The 3 Most Important Questions to Ask Before Hiring an Advancement Consultant

If you Google, “questions to ask before hiring a campaign consultant” (or something similar), you will no doubt wade through an almost-endless supply of results which purport to provide you with the keys to asking the most salient questions of potential consultants.

There are tons of numbered lists – “the 10 questions every consultant should answer,” or “the 5 most important questions to ask,” or my favorite “8 Questions Fundraising Counsel Shouldn’t Be Afraid to Answer.”  (As an aside, I don’t know that I’ve ever been asked a question as counsel that I was afraid to answer.)

In any case, the bulk of these results focus on the questions that you, as an advancement practitioner, should ask the consultant before hiring.  But, this focus on the “questions to ask the consultant” is not always the most helpful.  In fact, having been both a practitioner who has hired consultants and now as a full-time consultant for 12 years, I would quietly suggest that the questions you ask of yourself and your team are, actually, the most important.

To help you make the best possible choice around hiring a consultant, I would offer the following 3 questions that you, first, should ask yourself:

  1. Do you and the members of your team authentically want to be more effective?

You might think this is a no-brainer.  “Of course we want to be more effective.  That’s why we are considering a consultant in the first place!”  But, oddly enough, that isn’t always the case.

More pointedly, “are you and your team willing to change in order to be more effective?”  Unfortunately, for some professionals the answer is not affirming.  Yes, everyone wants better results.  But, for some, if better results means changing, working differently, grinding in new ways, or committing more time to the effort, defensive responses can kick-in.  There is a very good chance that a capable consultant is going to recommend strategies, tactics, or other tools that can be translated loosely as “more or different work.”

You might be surprised how many advancement leaders and teams hire consultants and, then, ignore their advice and counsel – not because the counsel is viewed as being substandard or off-the-mark – but rather because they are not committed to the implementation.  If you or your team aren’t interested in being open-minded about change, a consultant may not be the best use of your resources.

2.  Are you seeking a mechanic or an architect?

This question gets at the heart of the kind and type of consulting relationship you are seeking.

The “mechanic” consultant conducts a specific piece of work for you and helps you implement tactics.  This type of consultant helps you by managing a campaign or by implementing a special event.  The “mechanic” consultant typically works on a specific project for a specific amount of time with a specific deliverable.

The “architect” consultant, on the other hand, provides the experienced counsel to help you and the team become more capable.  The role of the consultant as “architect” is to journey alongside you, sometimes throughout a campaign for instance, and guide you in decision-making and strategy.  The “architect” consultant is experienced, has the heart of a teacher, is focused on a more comprehensive view of your work, and, is aiming to make you and your programs more effective and efficient.

To be certain, both the “mechanic” and “architect” consultants have their place.  However, if you are seeking longer-term impact and growth, or sustained improvements, hiring a consultant to serve as a mechanic is not typically going to provide you with those results.

3. Do you envision guiding the consultant’s work or are you open to having the consultant guide the engagement?

Some leaders hire the consultant and then proceed to tell the consultant how to consult.  And while every consulting-client partnership is a unique dance based on the needs of the client, the best consultants bring with them an expertise of how to consult.

In other words, consulting is a profession that has specific skill sets and best practices.  Just because the client may be an experienced and capable advancement or development professional does not mean that he or she understands how best to consult to achieve results.  The best consulting-client relationships emerge when the consultant’s expertise is mined in ways that adds value to the client’s efforts.  High-quality consultants will bring fresh perspectives and approaches – not only to advancement work – but also to the understanding of what it means to consult effectively.

If, before hiring a consultant you ask yourself these questions – and answer each earnestly – I can assure you that your results and experiences will be enhanced.

And, your consultant will thank you as well.


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