Interviewing Nonprofit Consultants – 8 Tips To Find The Best


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[Updated: 1/18/2021]

Let’s face it. When it comes to hiring a nonprofit consultant, it can be a crapshoot. You have expectations, and the consultant needs to meet those expectations for a price. 

How do I interview a consultant for a nonprofit? 

You interview a consultant similar to interviewing a potential employee. Whether interviewing in person, telephone, or video call, allow at least 30 minutes for the first call.

Ask plenty of questions being upfront about your expectations and concerns. It is fair to ask for a ballpark budgetary number for your project to compare offerings between nonprofit consulting firms or individuals. 

Be sure to define success. What are the deliverables and outcomes you expect to see? When are the results expected to be achieved or delivered? 

Top tips for interviewing a nonprofit consultant?

Whether you are talking to a consultant or vendor, these tips will help you find out if there is a good fit for your organization before going further.

We recommend being well prepared and transparent with consultants. The more a consultant knows about your organization and the needs of the engagement, the more they can be forthright in their response to you. Try these tips on for size the next time you are talking with potential consultants.

If the chemistry isn’t right, stop and look elsewhere

The reality is that you or your team are going to spend some quality time with this person. If you don’t gel, the likelihood is high that you will be unhappy with the results. 

Just like when hiring an employee, their organizational fit is vital to their success. 

If there is not good chemistry with you, the team, and the consultant, stop. Back up and talk to other consultants to see if you can find a better fit. 

What other engagements do you have running concurrently? 

This is a discernment question. You can start by asking if they stay busy with client work. If so, how many clients are they currently working with?

Force the question and ask them to be realistic with you about your project timeline given their other client work. 

Ask about other competing priorities the consultant might have. 

The goal is to discern if you are going to get limited amounts of their time. Availability is critical for quick turnaround engagements.

What makes the consultant an expert in the areas you need? 

No nonprofit consultant can be an expert in all areas of a nonprofit organization across every type of 501c3. 

The goal is to ensure they have experience, knowledge, and expertise in the specific area you need assistance with. You wouldn’t hire a consultant with mostly fundraising experience to evaluate a new program.

Ask them for specifics. Are there certifications expected to show expertise and knowledge? Can they describe their practical experience in your need area? 

Where and how long ago was this experience? Some trends, tools, and research change over time. You will want to make sure they are versed in today’s techniques, no decades ago. 

Ask them to tell you about a recent engagement in detail that demonstrates expertise. 

Ask to contact three reference clients engaged in the last 12-18 months? 

You want to contact at least three reference clients. But not just any clients. It is important to be specific and ask for clients the consultant has done work for in the last 18 months. 

If they cannot do so, it could mean they don’t do much consulting or maybe do it as a side gig. Perhaps the consultant has only a few but intense and long-running engagements. 

Don’t just ask for reference clients. Make the time to call them and be pointed in your questions. Usually, this takes 15 minutes or less.

We like to ask client references four questions as a starting point:

  1. When did you last work with [name of consultant]?
  2. What has been the best thing about working with them?
  3. What could [name of consultant] do better?
  4. Would you use [name of consultant] again? Why or why not?

Ask the consultant to send you their standard contract agreement? 

When you ask for this agreement, it does not need to be a draft agreement for your potential engagement. A copy of their boilerplate or generic agreement they typically use is fine. 

We ask for the agreement template for two reasons. First, they may have fees and rates in their standard agreement template, which is helpful. Second, the agreement should give you an idea of their preferred consulting fee structure. 

What is their typical fee structure? 

First, this question lets you know the way they prefer to engage in projects. 

Ask the consultant why they prefer the specified fee structure? Their answer will reveal the motivations behind it. 

Now is the opportunity to put forward your preference around fee structure and share general budget numbers.

Are they willing to have “skin in the game” to achieve the engagement goals? 

We like to save this question for towards the end of the discussion. 

The consultant has heard what you need from them and how they can help your nonprofit move forward on a critical need. 

You’ve talked about goals, budget, and timeframe. 

This question forces everyone to lay their cards on the table. 

Are they willing to lose something of worth if the goals are not achieved? Better yet, indicate your willingness to pay a bonus for early and exceptional work. For example, if they exceed a fundraising goal, they get a reward. This could be a win-win.

What do they need and expect from you that will ensure success? 

This question is a great closer. Creating a strong partnership over time requires a two-way street. 

You want to know what you can do to ensure their success with your organization. 

Ask them about a customer whose engagement went extremely well. What did the client do well to ensure success. 

Conversely, can they tell you about an engagement that did not go well and what they would have liked to have seen the client do differently that would have resulted in success. 

Listen to what they say and take notes. You will want to meet their expectations as they work to meet yours. It’s a partnership, after all.

I hope these tips, combined with the power of the directory, will give you great confidence in selecting your next consultant. Let us know how we can help.

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