, subscribe to their blogs, connect on LinkedIn or “like” their Facebook page. Then create a dashboard by using an RSS reader and carve out regular time to read every day…
September 28, 2011, 10:34 am
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 aspire to, not the ones that are part of everyday practice. This disconnect is usually obvious to employees and others. You must find ways to ask your client to list the values that everyone would say describe the group today.
Usefulness. Often nonprofits make lists of values to share with employees and the public, but they don’t include anything that really counts as a value.
August 30, 2011, 6:10 pm
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 work the foundation supported. It had started an effort called the Technical Assistance Partnership to enlist nonprofits and consultants to help organizations work together to improve specific types of management skills.
In 2005 and 2006, St. Luke’s and the consultants formed a new effort, a learning community, that eventually expanded to include more than 200 members. There are no…
August 29, 2011, 12:25 pm
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 oriented companies are structured:
* Low-profit, limited liability corporations, known as LC3s, were first created in 2008 and are constructed primarily to meet social needs or provide a social benefit. They are not tax-exempt, but they can attract investment dollars and apply for foundation grants. They can retain their profits.
* B (Benefit) corporations are companies that have a…