by Paula Morris, Guest Blogger

Bill of Rights? Really? Isn’t that a little grandiose for a consulting agreement? Maybe. But, when we started talking with other consultants and nonprofit leaders about establishing some ground rules for consulting engagements, we didn’t have the Founding Fathers in mind!

In fact, the image that came to my mind was the Patient’s Bill of Rights and Responsibilities that my eyes often drift to when I am in the waiting room at Kaiser Medical Center. There it is prominently displayed on the wall, spelling out my rights to know the roles of various medical staff, to be made aware of the possible consequences of treatments, and to register concerns about service. AND it lays out my end of the bargain – for example, my responsibility to keep appointments!

Thank heavens, I have never yet felt those rights in danger of being violated. But just having them confirmed puts me in the right frame of mind for what to expect and how to behave to make sure I get what I need from my doctor visit.

It’s in that spirit that we offer up this

draft “Bill of Rights and Responsibilities” – to inspire dialogue, make expectations explicit, help both consultants and clients start their work together off on the best foot, and maybe even nip any potential misunderstandings in the bud.

So how did this get started?

The concept of these seven “R & R”s was born at the innovation competition of the Working with Consultants Design Workshop in March 2013. It just seemed like too good an idea to let languish after the workshop ended. So, Christine Wang and I from the Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund’s Flexible Leadership Awards Program met up with fellow workshop participants, Claudia Paredes and Patrick Brown, of the Greenlining Institute, and put this draft together. We are eager to share it with others so that we can shape it together. Most of all, we saw this as a way to encourage honest transparent communication between consultant and client. It doesn’t matter if the details change; what matters is that the conversation happens.

For each of us, different rights stood out. For me, it’s #7. Because I run a foundation-supported initiative that helps many organizations do deep leadership work with consultants and coaches – it feels important to underline that nonprofit clients should always be in the driver’s seat in shaping the consulting engagement, irrespective of who is footing the bill.

#3 also hit close to home! As we wrote it, I recognized (with some chagrin!) that I have not been as careful as I should to learn how my own consulting has landed with the organizations that I have worked with over the years. It strikes me that, in a field that is so focused these days on impacts, outcomes and evaluation, the least that we should do as consultants is find ways to get real feedback on our own impact. How do we do this? If it became more of a standard practice that consultants and clients could give honest feedback to each other during and at the end of their work together, I believe we would go a long way towards the goal of and “raise the bar” for nonprofit consulting.

My next step: Share this with the consulting colleagues and organizations at the FLA Program and find out whether and how this could be useful to them. I hope others will too. I look forward to learning of other versions that are out there and to more conversation and continued revision and refinement of this living document!

Paula MorrisPaula Morris is the program director for the Flexible Leadership Awards Program, a project of the Tides Center and the Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund. She has worked with the program since its inception in 2005, and is responsible for the design and implementation of coaching, consulting, training, and peer learning opportunities to strengthen the leadership capacity of the staff and board of organizations that are grantees of the Fund.

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