By Collette Langley, Business Development Executive, Blackbaud Europe
As a member of a sales team, I work closely with a wide range of IT and Fundraising consultants. When I know a good consultant has been involved in workshopping a non-profit’s requirements or helping in the selection and implementation process, I’m relieved. To me, it means that the organisation is committed to action, that they have spent some time thinking about what they want to achieve and that they are taking the process seriously.
Investing resource in an external consultant drives an organisation to take the sometimes-daunting first step on the journey of achieving their goals through new technology.
I can also say with confidence that the best consultants know a great deal. They have been allowed on the inside of a lot of boardrooms; they see all sides of the process; they are in on every conversation and their experience is invaluable to us all.
Benefits of using a consultant:
- Milestones: Helping you set timescales and sticking to them; not just in the project implementation but also in the selection process itself. The selection process often overruns, and it’s rarely because the supplier isn’t keen enough! For example, we often work with organisations who don’t have a desired go-live date. It’s a bit like working with someone who doesn’t have financial constraints – sounds great, but in reality, it means the selection process isn’t following any rules, project plan, or selection criteria and things can – and will – overrun.
- Budget: A consultant is great in helping you define an appropriate budget for your project. Many organisations will put a call into a number of suppliers to get a feeling for a budget. But there are so many variables to consider and making sure you’re comparing apples with apples isn’t as easy as you think at first glance.
- Insight: We are all biased in our opinions. We all think we know what we want out of a system. But a consultant provides an outsider’s view. A fresh pair of knowledgeable eyes to assimilate your goals and prioritise your requirements, which can bring great benefits.
However, one note of caution. You as the non-profit must remain strong and in control. The wrong consultant, or a lack of direction from you, can muddy the waters, eg. by introducing suppliers that aren’t a good fit, just to make up the numbers or allow comparisons to be made. This (in my opinion) often happens when an organisation isn’t confident in making a decision. You may already have a supplier in mind who is a good fit for you, but rather than do due diligence yourself, you introduce a consultant to take you through a process of supplier selection which just leads back to the original supplier. I recognise this also happens because you may have procurement rules which mean you have to see at least three suppliers and there are merits in this (arse-covering is one!), but you need to be clear why you’re doing it, and remain open to other possibilities the consultant presents.
As with most things in life, communication is key. There is nothing more disconcerting in my working life than getting one answer from the customer and another from the consultant. You need to be honest with your consultant and communicate continuously with them throughout the process. Let’s be honest, when something goes wrong in a project the consultant is the first one to cop it! All fingers point to them, they were the ones who made the suggestions and guided the decision, it’s easy to blame them and people do (on both sides). It’s a tough job, but both we and you can make it easier and ultimately lead you to making the right technology choice for your organisation.