How to Pick A Consultant

Does anyone really know what the word “consultant” means?

Often we know we need specialized support as leaders, but we don’t know who to trust. So, we hire a consultant. It’s no small thing when an overwhelmed non-profit leader hires our team members as consultant, bringing us on board to consult with them on strategy, marketing or brand. It’s a laying bare of their organization’s flaws and strengths and all the things they often don’t show publicly, which, while not easy, is essential to getting past and strengthening areas where the organization finds themself stuck. 

I saw this come to life personally in 2021, when bringing on a fractional CFO/COO. There were areas I kept getting drawn into, and spending time on, that were stealing not just my time, but my joy – and impacting our team. Along with managing the never-ending cycle of change in the pandemic-era, I knew I needed different help. I reached out to a friend in the non-profit sector, who knew me, our organization and my working style, let her know about the need we had, and our pain points around it, and she referred me to Jennifer (Thank goodness!)

It’s worked out incredibly well for both of us. Why? Let’s start with what makes a good consultant.

What makes a good consultant?

Effective consulting is a rich mix of: 

  • Having the sight lines and experience needed to ask the right questions – and a leader ready to think through the answers to those questions. 
  • Providing strong insight to listen well and respond – with solutions or, sometimes, tough questions – and a client who values an external pair of eyes. 
  • Having lived experience in the sector, a deep understanding of the unique challenges organizations face, who the organization serves, and vision for where the sector is heading – and a client who is ready to do the work to move forward. 
  • Having a broad view on best practices, and what others are doing – while casting vision for what could be done differently, and a client willing to learn. 
  • A two-way willingness to be honest, while remaining humble and kind, with a desire to break through what might be holding an organization back, knowing that truth-telling will help move us forward – and a client wanting to hear truth, and act on it. 
  • Having a champion in your corner, who helps you love your organization and team more – and re-learn how much you love what you do, by helping you move into your optimal space – and a client who trusts them to be that champion. 

How to choose a consultant

So, how do you choose one? Here’s a cheat-sheet of questions to get you started:  

  • Identify your pain point: what “hurts” right now? 
  • Identify the problem you wish you could solve: if you could wave a magic wand, and solve one problem, what would it be? 
  • Identify who you work best with: do you want a sounding board, a peer, a more senior view, or more fresh insight? What “heart” do you need the consultant to have? 
  • Identify what experience you are lacking: is it insight into other organizations, best practices, data understanding, tactical experience, or strategic insight? 
  • Identify what results you’re hoping to achieve: do you want more freedom from tasks you keep getting sucked into, or clarity around how to move your organization forward, or something else entirely? 
  • Identify what you’re spending too much time figuring out: who else knows more about this, and could do it in a fraction of the time, so you don’t have to?

Ultimately, I love consulting as we bring the best of our team’s skill set and knowledge to the table – along with eyes to see the bigger picture and a heart to deeply care not just for the sector, but for a client’s organization. 

And that? Well, it means we get to strengthen more organizations committed to hope, generosity and justice – and a mission well-lived.

Need a good consultant? Schedule a 20-minute call to see if we’re a good fit for what you need.

Ellen Graf-Martin

President & Chief Strategist, Ellen Graf-Martin started her marketing career in 2000, hosting global mission leaders for the launch of the internationally-acclaimed, Operation World. Since then, she’s enjoyed the privilege of launching countless brands, films, books, and working with several national and international non-profit organizations. Ellen’s deep commitment to using the marketing tools in her hands to come alongside organizations working for good, is clear in the work that she and the team does.