Part Three: How Do You Choose a Consultant?

 In Smith & Dale Blog

Part Three: How Do You Choose a Consultant? 

By Angie Johnson Smith, Co-Founder, Smith & Dale

Now you’ve got your consulting proposals. Great! You’ve determined who you want to interview. Great! What are you going to ask them…?

We recommend presentations, based on the RFP and your scope of work, to your selection group. Good consulting firms have a very specific way of presenting their services, which is typically a good way to determine if you’re a good consultant-client match. Also, RFP’s sometimes stifle our ability to present a full scope to the client, so let us ‘pitch’ you! It is a competitive bid process, but it shouldn’t be shrouded in secrecy rather a transparent, inclusive process.

What should we ask prospective consultants? Here are some ideas:

  • Discuss in detail the fee structure. We once lost (and then reclaimed) a prospective client because they thought the other consultant was considerably less expensive. It turns out that the fine print made their fees considerably more expensive. Make sure you are comparing apples to apples when weighing several firms. They are all different. NOW – just because I said discuss, please try not to beat up the consultants or be offended by costs associated with the work. Often, this is the biggest hurdle for non-profits to overcome. Campaign Counsel can range from expensive to extremely expensive. It’s a huge investment! BUT – if the fee for counsel is for argument purposes 5%, and you successfully raise $3,000,000, I would say that is an extremely good ROI. AND – once you’ve made the decision to hire, don’t resent the money or the consultant. It’s worth it.
  • Ask about any potential additional charges.
  • If the consultant is out of town, ask if/how they will bill for their travel and lodging, how often they will be in town, and how they work with you on a daily basis.
  • If the consultant is in town, ask how often you will see them, and how they work with you on a daily basis.
  • What exactly will the consultant be responsible for, and what are you and your staff expected to do? There are several ways for counsel to provide help: some give advice and check in with you monthly, you get to execute all the work (and that may be fine). Others get into the trenches with you, providing advice and execution.

For Example: We were working with a very small non-profit on a capital campaign. There was no development or administrative staff. When it came time to do a volunteer appeal, we wrote the appeal, sourced the mail merge and the mailing. All the Executive Director needed to do was approve it.

  • Is the person presenting the person who will actually work with you to manage the campaign? You may love the pitch team, but be unhappy with your consultant. When I was with a national firm, I was the consultant who came in, after the firm I worked for was chosen, which was sometimes tough. It’s important that you vet each other…AND that you have confidence in this individual.
  • Will the consultant help make sure that your board is ‘on board’? This may take some training. We will do a mini-campaign training, and ‘what to expect’, before a campaign launch, so board members understand the process in which they are about to engage. It is hard for an Executive Director to continually explain, or defend, counsel, so get the board involved very early on. Your life will be easier.

This was a longer article than I anticipated, but I get a little wonky when discussing consultative relationships. It’s an interesting profession, and an even more interesting dynamic between client and consultant.

We LOVE what we do and the lasting relationships we build. It should be a happy union and experience… even when it’s hard.

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