The Client-Consultant Collaboration Part 2

nonprofit consulting Feb 23, 2021

Establishing Trust

It can be tempting for staff to focus your initial conversations with a consultant around internal needs and expect immediate feedback. In most cases however, the mark of a solid consultant will be one who spends a good deal of time listening, asking good questions, then asking some more. Quick fixes are rare. The fastest course to results emerges when both parties engage in open, honest discourse and refrain from swift solutions. In the early stages of the relationship, that means building the confidence that outcomes will come, even if not as quickly as hoped. An experienced fundraising consultant touts the benefits of listening to donors more than talking to them. That same standard applies to working with consultants themselves.

Much of this trust comes from honesty on both sides. For instance, if a previous consulting engagement did not go as planned, feel free to take time to convey that experience. Not only does such an approach relay trust and respect for the relationship, but it enables a conversation about how the consultant would recommend avoiding such a situation.

Establishing Expectations

So much of a successful engagement rests on expectations. Whether the scope of the project or the frequency in which each party will communicate, this is another area in which staff can take the lead. It really is incumbent upon the client to ensure that, not only are roles and responsibilities discussed, but that they appear in writing.

The proposal, work agreement, and contract are among the best tools to solidify expectations. Those terms are often used interchangeably, but at least one of them should outline the specific terms of the engagement. If a client views those documents as perfunctory, mostly designed to outline broad goals, timelines, and fees, staff misses an opportunity to add value to the process. Each consultant will add varying details to a proposal and contract, but in general, the two can form the basis of a solid work plan:

  • Goals and objectives
  • Roles and responsibilities for both the consultant and client
  • Any deliverables
  • Timeframe
  • Terms of payment
  • An “out” clause

Client responsibilities are a part of any consultant’s work proposal. This section signals the parties’ mutual understanding that success requires ongoing input from each. The work proposal is akin to an organization’s strategic plan: when filed away, it is unlikely to serve its full purpose. However, when referenced regularly, it serves as a ready-made guide to the consultancy. And much like that strategic plan, the stakeholders can feel free to suggest tweaks and even full-scale revisions as the work progresses.

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