BoardSource knows that – many times – there is no replacement for direct support and guidance from a knowledgeable board consultant. That’s why BoardSource has built relationships with a broad network of consultants for nonprofits from across the country who bring a wide range of strengths and experiences working with nonprofit boards.
Choosing a Consultant
Governance consultants can offer an objective outside perspective to help boards with strategic planning, fundraising, board orientation and development, executive search, board self-assessment, and more. Consultants for nonprofits can play different roles such as advisors – analyzing situations, diagnosing problems, and proposing but not implementing solutions. Other consultants perform particular tasks, such as searching for a chief executive or presenting a board development workshop.
Below, you can find frequently asked questions when considering consultants for nonprofits and using the BoardSource Consultant Directory.
Some organizations use a Request for Proposals (RFP) process to invite consultants to submit proposals. If you choose this option, your next step is to identify the scope of the project, outline the tasks you want the consultant to perform, and create a submission process.
Some downsides to the RFP process are that it requires the organization to be clear on the issue at hand and consultants to be willing to draft a proposal without the opportunity to ask questions. Some consultants do not participate in RFP processes for that reason and more.
What to consider for a RFP process:
- Begin with a clear understanding of what you want the consultant to accomplish.
- Prepare a written description of the project goals, scope, and timetable.
- Search for potential consultants.
- Invite proposals from selected individuals or firms.
- Evaluate the proposals and check references of previous clients.
- Choose a consultant and enter into a written agreement.
Should you decide against an RFP process, another option is to call a few consultants and ask for 30 minutes to discuss the opportunity, explain your needs, and ask for a proposal. Consultants may ask enough questions to help you clarify your needs and you will get a good sense of how the consultant operates.
In either case, you will need criteria to judge the submissions.
Balance the importance of experience and quality with your budgetary needs. Questions to consider include the following:
- Does the consultant have the appropriate experience and qualifications?
- Do they understand the goals of the project?
- Do they have a working style that fits well with your organization?
- Can they complete the project on time and within budget?
- Do they ask creative questions about the organization and the project?
- Do previous clients give favorable reports on their working relationships with the consultant?
A letter of agreement or contract with a consultant can be prepared by either party. It is sometimes helpful to have an attorney review the agreement. The agreement should provide the following:
- A description of the scope of the project.
- An outline of the tasks involved.
- A description of the consultant’s reporting system.
- A specification of the nature of the final product (written report, oral presentation, a combination).
- An outline of a timetable.
- The established fee and expected payment schedule.
Clarity, candor, and mutual respect contribute to a smooth partnership between the organization and the consultant. On the organization’s side, the elements of a good relationship include:
- Clear expectations stated before the project begins.
- Adherence to the terms of the agreement.
- A well-defined reporting system, usually stipulating that the consultant works through the chief executive.
- Open communication in person and by telephone, including checkpoints for measuring progress such as interim reports or regular meetings.
- Follow up at the end of the project to let the consultant know the impact of their work on the organization.
Word of mouth is the best source. Be sure to interview a few of the consultant’s previous clients before selecting the best fit for your organization.
The BoardSource Consultant Directory is another resource for finding governance consultants. These consultants are private contractors invited to be part of the directory based on their expertise and experience in nonprofit governance consulting. To speak to any of these consultants, simply contact them directly from the information listed in their directory profile.