Four Things I learned while Consulting for Non-Profits

Written by Prachy Mohan, Director of Marketing and Communication

The opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of Endeavour.

At Endeavour Volunteer Consulting for Non-Profits, volunteer consultants mostly come from for-profit organizations, myself included. While there is value in bringing skills and expertise from the for-profit industry, it is important to translate those practices effectively so that non-profits can make the most out of the volunteer sessions.

Throughout my experience in consulting in both industries, I have learned four key differentiations between the for-profit and non-profit world. Here are my key findings that will help you when you are consulting for a non-profit organization:

1. Avoid using jargon
“Value proposition”, “target market”, “B2B”, “boil the ocean”, etc. are terms commonly used by management consultants. Although perfectly acceptable in the management consulting world, your client at a non-profit organization may have no idea what they mean and why they matter for their organization.

This is because they may not have a background in business and may not be exposed to such lingo. This is not to say that they don’t know these terms, but be aware of the language you use because you want to ensure that communication with your client is clear.

The best way to start the relationship with your client is to research their organization and immerse yourself in their world. Talking in their language will allow them to feel comfortable with you and to trust your instincts on the best course of action.

2. Illustrate how your strategy will impact their mission
One of the focuses in for-profit organizations is making money and making a profit for the company. However, the focus in a non-profit organization is not always making a profit; they may not undertake certain money making initiatives if they do not align with their core mission.

Therefore, when recommending a strategy, justify to your client on how it will further the organization’s ability to achieve their mission. It is important for them and their board to understand why they should dedicate their time, money, and resources towards implementing a particular strategy. And since most non-profits are driven by their mission, a strategy that directly impacts their mission will have a better chance at getting buy-in from all the stakeholders.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget this; so copy the organization’s mission into every working file so that you can revisit it often. This will ensure that your recommendations fuel the organization’s mission rather than diverge from it.

3. Money matters
A huge misconception about non-profits is that money isn’t very important. While it may not be the primary focus of their goals, capital is required for non-profits to run their programs and ultimately survive.

Your strategy implementation should consider its impact on the organization’s financial health, even if that is not what was asked for. A non-profit might be doing well financially but any increase in revenue will eventually help them further their mission allowing them to increase their impact in the community.

Don’t lose out on an opportunity to improve the organization’s financial status, whether it is a strategy that will lead to reduction in expenses or one that will bring in revenue.

4. Be mindful of limited resources
Non-profits often have very different human resource structures than for-profits; for example, most of the people working for them could be volunteers who are carrying out multiple roles. The staff often work long hours and in most cases are not being paid for those extra hours.

So what does this all mean? This means that recommendations should be easy to implement while still being impactful. Prioritize your recommendations in terms of impact versus effort so that the organization knows where to focus their energy to get the most bang for their buck. Create a timeline that maps out when they should work on which recommendation (usually called a phased approach in the for-profit world).

I hope this helps you in your next consulting endeavour, be it with a non-profit or for-profit organization. Please do share your thoughts with me about consulting by tweeting at @PrachyMohan.

Learn more about Endeavour: http://www.endeavourvolunteer.ca/

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