Working with a consultant can be beneficial for nonprofits. They enable organizations to focus on keeping things running smoothly and efficiently by freeing up time for the bigger picture. But how do you find the right consultant for your organization?
In today’s episode, we’re going to talk about working with consultants with Jessica Campbell, Founder and CEO of Out in the Boons and a dear friend of mine. She is a trained nonprofit fundraiser who has worked with big and small organizations and runs a consulting business where she helps organizations to connect with the right consultants to get the help they need.
Myths that Jess wants us to walk away from:
Consultants only develop the plan. Some consultants like Jess, are committed to doing things differently. They are out there to help organizations not only get the plan, but also understand it and have the tools and resources they need to carry it out.
Nonprofit consultants are always expensive. There is a large range in price for nonprofit consultants. The right consultant will have a pricing structure that works for you and your organization's budget.
Jess’s tips on working with consultants
Outsourcing helps you focus on your mission: Wearing multiple hats is common in our sector, but trying to do everything at once can lead you and your team to burnout. Getting help from a consultant allows your organization to do other tasks and focus on what really matters.
Leveling of expectations: Before you decide to work with a consultant, Jess suggests that it is critical to identify the outcome that you want out of consulting, what your expectations and needs are to make this work effective for your organization.
Matchmaking: In her own program, Jess uses matchmaking to match nonprofits with consultants based on their specific needs and areas of expertise. She also stresses the importance of finding the right match between the consultant's personality, working style, and the nonprofit's team.
Favourite Quotes from Today’s Episode
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“And like you said, your experience working with coaches and consultants when you were in-house, I had a very similar experience. They came in, they wrote a plan, and then they left and I wanted to be more hands on. It's not in my nature to really set it and forget it as they say. And I think what I've learned in doing this for the last five or so years, is that it's so much more than a plan that folks need. It's really the execution. And I know that working with coaches and consultants can be such an investment. And so I've committed myself to doing it differently, which is really helping folks, not just get the plan, but understand the plan and then have the tools and resources to execute the plan.”
“The biggest pet peeve is I see small organizations trying to do it all themselves. Or one person or two person team trying to do it all. And I wish that people realize that there's no trophies for burnout. You don't get a gold star for that. ”
Resources from this Episode
Cindy W.: So I've been consulting now for almost seven years and I've seen a lot of great consulting work and a lot of, let's call it, not so great consulting work. And I've also talked to a lot of organizations that feel like they wanna work with a consultant, but they're not really sure how to find the right consultant. What kind of work that consultant will do. And just, it feels, sometimes overwhelming or just trying to do too much with too little. And on top of that, how consultants can best serve organizations can feel a little bit daunting. And so, today's podcast is all about working with consultants.
I'm your host, Cindy Wagman, and you are listening to The Small Nonprofit podcast where we bring you practical down to earth advice on how to get more done for your small nonprofit. You are going to change world and we're here to help.
So today's guest is Jess Campbell, and Jess is the founder and CEO of Out in the Boons and a dear friend of mine. And Jess is a trained nonprofit fundraiser. She has worked in ginormous and startup organizations. She's really seen the gamut and she runs a consulting business that is, to give nonprofit fundraisers the tools and accountability to raise more money. But in doing that work, she's discovered a little super power of hers, which is connecting people. And so I think one of her passions is finding the right nonprofit support people, the consultants, to help organizations in the way that they need help. So Jess, welcome to the podcast.
Jess C.: This is so fun, Cindy. Thanks for having me.
Cindy W.: It's truly my pleasure. And I wanna dive right in because we both worked, like I, when I started consulting, I feel like there was like, here's what a fundraising consultant does, there was this sort of okay, come in and you give organizations a plan or a strategy. And that was most of my interaction when I worked in house, most of my interaction with consultants. And it's not how things actually are. So I'd love to hear your story of even just building your consulting business and figuring out how you can serve organizations that might not be what we typically think of as work that consultants do.
Jess C.: We have a lot of overlap for sure. As you mentioned in my intro, I've been a nonprofit fundraiser for the better part of the last 18 years. And I really loved my in-house job. And I spent a lot of money on my brain and I identified as a nonprofit leader and fundraiser. And then I had a baby and everything I knew to be true, flew out the window. And my reality of starting my day with a coffee meeting and ending my day with dinner or drinks with a donor, just wasn't the right fit for my new lifestyle. And sadly, I had to leave my organization, which was devastating because it was really shedding a part of my identity that I really held onto for a long time.
So I took a minute to just be a new mom and so many nonprofit coaches and consultants, I then put out an email to half a dozen people saying: I'm freelancing now. Do you know anyone that would like my services?" And an email spread to another person, which led to a phone conversation, which is how I landed my first client. They are my longest running client. I still work with them today and that evolved into a variety of services. And like you said, your experience working with coaches and consultants, when you were in-house, I had a very similar experience. They came in, they wrote a plan and then they left and I wanted to be more hands on. It's not in my nature to, really set it and forget it as they say.
And, I think what I've learned in doing this for the last five or so years, is that it's so much more than a plan that folks need. It's really the execution. And, and I know that working with coaches and consultants can be such an investment. And so I I've committed myself to doing it differently, which is really helping folks, not just get the plan, but understand the plan and then have the tools and resources to execute the plan.
Cindy W.: I couldn't agree more. But you also work in like really unique ways. Like you have sprints and you actually work. It's not necessarily what we think of as the big fundraising plan. Like it can be, but you've broken that into very specific areas of action. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Jess C.: For sure. I know when I receive information, sometimes it's fed to me like a water hose. And what happens is I end up not drinking a drop, it, because, it's so overwhelming.
Cindy W.: You like that about most conferences.
Jess C.: Conferences, even courses, even even some people, frankly, it's just too much all at one time. And so the way I think of the, the modalities that I teach when it comes to fundraising is really as these kind of stepping stones. And so for example, I have a course called campaigns that convert, it really teaches people, my framework to successfully running mostly an end of year campaign.
And it's a lot of information and I've stepped back and realize what do people need to know before they actually go run this campaign. They probably need to know how to get new donors. They probably need to know how to recruit peer champions. They probably need to know how to ask for match donations. They probably need all the tech tools in place so that automations can flow, and so rather than just, funneling people straight to the big kind of campaign product, I've worked on teaching these micro steps that will make them successful in the ultimate step.
And I think that different people learn differently and I've had to really sit in what I enjoy doing. Where I mentioned at the beginning, I did one to one done for you services. About a year ago, I found out that really drains my energy and I get much more energy when I show up, live in front of hundreds, if not thousands of people. So I also have a raise more together summit. I have courses, I have sprint weeks, and it's more energetically fulfilling for me. I show up better. I am better doing that than I am producing, one on one work for one client at a time. That's just what works for me. And I think that is an important piece to this puzzle because otherwise I think burnout is in your future.
Cindy W.: Yeah. And it like the same is true on the reverse side of that relationship, and we're gonna talk a little bit more about how to work with consultants, but I think the first thing is, similar to the work that you've done personally; what, energetically, do I need? How am I going to solve for my problems? An organization needs to think outside the fundraising strategy box and think, okay, what are the areas where we can invest to actually move the needle?
90% of the time. It's not actually a fundraising strategy for you, five year fundraising strategy.
So can you tell me a little bit about the ways that cuz you now have a network and organizations are coming to you and if it's not you doing the work, you're referring them to people, right? You actually have a, a product or program called Rolodex where you are the matchmaker between organizations and consultants. And so what are some of the ways that organizations have figured out "Oh, I need something a little bit different." And what does that look like?
Jess C.: As I said, I host the Raise More Together Summit, which it's, we've done three I've had over a hundred nonprofit coaches, consultants teach various material. And what was happening, very organically, is people were coming to me saying, "Hey Jess, do you know a grant writer?" "Hey Jess, do you know a copywriter?" "Hey, Jess. Do you know someone who can help me figure out a planned giving strategy?" And as I was moving away from one on one work, I did. I have access to all of these fantastic nonprofit coaches and consultants.
And so I put a product together called the Rolodex, which is various professionals who do various specific things because no one comes to me saying, I need just something very general. It's usually very specific. I wanna raise X number of dollars through a sponsorship. I need a new website. I need a major gift strategy. And, and so I was, I've been able to just very naturally connect people up with their wants and their needs. And what I also know about nonprofit fundraisers and leaders is some people do, they just need the plan. They have a team, they have the tools and the resources to go execute on their own.
Some people are just getting started and they need to be learning while they're doing. And so someone that can walk side by side with them is very helpful. Other people, they might know everything, but they're a really small shop. Like I'm sure a lot of people listening in are very small shops and what they need to do is actually outsource. They need to physically remove to do items from their list.
And so it is cost beneficiary for them to, for example, hire out a grant writer versus try and hold that themselves. Other people, they just need to work on their mindset, I don't know a fundraiser on this planet. I don't know a human on this planet that doesn't have some money mindset issues, and so they need someone to coach them or help keep them accountable.
And so while I break down what the needs are, then I'm able to actually produce a very well recommended person on the service side, because I know the skills that those people do so well. I'm also just a natural connector. I say this all the time, you can't get in a room with me where I'm not recommending childcare situation to you, a book to you, a restaurant to you. Watch out because it's just how I operate. It's my value add to relationships and conversations. So this part also just comes super natural.
Cindy W.: Amazing. So when an organization comes to be like, "Jess, we really need some help." What are some of the things that you want them what are some of the things that they have to have thought through in order to best make use of a recommendation or consultant? What are the answers? What are the questions you have that they need to answer?
Jess C.: Sometimes it's very direct. How much do you wanna raise and by when do you wanna raise it? Other questions I ask are things around retention and mailing lists and open rates, because I'm trying to understand the viability of their current community.
Is it healthy? Is it unhealthy? Do you need to spend time actually warming folks up or are they warm and you can go, so some of it's logistical. And then other questions I'm asking are more long term, where do you wanna see your organization in the next 18, 24, 36 months? I ask questions about their "flow" and I'm using air quotes.
So I talked a lot earlier about some things that are my flow, trying to understand their flow because I think that it is like fitting a, what is the saying? A square peg into a round hole. If you're just constantly trying to compensate for the things that you're just not naturally gifted at. And so really helping people see that, come to that conclusion and, and then hire out or hire up for those for those items instead. But sometimes, it, it really does range depending on what I'm hearing from the people that are reaching out and why they're reaching out.
Cindy W.: Yeah. So a lot of consultants I know have stopped responding to RFPs. I'd love to hear about your experiences with, you make a connection or even if an organization's coming to you, like what that pro, what an organization should prepare for in terms of a process to actually figure out if the consultant is what they need. And a lot of organizations do need a competitive process. If, if the scope of work is over a certain amount of money.
So how do we leverage the idea of network? Because all of us like referrals in the sense that I would much sooner hire someone who comes from someone I know and trust than a stranger, regardless of the price, but there's a process that organizations need to follow. So how can we straddle both of those areas and what questions should the organization be asking of the nonprofit? How do they navigate that next step process?
Jess C.: I love that you bring up this idea of a recommendation. I have a guess that a lot of your listeners are female. And one thing that the data shows us is women. We love a good recommendation. I tell this story a lot. When my husband and I were first dating, we went to Buenos Aires and we were traveling. And as traveling can be quite a bit of work and you get hungry all of a sudden, and you're in a foreign place. You don't know where to go, where's the best restaurant. And he would immediately go to, he would say, "Oh, let's go over there" where there was no one sitting, it was completely empty. And I would wanna go to the place that was hustling and bustling.
Cindy W.: Yeah.
Jess C.: And he'd be like, but that's gonna be a two hour wait. And I said, but that's gonna be good. And I could tell because of the social credibility of people being there, I didn't have to ask anyone to know that those places were, are good. And us women, we really attach ourselves to a good recommendation. So I totally get, I think that's why the Rolodex works so well is because these people that are in the Rolodex are vetted and credible and I trust them. The other thing that you mentioned is ease and the one resource we are never getting more of its time.
Not ever. So if you can find a ways to slice through that and not have to put out an RFP with interviews and all sorts of just I don't wanna call it red tape because sometimes it's totally valid, but you, it doesn't have to be that way. And so questions then to ask when you do find two or three people, which I always recommend vetting a couple people against themselves, because so much of what I match making so to speak is around personality.
Everyone is good at what they do when they come to me. But are they the right fit personality wise. Some people need a little bit more tough love. Other people need more sensitive or trauma informed coaches, other people like you, Cindy, you have such a background in neuroscience, right? And some people really want all of that data behind the why, of why you're teaching them what you teach. And so really match making that I think is really important against other people. I also really think that nonprofits should ask for rec references, excuse me.
Because, they're selling themselves as they should. And it's important for you to go hear about what they've done, what they've not just what they know, but what they've done or what they've been able to help people achieve. And I think that you can do that over email. I don't think you need to spend a little, a lot of time setting up calls and setting up interviews, but asking three or five questions, on a scale of one to 10 type of questions, A, B, C, D type answers. And then, straight up, would you recommend this person for us to work on project A, B or C? And I think a combination of all of that after you have a really warm referral is the smoothest pathway to finding a right match the first time around.
Cindy W.: Love that. And I, I just wanna reiterate again, that a lot of the ways to work with consultants now is not just the here's our scope of work and da. Like you, I have a online instruction program. You have, I love your sprints and like the work that you do with organizations. And so you're not always comparing apples to apples.
That's the one thing that I think, I don't wanna say it's like irritated me a little bit, but like very often I see organizations have a very defined scope of work that often as a small organization, they're copying what they see a big organization do and they're just. Flat out on the right wrong path. I don't wanna say anything more rude than that, but I could. They're just, and oftentimes it's gonna lead to just a waste of money. And so I think for the organization's listening think about what it is you actually need to get done.
And I think to Jess's point, like earlier in the conversation, you said like how do you as an organization work to get that done? What are the ways you can fill in the gaps that might look super different than what we traditionally think of as consulting. I just, that is one thing and like keeping that in mind, as you talk to different providers. They all, each consultant has a different way of working. What works for your organization and your personal work style. I think is such a big one.
Jess C.: Your personal work style in your team, especially for small organizations. I really want to encourage you to listen to what Cindy just said, because what works for organizations at midsize or large size is just not going to be the right fit for you. And so to really analyze what do you want out of this? And if it's a thought partner, if it's a coach, that is a very different product than a 20 page annual report, which is also a totally valid end product. But if that's just gonna sit on the shelf because you don't have any team members to help you execute it, it's probably gonna be a waste of money. So just really having a true conversation with yourself about what your expectations and needs are is such a critical piece to making this work for any party.
Cindy W.: Yeah. And that's the driver on how you evaluate the different proposals because different, you might have the same outcome, but different ways of working, find the one that works for you regardless. There's not a huge price differential in our sector. I don't think it's much, much more important to a test for fit and outcomes than budget.
Jess C.: I'll also say, I hope that people listening, aren't intimidated to ask for what they need, because there are people out there that do work for three hours, five hours, 10 hours a week. Not every single coaching consultant is a five or six figure investment. There are people that will work with you at your budget. And I can say that with sincerity because I match people up every day. Every single day, I get a request, just you Noah, and I feel so grateful that I have a vast network of saying, yes, I wanna recommend you to this person. And this is roughly what it'll cost you.
Cindy W.: Yeah. And to that point, know your budget. That's the other thing, and I also work with a lot of consultants and, I don't know why we all feel, well I know why, we never wanna talk about money as consultants, as a, and as organizations, we like hold that card really close to our chest and it does nothing for us. I always say one of the first questions I ask is what's your budget because as a consultant, I'm going to recommend a budget aligned solution to your problem. Because there, as there are so many different approaches. So I don't know, what. Let's talk a little bit more about budget because there's a huge range. Do organizations coming to you? Do they typically know what their budget is? Are they feeling lost there? How do they figure that out?
Jess C.: That's a really good question because I do find that organizations haven't thought through that as much as it would be helpful in the initial conversation, because when they find out that yes, it does in indeed cost money, then there's a set of approvals that they have to get from either their leadership team or board of directors, et cetera. And it ranges, people sometimes look at my prices and they're like, whoa. They chop that up against an hourly rate. And what they don't know though, is that I'm fast. So what I can do in two hours will literally take you two weeks. And so that's what you're paying for. You're paying for the outcome, not the hour by hour, rate or whatever.
And so really getting comfortable. If you, for example, me, I'm at a place where I don't need to learn as much, but I need someone that's going to make sure that I do what I say I'm gonna do. And so I'm generally paying for a coach or accountability of time. Again, time is the one resource no one is getting more of. So that's a premium rate versus something that's of course that's some more on autopilot, that's already been created. You can consume it at any time you want the information is still wonderful. But it doesn't require any live support. I think you just have to think through those things a little bit more and also know that you can break things down into bite size pieces, phase one, phase two, phase three.
Cindy W.: Yeah. Yeah. I think that's it's interesting there. There's so many different ways that consultants can work with you. The more you're upfront about those things, the more you'll find the right one. So like you mentioned phase one, phase two, phase three. A lot of times when we work with clients, we don't have that option. And maybe we're, maybe that's great for some organization. We work on 12 month contracts. That is a very specific outcome we're working towards, which is, fundraising implementation, but sometimes an organization truly just needs to start with phase one. And so if you know that as an organization, I will flat out tell you, not only am I not the right consultant, but oh, Hey. I know this person who does work that way and you should connect with them. Or if I don't know someone, I'll be like, Hey, talk to my friend, Jess. She knows everyone.
Jess C.: Not everyone, but I'm on my way.
Cindy W.: Yeah. So I think the more reflection organizations can do in advance to really think about what's gonna move the needle for them and what, there's no benefit to holding back information, just share. None of the consultants I know are there to milk an organization for all their worth. They wanna do good and they wanna help you. And knowing a budget can make a really big difference between what, like how useful their proposal is to you.
Jess C.: From the beginning.
Cindy W.: Yeah. Do you have any pet peeves that come up in talking to either consultants or organizations?
I will share mine when you're done, unless you might even have it. But I definitely get asked a lot of the same questions that are based on myths that are perpetuated in our are sector and in our society around this work. And, I do spend a lot of time debunking those myths. So what are some of the things that come up for you in talking to people? That you're just like, if you could know anything before you hop on a call with a consultant, here's what I want you to know.
Jess C.: What I was going to say, a biggest pet peeve is I see small organizations trying to do it all themselves. Or one person or two person team trying to do it all. And I wish that people realize that there's no trophies for burnout. You don't get a gold star for that. And. I think that if people got more comfortable with hiring out the things that are either not the best use of their time or the things that are just not their natural flow. Let's just use an example. Let's say, as a nonprofit leader or fundraiser, you are a people person. You are so good at meeting people and networking and having relationships be built. If that is you should not be doing data entry. You should not be writing a grant. You should not be pulling together board reports. You should be out meeting the people, being in relationship, having all the breakfast, lunch, dinner meetings you can possibly have, and you should outsource almost everything else. On the consultant side, sometimes what I see is a lot of language around what they do. And I'm constantly asking them, tell it to me, like I'm in.
Cindy W.: What does that mean? Yeah.
Jess C.: Just tell it to me like I'm in third grade and because that's, again, what people are asking me for. They're not asking me for fancy language, pie in the sky. No, they just wanna know what can you do for them specifically and really stripping back the language I think would be really helpful. I always tell my clients clear over clever every day of the week. Just say what it is that you do for people.
Cindy W.: A hundred percent. And oftentimes as fundraisers, we know that, but then we don't apply it to our businesses. So yeah, you wanna know mine? My pet peeve?
Jess C.: Of course.
Cindy W.: Working with smaller organizations, I often get asked Can you do this for free or can you work on commission? And there is, I don't know where this started, we can talk about the idea of working for free as being a broader societal issue with the, not valuing our sector's work enough. But the commission piece is super interesting and, I know that a lot of people like it often comes from boards where they're from the for-profit world and they don't understand fundraising. And that we've all like in fundraising been taught that commission is basically unethical. Whether or not you agree with it, like most professional fundraisers will not work on commission. But yeah, like I have you encountered that, what would you want people to to know if they ask that?
Jess C.: So I do get asked that a lot and I'm pretty direct in that I don't work for free. I also have a ton of tools and resources that people can get for free, so I'm able to point them in that direction.
I'm always telling my clients, my goal, my job is to, for the things that I do for clients, is to take every single thing off of your plate, except making the ask. Because at the end of the day, you don't want me to be the person building relationships with your donors, cuz, I'm gonna leave, and people give money to people.
And so I try and think through, what can I remove from your plate so that you have the space, both mentally and in your calendar, to go out and build relationships. That's how I work. But I think having a place, a value add, and also being able to tell people a starting price of what it costs to work with me so that people who are really committed to wanting to work with me can save up for that or go to their board of directors and say, "I wanna work with Jess Campbell and it's gonna cost, a minimum of three thousand dollars to start working with her." And then they can go raise that. So I think parenting around pricing is really important. And if you're a nonprofit coach or consultant out there, I very much encourage you to stop doing things for free too.
Cindy W.: Yes. Yeah. I'm a hundred percent on the same page where we've deliberately built programs and products for organizations that are like, I can't afford that 12 month program because it's not cheap. Is it effective? A hundred percent. Like it is by far one of the most. One of one of the proudest things I've built my.
Jess C.: And way less than a staff person.
Cindy W.: Yeah. Yeah. But it's not for everyone. I know that. And if an organize, if a consultant is trying to sell you on something that is absolutely out of your budget, or they're trying to convince you of something that you're just like, you're not listening to me. That's a clear red flag. Walk away.
Because most of us either will say to you outright, "We're not the right fit right now", or we'll be like, "This isn't the right product or program for you, but I have something within your budget that I think", and I know you agree, like we've spent a lot of time building things that we think will move the needle for you. At a budget. And so focus on the and free things too, right? Like the podcast.
Jess C.: Yeah.
Cindy W.: Knowing that you won't necessarily, you shouldn't be getting someone's time for free. And if you do, I'm not sure the, the value of that they're bringing to the table. Be prepared to have that conversation be like, okay, here's what we can afford and here's what we need. What are some options that start to bridge that gap? For sure.
Jess C.: And when people pay, they pay attention. I don't personally, when I it's like the yoga studio, they always loop you in with one free class, come for the one free class. And I generally go to that and then never come back. And it's the same if you're getting a free consultation, but not paying for the service, what's really keeping you accountable to showing up and doing the work again and again, day in and day out.
Cindy W.: Yeah. And I will say like most good consultants I know, like they don't work for free, but you might. Some of them in their commitment to equity or social justice might take on one or two clients pro bono, very intentionally aligned with their impact and values. So I don't wanna say never, but make sure that they're not doing like most of their work for free, because then there's something out of alignment there. So yeah. Just we're out of time. We literally could talk all day.