Research Findings on Building Effective Relationships

In 2010, the Packard Foundation embarked on its Organizational Effectiveness “Goldmine” Research Project to better understand how its nonprofit grantees worked with capacity-building consultants and what led to successful and longer-lasting project results — and yield greater impact.

Not unsurprisingly, nonprofits were significantly more satisfied with capacity-consultants with field knowledge and content expertise (e.g., health, education), solid background and knowledge in the specific consulting work, and/or experience with nonprofit client

But surprisingly, grantees (nonprofit leaders representing 169 capacity-building projects funded by the Packard Foundation) reported that the three most important considerations in their consulting engagement related to an effective working relationship with their consultant, above and beyond field knowledge and consultant skills.*

What contributed to the consultant relationship working effectively?

The top factor influencing project success was the consultant’s developing a genuine understanding of the uniqueness of the organization. Only after this solid foundation is established do the consultant’s specific skills and knowledge seem to be important.

In fact, the top 5 Key Factors in a consulting engagement, as identified by grantees:

Key factors n %
1. Understand grantee’s unique needs and culture and provide customized approach 57 34%
2. Ongoing communication, transparency, build trusting relationships 49 29%
3. Clear shared understanding of outcomes, scope, roles and responsibilities, and articulated plan to achieve desired goals with measure and indicators 39 23%
4. Consulting skills (facilitating not giving answers, know when to listen, when to guide, help client stay focused, keep them on track to achieve the objectives, inclusive of different voices, but will not get stuck in endless processing, analytical and synthesis skills, be proactive) 39 23%
5. Field knowledge (e.g., Reproductive Health, Conservation, etc.) 26 15

And what contributed to the consultant relationship not working?

According to the 87 grantees who provided responses to this question, the top three challenges to their consultant engagement were:

  • Consultant’s availability and accessibility
  • Failed to understand grantee’s unique needs and culture and provide customized approach
  • Failed to deliver high quality products that meet grantee’s needs while staying within the timeline and budget

See more for what’s behind these findings: Consultant Success Data & Analysis >

Read more on Packard’s “Goldmine” research >