What Nonprofit Consultants Do
Nonprofit consultants have the ability to make a big difference in the world and their expertise is in high demand. There are literally millions of nonprofit organizations across the globe, each aiming to improve the lives of others and impact change in a unique way, but they need help to do it. However, because they are not run for profit, these organizations must adhere to strict guidelines and regulations, while working toward their goals and trying to obtain the necessary funds to carry out their work. Many have full or part-time in-house staff to carry out duties, but sometimes they lack the bandwidth to keep staff, and other times their existing team needs a boost from outside experts.
This is where nonprofit consultants come in, and each usually has her or her own specialty area. Some of the most in-demand skills include fundraising/ development, business management, strategy, and grant writing, though nonprofit consultants may specialize in any other area of business operations or may work in a niche within one of these areas. It’s common for professionals to work independently, though many opt to work for large consultancy firms as well.
Who would enjoy a career in Consulting?
Being a nonprofit consultant can be richly rewarding emotionally, so it’s a good path for someone who wants to give back to the community. Being team-oriented as well as an effective communicator are essential traits too. Those who do best in the career are self-starters, as well as experts in their chosen specialties.
Who mightn't like the career?
Many people think that the transition from the corporate sector to nonprofit will be easy, simply because they’ve managed effective campaigns in the for-profit sector, but there is a dynamic shift in the culture. For example, many nonprofit organizations are less hierarchical; decisions are made as a group rather than by one person. Secondly, the for-profit sector is highly results-driven, and those who enter the not-for-profit sector are often faced with scrutiny by their peers, as there are sometimes concerns that the newcomer is going to be putting the bottom line before the people. For this reason, the career isn’t ideal for those who aren’t prepared to put in effort to earn the respect and trust of those they work with, as well as adapt to the culture shift from other sectors. Pay can also be a concern, as those in the nonprofit sector may earn half what their for-profit counterparts will, although this is generally not the motivation for those entering employment within the nonprofit sector.
Because there are many different types of nonprofit consultants, the background needed to be effective in the position will vary based on specialty. Those who work in fundraising or development typically have a background in marketing, PR, or journalism, while those with a journalism or communications background may be a good fit for grant-writing. It’s also helpful to have worked with or for nonprofit organizations in the past, either as a board member, fundraiser, or in a similar capacity.
Interviewers look for prior experience completing similar tasks; the nonprofit sector is preferred, though candidates coming in from the corporate world are considered if they have some experience working with non-for-profit organizations. This can be attained by volunteering, shadowing a consultant or person working in a similar position, or by working as a board member.
Although consultancy firm-specific, Bridgespan Group’s “Preparing for Your Consulting Interview” page walks prospective job candidates though what to expect in an interview, as well as what types of questions are asked, and different answers that may be acceptable. Joanne Fritz’s “Favorite Interview Questions of Nonprofit Employers” also explores the types of questions that will be asked in interviews, and may be helpful for those preparing for independent work.
Moving into Consulting from another career
Because there are various types of consultants, lots of careers can pave the way for a career in consultancy. The primary ones include nonprofit fundraiser and similar roles, though if an organization needed help managing its books or strategy, it might call for financial consultant or management consultant, and if it needed help planning a computer upgrade or setting up a lab, it would call on an IT specialist. For more information, see “How would you kick-start your ‘nonprofit’ career as a consultant,” “17 Tips to Help You Make the Transition from Profit to Nonprofit,” “Why I quit my full-time job to start a new career as a consultant,” and “Why I decided to Quit My Job and Become a Nonprofit Consultant.”
Role: Those who join consultancy firms fresh out of college or with little experience are generally hired on as associate consultants. These professionals work under the direction of more seasoned professionals and don’t have projects of their own. They may gather data, help create presentations, assist with pitches to a board, and perform other support-related tasks.
Role: After 2-4 years of experience as an associate, firms tend to move their consultants up to a general consultant role, though some differentiate with junior and senior levels. In this position, professionals are responsible for listening to the client’s needs, forming ideas to solve their issues, pitching to boards, and carrying out the work involved in seeing a proposed plan through.
Role: It generally takes consultants five or more years before they’re considered for management positions. Managers oversee the work of consultants, cultivate strong client relationships, try to attract new clients, and find new ways to create better results for their clients.
Many nonprofit consultants travel for work, but the degree and distance differ based on the location of clients and their expectations. Some may travel for the duration of an entire project, whilst others simply make an appearance during board meetings or for events.
There are no steadfast rules when it comes to pay as a nonprofit consultant. For example, the Denver Foundation suggests nonprofit organizations should budget between USD$75-175 per hour, yet also cautions that services may climb to USD$250 or greater per hour. When writing for Medium, Kate Wing found rates from USD$75 per hour to USD$350 per hour to be acceptable. Data from AARP also gives a large range, though indicates that those who freelance in the nonprofit sector typically earn about one-third to half what consultants in the for-profit sector do.
At present, Indeed lists salaries between £70,000- £80,000 in the United Kingdom. No data is available for Canada or Australia.
Bonuses are not typically part of a nonprofit consultant’s pay.
Why Nonprofit Consultants move on
Nonprofit consultants may become disenchanted with the field because organizations run so differently from corporate organizations. They may be disorganized, take a long time to make decisions, or even fail to make payments. The frustrations tend to be strongest for those who run their own consultancy firms or who freelance.
Those who work for larger consultancy firms are often shielded from some of this because their firms also work in the for-profit sector as well. Pay disparities, lack of recognition, and inability to move up in a company also cause professionals to move on. Many of those who switch tracks move into a similar role in the for-profit sector, create their own businesses, or find other opportunities that enable them to give back to the community.