Years ago, I had an interesting conversation with the late donor consultant Mary Hutchinson, and we starting talking about hiring consultants. Recently, she’d had a major non-profit organization hire her and then not listen to anything she had to say. When they asked if she could re-build a lapsed donor file, her response was an qualified “yes”. Then she spelled out three steps that had to be taken for them to succeed. Over the course of six months, they did only one of the steps of the three. Then they ignored the findings of that one step, and launched into a major mailing with no regard for her begging: “Don’t do this! You are headed off a financial cliff!”
Apparently, they lost over $150,000 going off that cliff. Today they are no longer a client and don’t think much of Mary. She mentioned that it was hardly the first time she’d seen this happen, but it is one of the most extreme cases.
So the question is – Why did they bring her in, pay her, and then ignore the advice? Those are some questions I’ve asked from time to time myself. And more important, how can an organization avoid wasting money on a consultant?
So I asked her. Here’s Mary’s advice:
1) Know what you are good at and what you are not. For you to shop and bring in a consultant for TV or mail or web, you are acknowledging that there are skills/experience that is needed to bring those areas to where you want it to be. If your staff could have brought you there, they would have. They want to please you. They have skills; you are right to value them. But something is missing. Know what that is.
2) Set the stage with your team for the consultant to succeed for you. It is human nature for people to feel threatened when an outsider is brought it. Affirm them; give them credit for all they have accomplished. Make sure they know that you bringing in a consultant does not lessen their value to you. In fact, they have an opportunity to learn and grow.
3) Stay in communication with your consultant throughout the project. If you have the consultant report to the very team member that is lacking the skills to reach your goals, you are shooting yourself in the proverbial foot.
4) Give them what they need. If you do not supply the needed resources the consultant outlines, they cannot do their job.
5) Don’t rush the process. A good consultant has a strategy and follows those steps. No matter how important it is to hit your goal quickly, know that stepping steps will further delay, limit or even undermine your success.
6) Expect the consultant to recommend something you don’t understand, have never tried, and was not part of what made your organization successful in the past. That is their job.
7) Finally: Don’t shoot the messenger. Consultants often have to tell you what your staff was afraid to tell you.
Whether you’ve consulted or have hired consultants, I’d love to know your response to Mary’s points. Let me know your experience…