Ken Goldstein, MPPA

Ken Goldstein has been working in nonprofits and local government agencies from Santa Cruz, to Sacramento, and back to Silicon Valley, since 1989. He's been staff, volunteer, board member, executive director, and, since 2003, a consultant to local nonprofit organizations. For more on Ken's background, click here. If you are interested in retaining Ken's services, you may contact him at ken at

Friday, April 13, 2012

"Have the consultant do it"?

The title of this post is written with tongue in cheek, but it does get to what's often a fine line between consulting and contracting. Even when talking with other nonprofit consultants, we don't always agree on where we should draw the line between performing tasks for our client organizations and empowering them to perform these tasks themselves.

As a prime example, when I started as an independent consultant, back in December 2003, one of the main things I did was grant proposal writing. Now, I will rarely accept those types of assignments. Basically, over time, I came to realize that the client was better served by my helping them gain the capacity to write grants in-house. One of my favorite things to do is when I teach workshops on proposal writing (next workshop is August 24 in Santa Cruz!).

Of course, there are times when it's quite legitimate to hire a contract proposal writer to supplement an organization's own capacity, and I'm happy to assist in those situations. But I believe that fund development is so central to any nonprofit organization's survival, that outsourcing it should never be more than a step along the way to building their own abilities.

There are other tasks, however, that are should almost always be outsourced. Among these, in my opinion, is facilitating a strategic planning session. Your organization may have leaders with excellent facilitation skills, but at a planning retreat they are needed as participants. A good facilitator should be neutral, and not a part of any political dynamic that exists in the group, or have a stake in any decisions that the group makes. A good facilitator empowers everybody in the room to speak and be heard, something that's not always comfortable or possible when there's a boss-worker dynamic present.

So, the next time you're in a meeting, and you hear the words, "We'll have a consultant do it," think carefully about what you are asking a consultant to do, and whether it is truly empowering and adding to your capacity to meet your mission.