The More the Merrier: Why It’s Better for the Nonprofit When Consultants Work Together
by Stephen Donshik
Nonprofit organizations often engage more than one consultant at the same time and when this is the case, there can be an added value to their working with each other instead of separately. It is not only a matter of coordinating their efforts to work within the framework of the organization’s objectives, but rather to enable them to share their understanding of the challenges facing the agency. When consultants are encouraged to establish a strong collegial relationship it benefits them individually and strengthens their efforts on behalf of the organization.
Recently, a colleague worked with a community-based organization that coordinates its local voluntary agencies and raises funds for projects and programs. In her role, she worked as marketing and communications consultant to the board of directors, which was made up completely of volunteers.
After several months of working with these dedicated volunteers she realized that they were motivated by true altruism and wanted to strengthen the social fabric of the community and better its quality of life through social and cultural activities. Their main objective was to build unity among the various social groups ranging from ultra-Orthodox (Haredim) to those who did not observe Jewish law and wanted a different quality of life. It was important for the volunteer leadership to sponsor programs that would provide opportunities to bring these different groups in the community together to prevent discord and tension among the groups. They were focused on developing social welfare and cultural programs.
My colleague was engaged to create materials that would let the community know what was being done to better the quality of their lives by lessening the tensions between the different groups in the community. She also created additional materials to solicit donations (and donors) and to encourage residents to join the organization’s growing membership. This way they were demonstrating their agreement and support of the purposes and goals of the organization.
This consultant wanted to meet with me because she thought the organization was not developing itself in an effective and efficient way. Although they were pleased with the services she was providing, she felt there was something missing in the way the organization was developing. She did not see a solid foundation being built that would provide them with a strong base to expand and to reach out into the community in order to have a strong impact on the residents.
My discussion with her focused on what had been done since they became a registered nonprofit organization. She was concerned about their lack of sophistication in creating a board of directors and in deciding upon the variety of purposes a board should fulfill. The group had a clear sense of their vision and mission. Beyond having decided on the purposes and goals of the organization, they had not developed either the decision making structure of the organization or the framework for implementing programs.
After identifying a number of the areas where the committed board members could benefit from assistance in building the organization I was invited to a meeting with the consultant and seven key leaders from the organization’s board of directors. The agenda included discussing the present functioning of the organization and exploring how they were working to meet the community’s needs.
My colleague reached out to me because of her commitment to assist the leadership in fulfilling their purposes. She was concerned about strengthening the organization and saw the possibility of having a broader impact on the leadership’s efforts by bringing another consultant into the picture. Instead of dwelling on the potential competition between herself and someone else, she was open-minded about the advantages this joint consultation would bring to the nonprofit.
The leadership of the organization not only benefited from the additional knowledge and skills that I, as an additional consultant, brought to the table, but the consultant herself also gained from the experience. She understood that the group’s inability to make certain decisions was related less to whether her ideas and suggestions were appropriate and more to do with their lack of knowledge of what their community based nonprofit organization can achieve and how it can achieve it. As the group understood more about their role as a board of a nonprofit agency, they began to make the necessary changes and in the process they gained more satisfaction from the time and effort they were donating on behalf of the organization.
Stephen G. Donshik, D.S.W., is a lecturer at Hebrew University’s International Nonprofit Management and Leadership Program and has a consulting firm focused on strengthening nonprofit organizations and their leadership for tomorrow. Stephen is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.