5 Essential Steps To Hiring A Nonprofit Consultant

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Over the years, I have been part of many nonprofit consulting engagements serving on the client’s (nonprofit’s) side of the equation. I’ve seen things that lead to success as well as the failure of those engagements.

This article provides five steps to prepare, get ready, before hiring a nonprofit consultant. These steps will help ensure the best opportunity for a nonprofit consultant engagement to be successful.

How can I prepare for a nonprofit consultant? You need to be prepared and know what you want from the engagement before you hire them.

Here are some tips to help lead to success.

Clarify goals and objectives

What are your goals and objectives for the consulting engagement? What do you hope to get out of the engagement with a consultant?

If there is no clear understanding of what it is you want, how can anyone know whether or not they have achieved it for you?

This may seem like an obvious point but many nonprofits come into consulting engagements without having articulated their specific priorities and desired outcomes.

Be sure that everyone involved in this decision-making process understands the organization’s vision, mission statement, values, and strategies before engaging any consultants.

Some examples of measurable goals or objectives for an engagement with a nonprofit consultant include:

  • More volunteers
  • Increased volunteer hours per month
  • $250,000 in recurring monthly donations in the next 10 months
  • Facebook engagement rate of 9% or better

Think about specific goals that if achieved, you would agree that the engagement was a success. What are those? Write them down.

Yes, right now. Stop. We’ll be here when you finish.

Verify the type of consulting needed

Now that you have your goals and objective defined, what type of consulting is needed to achieve those. Do you need professional fundraising help, or is it really more of a marketing set of skills? What skills, competencies or expertise does your organization lack that a consultant will bring in order to meet or exceed the goals and objectives?

It’s also important to know what level of support, guidance, training, or evaluation is needed. If you need guidance and planning that would best come from someone with the wisdom or working with many clients over many years, then you will want to find a consultant that has significant experience.

On the other hand, if the project calls for a deep understanding and proficiency in the latest social media marketing approaches and copy editing, a new consultant in these areas may be best suited for the tasks at hand.

Take a look at our nonprofit consultant interview tips to find the consultant that will serve you best.

The bottom line is to be sure you are hiring the right consultant for the success you envision.

Finalize the budget to spend on the engagement

Now that you’ve determined the type of consulting needed, what is your budget for this engagement?

Nonprofits are often as tight on time and money as they are on staffing needs. What’s most important to remember when making decisions about how much to spend on a consulting project is that it should be at a level commensurate with both the needs and the capacity of your organization.

If you are a small, understaffed nonprofit that’s struggling to get by on limited resources, then spending $30K for an engagement with a consultant is probably out of reach. However, if it will mean achieving goals or objectives which would significantly improve the operations or impact of your nonprofit, then it may be a worthwhile investment.

It’s imperative that the budget is appropriate for what your organization needs and can afford so as not to leave you with an engagement that falls short of its expectations.

Since you already have a list of goals and objectives, try to associative a dollar value to each goal and objective. What value in dollars does achieving this goal bring?

Sure, a $250,000 in recurring donation revenue over 10 months brings in $250,000, but its value is greater. If each donor stays with the recurring donation program for a minimum of 34 months, the total value to the organization is closer to $850,000.

Another example might be that increased volunteer hours by 160 more hours per month with an hourly value of $22 per hour will cost the organization $6,500 for the consulting engagement. However, the value to the organization over the next 24 months will be approximately $84,480.

Now, go do this for the goals you have from our first step above.

Now that you know the value you predict to achieve through the engagement, you’ll want to structure the agreement in a way that is most accountable and beneficial to the organization. Read our nonprofit consultant fee structures article to see some options.

If you haven’t found a consultant yet and don’t know what the potential costs could be, take a look at our “How much do nonprofit consultants charge” post to get some numbers to start working with.

Identify and budget staff time commitments

When calculating the cost for a consulting engagement to succeed, don’t make the mistake of underestimating the time required of you and your team.

Nonprofit consultants bring skills, tools, and experience, but they don’t know you and your organization the way that you and your staff do. It will take time from your team to brief the consultant, give context, understand your services, brand, tone and voice.

The point is that hiring a nonprofit consultant is not a light switch. You can’t hire one, walk away and see the results you want at the end. Great engagements are a partnership that requires give and take, much like the time you would take when onboarding a new senior-level team member.


One of the most common complaints we hear from nonprofit managers about their consulting engagement is that they weren’t informed or consulted enough. The antidote for this is to communicate, more than you think is sufficient, not only with the consultant but also with your staff.

If you are hiring a consultant to help implement social media marketing, but haven’t told your staff what it means for them and how to get involved in this new campaign, then you’re not likely going to have success.

The same applies to any change you make, such as a new marketing strategy or reallocating resources. If the staff isn’t in-the-know and doesn’t feel informed and empowered, then they won’t be on board with your vision for success.

Make sure that everyone involved understands their role from day one of this engagement and any changes in those roles as the project progresses.


The 5 essential steps to prepare for hiring a nonprofit consultant are:

  • Define success by identifying goals and objectives.
  • Determine what type and experience of consulting you need.
  • Finalize the budget to spend on the engagement.
  • Identify and budget staff time commitments.
  • Over-Communicate

These five tips will help ensure that your next nonprofit consulting engagement is successful!

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