Building Effective Relationships

To inform ImpactRising, we wanted to dig deep and understand what make for effective working relationships between a nonprofit leader and a consultant, leading to greater success on the project. Between November 2012 and February 2013, Shiree Teng conducted ten interviews with consultant and nonprofit leader pairs to reflect on a project that they worked on together.

We heard a lot, and we learned a lot.

Below are themes and reflections from those interviews.

Qualities that Enhance Consultants and Nonprofit Leaders’ Partnership Success

  • Be open and honest with yourself to allow for risk taking and vulnerability.
  • Get ready for real change – in the organization, in your practice, in your assumptions. Be willing to really change.
  • Strive for deep, personal connection based on shared values about the world. Really “get” one another in all of our humanity.
  • Build in regular “How is it going?” feedback throughout the project. Set up an early warning system without waiting until the end of the project to make shifts and changes.
  • Expect things to take longer than you think they will. Build in that contingency. Build in follow-up.
  • Don’t try to squeeze in what you know will take an hour into 15 minutes.
  • Have a Zen-like, beginner’s mind. Let go of perceived outcomes. Give new ideas and approaches a chance. Lean in when something’s uncomfortable. Be willing to suspend disbelief.
  • Establish some principles by which you will work together. Regularly check in on, “Are we being true to those principles? If not, what needs to shift?”
  • Gut check: “Do I like this person? Do our values align? Or am I just taking this project for the money? Am I just going through the motions because of my Board/funder?”

Nonprofits interviewed included global and national networks, direct service organizations, social justice advocacy and grassroots organizing groups. Capacity building projects included financial management; strategy formation; evaluation; communications and strategic uses of social media; coaching, and performance management.

Read the full report here > Interview Summary

Read the individual interviews that informed the summary > Interviews with Consultants and Nonprofit Leaders  

Explore additional resources on how to build effective working relationships: