In November 2010, I had the opportunity to attend two workshops focused on consultants at the national conference for the Grant Professionals Association (GPA) – one led by Dr. Bev Browning, author of Grant Writing For Dummies, and one led by Debbie DiVirgilio, GPA board member and developer of the Grant Consultants Mentoring Program.
One of the things that became clear to me, after attending both workshops, was that each grant consultant refines his/her business model differently, based on aspects of the business he/she likes and dislikes. For this reason, as each of us evaluates models for growing our business, it is important to understand the “why?” behind choices other consultants have made as they developed theirs. You may have different values, preferences and strengths, and as such, choose a different direction to grow in.
Most grant consultants seem to start on a similar path, providing prospect research and proposal development services. They begin to deviate when they decide to include other services, based on their own preferences, strengths and weaknesses. Strategic planning services, marketing services, database support, report writing, program evaluation, board development, and training perhaps. They may also deviate when they select the types of clients they want to work with, based on an organization’s life stage, budget, staffing capacity, mission focus or sector, or based on the type of relationships and projects they seek, long-term or short-term. There is no one way to grow a consulting business.
Recently, I completed a book that both highlights this fact and provides insights into the many directions a grant consulting business could take.
Nonprofit Consulting Essentials: What Nonprofits and Consultants Need to Know by Penelope Cagney is an excellent resource for grant consultants ready to expand into other areas of nonprofit consulting. The preface alone will help you understand where you fit in as a provider of consultant services to nonprofits and guide your business plan development and market positioning.
Like Ms. Cagney, I believe that, as consultants, we have the ability to transfer knowledge and best practices between sectors — keeping the triple bottom line (community-benefit, environmental-sustainability, and profit) in view. Ms. Cagney provides excellent insight into how the knowledge shared between sectors has changed over time and how it will likely continue to evolve.
Are you a Content Expert or a Process Consultant?
How many of you have considered the process you go through as you develop a consulting relationship? Or what kind of consultant role you play? Are you a “content expert” or a “process consultant”? My guess is that most of you would say “content expert,” but as a “content expert” your services are most in need when the the client already has a clearly identified need and there is no need to examine the organization as a whole. Is that typically true of your clients?
“Process consulting,” on the other hand, best fits situations when an organization is having difficulty but doesn’t really know what kind of help is needed (or if you suspect their real need is actually different from what they’ve communicated to you based on things the board and staff has said).
Here’s an example … Client A is a small non-profit that wants to start writing grants to fund their program. How well defined is their mission? Their target market? How well defined are their programs? Their outcomes? How strong is their board? Is it a working board? Has the organization pursued any other types of funding? How are they funding the cost of a grant consultant? The answers to these questions can help you determine if you’re in for a gig as a “content expert” or a “process consultant”. Set your pricing accordingly …
So, what happens if you find yourself in the role of “process consultant”? Well, according to Ms. Cagney, there are three stages to process consulting: (1) engagement, which is as much about managing expectations as it is about getting a contract in writing, (2) getting down to business, which includes reviewing available data and assembling evidence of impact, and (3) making recommendations and going through the process of implementation. As a grant consultant, are you involved at all of these stages? Think about it.
Nonprofit Consulting Options
Now we all know that nonprofits draw heavily on consultants for help in the areas of fundraising and marketing, but what other areas are big right now? According to a survey by the Alliance for Nonprofit Management, the need for fundraising and income generation was followed by board development and governance, planning and leadership, and mentoring/coaching.
Even within fundraising, many options exist beyond prospect research and grant proposal development … capital campaign management, feasibility and planning studies, development audits, planned giving development, direct response fundraising, fundraising events, cause marketing, corporate sponsorship, text-to-give, monthly giving campaigns, in-kind contributions, community building and online/social media giving. You can even specialize in garnering celebrity endorsement or support from your local political representatives or in developing new sources of earned income.
And, of course, marketing is intimately tied in with fundraising, and can include newsletters, web sites and social communities, mass media, e-mail marketing, community events, networking and other community involvement, public relations (online and off), annual reports, videos, and paid advertising.
Governance Consulting, Management and Organizational Development Consulting, and International Consulting are equally diverse. I will address these in future posts as there is much to learn from Ms. Cagney here.
Identifying your Ideal Client
In the latter part of her book, Ms. Cagney also discusses how to build a strong relationship between a consultant and a nonprofit. A review of this section may help you better define the type of clients you want to work with.
Trends in Nonprofit Consulting
Ms. Cagney closes with a look at the trends affecting the nonprofit consulting market, discussing the impact of increased globalization, the blending of sectors, an increasingly diverse workplace, and the changing role of the expert.
“The value of consultants in this new environment will lie in their ability to help clients find their own solutions, and also in creating ways to organize, prioritize, and find meaning in the endless barrage of information … consultants will become shepherds of knowledge.”
I give Nonprofit Consulting Essentials: What Nonprofits and Consultants Need to Know my highest recommendation! Whether you have a well established business and you are looking to expand or you’re just getting started, this book will set you in the right direction.
One note: grant writers and those focused on prospect research related to corporations and foundations are not highlighted in this book. Ms. Cagney hopes to cover them in more detail in a future edition.
Nonprofit Consulting Essentials: What Nonprofits and Consultants Need to Know is available for purchase through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Borders.
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