Are You Ready to Strike Out on Your Own?
If you were looking to embark on a new career or a new phase of your current one (or if you were looking to reinvigorate your passion), wouldn’t it be fine to find yourself at a cocktail party with about 25 colleagues whose advice you could seek between bites of brie on crackers and sips of chardonnay?
In “The Nonprofit Consulting Playbook,” Lysakowski and Schaefer gathered 25 nonprofit consultants — many whose names you already know — to compile the best information that someone looking to start his or her own consultancy needs. Contributing authors include:
- Helen B. Arnold
- Betsy Baker
- Jean Block
- Jan F. Brazzell
- Ellen Bristol
- Pamela A. Cook
- Michelle Cramer
- Bob Crandall
- Marti Fischer
- Gayle L. Gifford
- Mary Hiland
- Margaret M. Holman
- Simone P. Joyaux
- Alexander Macnab
- Stephen C. Nill
- Meri K. Pohutsky
- Sandy Rees
- Eugene A. Scanlan
- Martha H. Schumacher
- M. Kent Stroman
- Justin Tolan
- Sandra Migani Wall
- Deborah Ward
Here, we talk with the editors about the book and the challenges of going into business as a consultant to the nonprofit sector.
FundRaising Success: Why did you feel the time was right for this book just now?
Linda Lysakowski: There are so many new people entering the field of consulting to nonprofits, and just as with all small businesses, many of them fail within the first two years. So we wanted to offer these new startup businesses some tools to get them off to the right start.
At the same time, many long-time consultants have felt the pinch of a poor economy and need some tools to revitalize themselves and their businesses.
Susan Schaefer: Twelve years ago, as a new consultant, I craved a first-person resource that would provide guidance and that acknowledged that there are many different paths to a successful business. At each next stage of my business’s life, that desire remained. Other consultants I knew felt the same way, so I turned to Linda, and together, we created that resource.
FS: How is the economy/atmosphere right now in terms of starting your own fundraising consulting business?
LL: I think we’re on an upward cusp and that this is a good time to start a business.
SS: So many organizations continue to outsource, so work is steady for those consultants who are good businesspeople and who know their content.
FS: What mistakes do consultants make when first going into business for themselves?
LL: Not realizing that they need to be marketing their businesses, not understanding how to price their services, being reluctant to talk to “the competition” about how they are really doing.
SS: Many people think that if you’re an expert, you will make a good consultant. But it’s an equal mix of content knowledge, business know-how and client relations.
FS: What are the main pieces of advice a consultant can glean from the book?
- There is no one way that is right for everyone.
- To endure in this field, you need to have a solid business plan, strong ethics and a sense of humor.
- Mentors can be invaluable, even if you think they are your competition.
SS: Linda said it all, but I’d emphasize her first point: If there’s one thing I gleaned from our 25 contributors, it’s that there are many paths to a successful business. I’d also add that you can sustain a long career as a consultant and reinvent yourself — multiple times, if necessary — to keep things interesting. There are some inspiring examples in the book.
FS: Does the book have any relevance to nonprofit fundraisers who work with consultants? Does it offer them any insight into the consultant/client relationship?
LL: It is more helpful to fundraisers who might be thinking about consulting, because they will learn whether they have what it takes to succeed.
SS: Agreed, and I’d like to clarify that the book isn’t entirely geared to fundraising consultants. It’s designed for anyone who consults to this sector. Some of our contributors specialize in board development and executive search, for instance. It’s equally applicable to those in accounting, HR and other fields. Many of its stories even have relevance to those who consult to the corporate sector.
FS: What do you hope readers of this book will feel/think/do after finishing it?
LL: To go into consulting with all the knowledge they need, to learn from mistakes others have made, and to be ready to reinvent themselves when necessary or when they feel bored.
SS: There are some very successful consultants who began with little confidence, business acumen or long-term vision. They learned the hard way. This book will help smooth the path for those who want to benefit from their lessons learned.
(You can purchase “The Nonprofit Consulting Playbook” via Charity Channel here.)