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When Do You Need a Consultant?

By: Susanne Connors Bowman , The Haefer Group, Ltd.
Published: September 2008

How do you know when it’s time to bring in outside expertise? Here are a few situations in which an association could benefit from a fresh take and added intellectual capital.

Consultants serve associations (via work with association leaders, volunteers, and staff) in many different roles —from guiding strategic thinking to being an extra pair of hands. Here are some of the many situations in which a consultant can be valuable.

When you need a disinterested or disinvested party. A good consultant always invests time and intellectual capital in their clients. Plus they come to the organization without the “baggage” of personnel issues, board pressure, organizational history, or the impact of past decisions. A consultant has the ability to look at circumstances and situations without bias.

When you need specific expertise that doesn’t reside in house. Think of a consultant as a specialist. This is particularly relevant if you are a small-staff association. There will be times when, for instance, you need market research, a marketing plan, or a strategic plan, and it just doesn’t make financial sense to carry that level of staff expertise on a full-time basis.

When you need to bring people together. Consultants facilitate divergent opinions into a strategy or work plan much more easily than an internal person would. Consultants listen to multiple opinions and then synthesize what they hear into something workable for your team. They can easily cross organizational boundaries or work between staff and boards to build bridges.

When you need to deliver a message that can’t come from the inside. Many times, consultants hear that an outsider’s opinion is more valuable than those expressed by staff. While unfortunate, it’s often true. This is not necessarily because consultants have a better crystal ball but rather because they provide a fresh look. Often, a consultant’s perspective is what’s necessary to convince a recalcitrant board to move forward on an issue that’s difficult, such as expense reduction or income diversification.

When you simply need another pair of hands. Some consultants’ services bring another pair of hands when you need them. Maybe you need a freelance writer for some newsletter or magazine articles, a graphic designer for an annual report, or someone to review event evaluations to plan the next steps.

When you need the freedom to think collectively and come to consensus and closure. A consultant may have the facilitation skills to bring a problem-solving session to completion. They have that special gift to allow people to bring divergent opinions into a room, synthesize them, and say those magic words, “And who will do this and by when?”

When an independent voice is necessary. To protect the organization and enhance its chances for success, an independent voice is often necessary. Proper accountability requires the audit firm to be independent and often the need to seek a legal opinion. An impartial and expert opinion by a consultant provides a “due-diligence” perspective that neither volunteers nor staff can supply.

When you need a fresh stretch. Ever feel like a hamster running on an exercise wheel? Revisiting the same problem with the same set of solutions? Because they are not attached to one organization, consultants see many different organizational models and many different solutions to common problems faced by the association community. While you certainly should expect a customized solution to your particular problem, isn’t it intuitively better to tackle problems armed with the collective thinking of many organizations and the knowledge of their successes? Consultants can stretch your organization from the vantage point of new thinking or can simply add a new twist on ideas.

Susanne Connors Bowman
The Haefer Group, Ltd.
Post Office Box 525
Merrifield, VA 22116-0525
Fax: 703-620-9316

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