A recent experience made me think about how different generations understand consultants. Thanks to ad hoc Professor Michael Davidson at the Milano Graduate School of Management and Urban Policy at The New School, I had the chance to address a group of future nonprofit leaders in a classroom.
In meeting with the students, I realized that the current generation of nonprofit leaders is the first to truly familiarize itself with the function and role of external consultants. Because nonprofit consulting is relatively new, many people in my generation are still uncertain about how and when they should seek outside help. Thus, many nonprofit executives are slow to use consultants to enhance their operations.
The next generation has little such hesitancy. The nonprofit world is professionalizing at a rapid pace. Young leaders entering the field have often benefited from a transfer of skills that was non- existent twenty years ago. Moreover, they are applying lessons from the business world to create stronger nonprofits.
A savvy understanding of the consulting field is a strength they bring. The students I spoke with asked sophisticated questions about nonprofit consulting, and quickly honed in on four key points:
- Consulting must first be about listening deeply to what the client is asking for. A good consultant works carefully with the client not only to identify areas of need, but also to find places where the organization is ready to receive help. Each side must be ready to build a relationship.
- Consultants should produce results, this means a concrete outcome not just a report.
- The goal of engaging a consultant is not to solve all your problems. You should be skeptical of anyone who tries that! The goal is to move your organization to a better set of problems than you had before.
- The fact that a consultant is coming in from the outside is usually an advantage, allowing you to gain a new perspective on your dilemmas. Because the consultant is not burdened with the pressures and stress of managing everyday operations, he or she can often provide fresh insights into problems faced by your organization.
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