For nonprofits, working with a consultant is sometimes like walking into the doctor’s office – hopefully, the doctor will cure us. That same sort of reverence has been given to social sector consultants, as if somehow we have the cure, the solution.

And some consultants show up as if they, the consultants, are the expert. Sometimes, we believe that we are somehow untouchable. After all, isn’t that the reason we’re hired?

Personally, I’m against this sort of mindset; that’s why we encourage you to read “No More Experts.” Consultants may have expertise, but we are not experts. Rather, we need to be constantly examining ourselves and evaluating ourselves, just as professionals in any industry. True, people hire us because we have a body of expertise and because people see us as a part of the solution.

But how do you, the consultant, get feedback to evaluate your work? How do you know that you’re doing well? How do you know your blind spots?

As a consultant, I realized I had no regular way of getting candid feedback. I figured, at best, a full-time employee gets one evaluation a year. So, I hired a professional coach to do a 360-degree evaluation for me. She called 10 of my clients, and she requested feedback for me. What I heard, I found incredibly helpful. That first time was 9 years ago; since then, she’s done three 360’s for me over the past 15 years.

However, among my consulting colleagues, from what I know, most don’t practice regular, formal, third-party led evaluation of their work. But unless we take the initiative, and we invest in that kind of feedback, we won’t get it.

If I want to eat Mexican food, I’ll go to Yelp, and based on the reviews, I can find a place to spend my money. Similarly, a lot of social sector organizations want their funder colleagues to provide them a list of consultants; they want a vetted “shortlist.”

When it comes to social sector consulting, we have nothing that comes close to that serves as an open mechanism for feedback. There is no such transparent structure. We have no information about what the consumer is experiencing that serves to keep us more accountable to our clients.

The ultimate goal for a capacity-building consultant is for our nonprofit clients to be more capable of delivering on the promise of their missions, so that the entrenched social issues that we care so deeply about can be ameliorated. Hopefully, we can make progress on the social issues we care about and to increase our impact. That’s the ultimate goal.

So I put out an idea to create a “Yelp-like” site for consultants. When I floated this concept, I heard everything from a few, “Yeah, it’s about time!” to “No! How do you guard against libel? How do you guard against things that aren’t true? What if the consultant is doing the right thing, but putting pressure on organization to change, and it gets negative reviews?”

And when we were in the research phases of developing, we surveyed nonprofit leaders we found that there is a huge reticence to give no-holds-barred reviews for consultants. People just aren’t willing or ready to do that.

I was very surprised by those comments and survey findings. I was quite surprised by the resistance. I understood them. Completely.

But that has to change.

The results showed how far we have to go to open up our (the consultants’) process for examination and to be more transparent about what we’re doing and how we can do it better.

Here at ImpactRising, we believe that having a transparent forum for consultant feedback keeps consultants accountable to their nonprofit clients. Having that transparency and accountability will encourage consultants to continuously improve our practice, so that we can strengthen the quality of

services that we can offer nonprofit clients to increase their impact across the social sector.

What do you think about this hypothesis?

Transparency of process + feedback –> accountability –> increased quality

What’s the next step we need to take re: shortlists? Here are some questions that we invite you, as part of our ImpactRising community, to help us answer:

  • What do you think about keeping a directory or “shortlists” of consultants, so that the highest-quality, most effective social sector consultants can be surfaced, reviewed and vetted?
    • How can we collectively develop and create this list?
    • Who’s the “keeper” of that list? Where do we keep a list of consultants?
    • How can we stay transparent about the process for getting on that list? What are the criteria for getting on that list?
    • And if everyone wants to get on that list, how does it stay a useful tool rather than becoming a phonebook?
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One Response to Evaluating our practice…and what about the “shortlists”?

  1. Lisa says:

    I’m not a consultant. I work for a nonprofit. A shortlist is a brilliant idea, but I have one concern. I regularly suggest hiring a consultatnt to find a consultant for the organizations larger projects. A shortlist of consultant could negatively impact that process or at least make it more difficult for leadership to recognize the benefit of hiring an outsider to bring additional perspective to the process.

    I still think this could be beneficial for the non profit community, but I need to think more about the nuts and bolts.

    I expect to return with more thoughts and look forward to the contribution of others

    Thank you for starting this


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