Navigating Power Dynamics

Working with consultants is very similar to hiring and firing staff. It’s important to be crystal clear from the outset about expectations, action items, deliverables, roles and responsibilities.

Many consultants bring significant experience in both functional skills (strategy, evaluation, etc.) and content (education, health, etc.), and some consider them “experts” in what they do. Sometimes, a foundation or an important third-party funder may be paying

for the capacity-building project or for the consultant’s services directly.

It’s understandable that this can feel daunting, but there’s no reason to be intimidated — because YOU (the nonprofit organization) are the client. Remember: Consultants are there to WORK FOR the nonprofit organization; not the other way around!

Some tips to keep in mind when navigating the relationship:

  • From the outset, make your expectations crystal clear
  • Discuss and build the “Bill of Rights and Responsibilities” into the contracting process (ask the consultant to sign it as well!)
  • Use the scope of work or work plan as the contract and management tool
  • Have regular check-in’s to address issues as they come up
  • Be clear and direct in your communications about what you need
  • Don’t sugar coat something if things are not going right

You have the RIGHT to fire the consultant if things are not working. (For example, if you pay a contractor for a small home renovation project that costs $1,000, and midway, the project is not going well and the contractor is not delivering what you had expected. Do you just sit there? Or would you say something?) Here the nonprofit organization is hiring someone at $25,000. Do not abdicate your power and responsibility to be good steward of the funds that paying for their services!

If the project is funded by a third-party funder, it’s even more important that you take charge. Funders do not want to waste their money and end up with the nonprofit organization feeling disappointed or that they didn’t get much out of the engagement, despite the time and staff resources they spent. That’s a much less preferred outcome than if the organization called its program officer and let him/her know the engagement was not going as well as it could. Be honest with the funder and let them know if you need to change consultants; your lessons learned; and the next steps.