• Pat Libby

Hiring a consultant for your nonprofit? Ask these questions.



Like any field, there are a universe of individuals and firms that specialize in consulting to nonprofits. Given the choices out there (and the need to use funds wisely) how does your organization make a good decision about who to hire?

Regardless of whether you’re seeking help with a search, fundraising, strategic planning, board development work, marketing, evaluation, what have you, here is a list of questions to ask potential consultants:

1. How does their background prepare them for this assignment?

  • How long have they been doing this specific type of consulting?

  • What experience led them to become experts with this skill set?

  • Have they worked with organizations that are similar to yours in some way? For example, of similar size, facing similar circumstances, working in the same field?

2. What is their approach?

One of my favorite colleagues does fantastic strategic planning work. Several years ago, we sat down over lunch to compare our approaches and discovered that while we used several of the same tools, our methods were completely different!

One client told me that when she solicited proposals for a project, the responses ranged in cost from $3,000 to $40,000!

Take the time to ask questions and listen to the answers. Be sure to get a written document from the consultant that thoroughly explains the scope of work being proposed.


3. What have been the results of their work?

Assuming the consultant you’re interviewing has successfully answered the first two sets of questions, ask them to talk in detail about the results of their work. You can ask things like:

  • Was the Board structure you created successfully implemented by the nonprofit?

  • Did the fundraising plan reach its goal within the original timeframe?

  • What happened to the organization after it implemented the strategic plan?

  • What percent of the hires you make remain in the job after 2 years?

  • How well did the nonprofit adjust to the new systems you put into place?

4. What do their references say?

  • Were they pleasant and fun to work with?

  • Did they meet their deadlines?

  • Did the project meet the client’s expectations?

  • Would that client hire this consultant again?

I’ve never met a nonprofit or philanthropy that told me it had too much money. Spend your resources wisely by asking the right questions.


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Pat Libby is a nonprofit consultant and author of The Lobbying Strategy Handbook: 10 Steps to Advancing Any Cause Effectively from Oxford University Press. She has served as an academic, senior executive, board member, and consultant to innumerable nonprofit organizations and foundations for more than three decades.


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