One day, I was meeting with an informal learning group of 12, maybe 14, consultants. We each talked about where we were at with our consulting, places where we were doing well, places where we felt challenged. Going around the circle, one consultant said, “I am new to consulting. And I hope that I am not doing harm out there.”

When I heard that, my stomach went to the floor. This person – a long-term leader in the social justice world making a transition to becoming a consultant – has impeccable, impressive, progressive credentials.

Yet I was feeling terrible for her clients. There are groups with whom she’s working as a paid consultant, and that she might be doing in harm. And in her truest authenticity, she was saying that she didn’t know what she was doing.

That was a moment.

When I had been a program officer at the Packard Foundation, I read hundreds of organizational effectiveness and capacity-building proposals – hundreds of workplans – that consultants had written. I saw huge variations in what people considered consulting. Strategic plans, evaluation plans, fundraising plans – they were all over the place.

I eventually left Packard to start my own consulting practice. It took me 10 years of building a body of work to begin understanding what I was doing. That led to my being more clear about what was acceptable practice … or not – to ME. I wanted my clients to review me and say the things that they want to say, so that I could learn.

I have been in the consulting practice for 15 years now. And what I realize is that not much has changed since I first started reviewing proposals at Packard. The consulting industry has grown in size, yet there still are no baselines for effectiveness, no standards of practice, no principles. People are doing it in their bedrooms and their dining rooms. It’s a crazy, wild world out there.

This project began as a way to help bring a level of standards to the consulting industry, to raise the quality of social sector consulting, and to to have some measure of accountability. There are some third-party quality assurance mechanisms doing good work, like Rockwood’s BCORR, RoadMap Consulting, NoVo Foundation’s Move to End Violence, they are few and not the norm. How do we make it more as a regular practice, rather than as an anomaly?

As a result of our research and exploration, we developed this website. I hope that will take us one more step in that direction.

A few things that you’ll find:

Who We Are
Here you can find out more about who’s been involved in birthing this baby. In particular, I’m very grateful to our three funding partners – The Packard Foundation, The Hewlett Foundation, and the Haas, Jr. Fund. They realized the importance of bringing accountability, tools and resources to the sector because their capacity-building models are largely built upon nonprofits’ using consultants. So they wanted to work upstream with consultants and raise the quality of consultants, and they wanted to work working downstream with nonprofits on how to be better consumers of consultants.

Bill of Rights
I am super excited about the Bill of Rights and Responsibilities. It puts down some really important things about sharing, learning, transparency and accountability for the end goal of increasing the effectiveness of the nonprofit sector overall.

Working with consultants
Consulting is amorphous – it’s largely a relationship between a consultant and an organization. Very few people get to sit in on that relationship. There’s no third party providing quality assurance. So it has to be up to that consultant and that nonprofit to hold that consultant accountable. With these tools and resources, I hope that this website will allow us to start this process.

Discussion forum
Hopefully, we can start some dialogue among the folks that come to this site about what they’re experiencing. Here’s what I want to know:

  • The “Bill of Rights”: Is that the right name? What else should go in there? What are the next steps we need to take?
  • For new consultants entering the field: How do we bring them up, so that they can do high-quality work in the shortest amount of time? What can we do to help them? Or should they learn to walk with their own shoes? What does the pipeline look like? How do we develop that?

I would love to hear what others think. That’s my invitation to continuing this conversation.

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