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So, You Want to Be a Consultant?

The original version of this post first appeared in Foundation Center Washington DC’s Philanthropy Front and Center blog.

Susan Schaefer, CFRE

Susan Schaefer is a consultant, writer, and speaker whose practical approach to fundraising and board development has made her a frequent presenter at conferences and in classrooms. She founded Resource Partners LLC in 2001 with a mission to help nonprofits reach their full potential, specifically within the areas of fundraising planning, proposal writing, and board development (among others).

She is also co-editor of The Nonprofit Consulting Playbook: Winning Strategies from 25 Leaders in the Field, which you can borrow from our five Foundation Center offices. The inspiration for the book was due, in part, to Susan’s and co-editor Linda Lysakowski’s frustration with the lack of resources for those looking to start a consulting career.

Susan kindly shared her time and expertise in “So, You Want to Be a Consultant?”, a well-attended program hosted by Foundation Center Washington DC in July 2014. Here are some highlights from her presentation.

Why is consulting so appealing?

Independence and flexibility come to mind, as well as better hours and more pay. In reality, however, consultants, especially those who are just starting out, must often deal with long, strange hours and income instability. While many consulting opportunities are available in the nonprofit sector, only a few brave souls truly have what it takes to be a successful consultant.

What makes a good consultant?

Trustworthiness, ability to listen, marketability, self-confidence, and humility are some of the traits listed in The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s “10 Traits of a Great Consultant”. Susan added flexibility, risk-taking, and endurance; consulting isn’t so much a sprint as it is a marathon.

For those ready to take the plunge, she offered these reminders:

Decide your business structure. Be it an LLC, corporation, partnership, or sole proprietorship, each has its own advantages and disadvantages. Weigh the pros and cons, then determine what will be best for your new business.

Consider any legal issues that may affect you. Most states require fundraising consultants to register annually with charity officials, which is usually a part of the Attorney General or Secretary of State.

Consult legal and financial advice as necessary. Small business resources like SCORE may be able to connect you with legal and financial resources and experts. For ones who specialize in nonprofit and charitable laws, check with your state’s nonprofit association or the resources listed in this Knowledge Base Article.

Set your fees. Fees should be based on your needs and the needs of the market. Here’s a general and quick how-to article on setting consultant fees.

Choose your marketing vehicle. Consider how you will advertise your services via website, social media, etc. “Don’t underestimate the power of word of mouth. Every decision you make defines who you are as a consultant,” Susan warned. “You are just one job away from a bad reputation.”

What advice do you have for would-be nonprofit consultants? Please share it in our Comments area!

Jeanette Norton

Jeanette Norton 
Regional Training Specialist
Foundation Center Washington DC

Jeanette Norton helps to create, manage, and deliver training programs throughout the Mid-Atlantic region to support capacity building of the area’s nonprofits, particularly those that are under-resourced. In her previous role at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Jeanette managed the DeVos Institute of Arts Management’s regional and national capacity building programs, which served more than 500 organizations in arts communities across the U.S.

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Learn more about becoming a consultant with the following resources available online and/or in Foundation Center offices. For book titles, check your local library or favorite bookseller.

How do I become a nonprofit consultant or grant writer? (Knowledge Base Article)

How Can I Become a Nonprofit Fundraising Consultant? (Philanthropy News Digest article)

Flawless Consulting: A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used (book)

Nonprofit Consulting Essentials: What Nonprofits and Consultants Need to Know (book)

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