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Consulting is a big thing in nonprofit circles, but it’s got a mixed reputation at best. The following thoughts will help you decide whether consulting is right for your organization. Without the right ingredients in place, consulting is a waste of money.


  • I (the consultant) have to listen to you carefully and clarify, with you, what you’re looking for in terms of outcomes;
  • I have to generate a proposal that accurately identifies your issues and outcomes;
  • I have to propose a fee structure that is fair to all parties (meaning that you don’t go broke and I don’t starve);
  • I have to gain the trust of all pertinent parties in your organization;
  • Those parties have to have ownership in the process (meaning that they have to actually care whether we accomplish anything together; it is not always the case that they do);
  • You have to openly let me into your world, and we have to have candid communication;
  • You have to have the capacity (time and mindshare) to interact with me sufficiently;
  • Your team has to have the will, capacity, and discipline to implement whatever it is we work on.

So, given that list, see how you answer the questions below.


Before you hire a consultant, be able to answer Yes to each of these questions:

1. Does the consultant listen more than talk?

2. Have we clarified the desired/intended outcomes?

3. Do we really want to resolve the issues we’re hiring a consultant to help us resolve? (it is not a given that you do, even if you say you do)

4. Do we have the staff structure and discipline to not only accept but
implement any plans, recommendations, strategies, and/or documents?

5. Will we free up the time needed to work with the consultant effectively?

6. Do we trust this consultant enough to bring him/her sufficiently into our culture, politics, and issues?

If you answer “no” to any of these six, hiring a consultant might be poor stewardship on your part.


“Coaching” has become a hot thing. What is it, and how does it differ from consulting? Here are some definitions.

When an individual gives you technical professional advice. It's about what the expert knows.

When an individual stimulates you to think clearly about your goals and the next steps required to move forward toward them. It's about your thoughts being explored, with intentionality. The theory is that you have the answers embedded deep within.

Stimulating someone to think clearly about his/her goals and the next steps required to move forward toward them, while using professional expertise to raise and answer the necessary technical questions. It's a hybrid of their thoughts and the expert's knowledge. The idea is that if the client needs technical information (which she does not possess), it’s disingenuous, disrespectful, and unhelpful to say, “The answer lies within. What do you think?”

The imparting of knowledge by a specialist with a goal of improving the performance of the recipients. By the way, studies show that boards do not like “training,” so think carefully what you’re asking for when you think your board needs to be “trained.” This is why we speak of “board retreats,” not “board training.” Contact us to learn more.

The process in which one individual commits for a period of time to use his own personal life experiences and learning in order to help another achieve similar things.