How to Work with a Consultant

RoadMap provides expert assistance for clients seeking to strengthen organizational performance.  RoadMap consultants can provide a number of services including succession planning, strategic planning, program evaluation, board development, coaching for Executive Directors or secondary leaders, financial management consultation and financial literacy training as well as fundraising development assistance.  The program offers approximately 200 hours of consultant time over a 12-month period.


To help clients work successfully with a RoadMap consultant, we offer the following tips.  While these tips are tailored to the RoadMap Program, much of it is applicable to hiring any consultant to help with organizational development issues.


  1. Understand when and why to seek a consultant’s assistance
  2. Outline your organization’s needs with respect to management and governance
  3. Determine organization’s readiness to engage in the project
  4. Set goals and expectations
  5. Identify consultant choices and conduct interviews
  6. Check consultant’s references 
  7. Select the consultant and coordinate with the funder supporting the capacity building program as needed
  8. Be prepared — what to cover in the first visit(s) with consultant
  9. Produce a written scope of work with the consultant
  10. Tips on working with consultant teams and with coaches
  11. Manage the consultant relationship throughout the project


1. Understand when and why to seek a consultant’s assistance


RoadMap consultants act primarily as facilitators who work with your group to understand and help frame the issues you are confronting and to guide your organization’s stakeholders in discussions to address key questions related to strategy or future plans.  A  RoadMap consultant won’t necessarily bring the answer to your problem(s) but can help you identify a range of possible solutions and select from among them.

A  RoadMap consultant can help your group build its capacity. The consultant will:


  • Provide expertise or insights to complement existing staff resources; Facilitate your organization’s focus on a set of (often complex and interlocking) issues that may require resolution to enable the organization to operate well;
  • Coordinate or motivate a team to complete a project;
  • Build skills and confidence of staff and board;
  • Provide objectivity in analyzing a situation or issue;
  • Increase credibility for the process;
  • Encourage participation of stakeholders (who are sometimes more open or willing to express their opinions with outside facilitation or in a confidential conversation); and
  • Bring technical expertise and knowledge of common problems, as well as a variety of possible solutions, best practices or relevant research in the field.

A consultant should support, not substitute your efforts to address the issue at hand.  Consider asking possible consultants how s/he will share knowledge to leave behind new skills and analytical tools once the job is done.

In addition, RoadMap consultants have particular experience working with social justice groups that may have characteristics similar to your organization. According to groups who have benefited from the program, the experience that RoadMap consultants have with culturally similar organizations seems to be one of the most valuable and reassuring aspects of our program.


2. Outline your organization’s needs with respect to management and governance


List the issues you hope to address with the consultant. Then sort them into short-term and long-term items.  Use the lists below to help articulate broadly the type of work you intend to undertake, in order to determine the skills and experience you may need from the consultant.

The following are examples of projects appropriate for a RoadMap consultant:


  • Organizational assessment
    Strategic planning, long-term program planning
    Updating the mission statement and/or vision of the organization
    Evaluation and documentation
    Skills development – financial literacy, human resources skills, fundraising
    Leadership coaching and mentoring
    Board development, governance issues
    Organizational restructuring
    Fund development strategies
    Succession planning and leadership transition


Be clear which tasks the consultant will do


Consider what the organization’s staff can do on its own and what it will need consultant guidance to accomplish. You will be able to do more with the allotted RoadMap consultant hours and, at the same time develop capacity and skills among your staff, if you are careful to ask the consultant to guide you, rather than to do the work for you.

List the skills or qualities that you seek in the consultant, as well as the roles you expect the consultant to play.  These might include:


  • Facilitating small and/or large groups
    Analyzing issues and outlining a range of potential solutions
    Interviewing internal stakeholders
    Interviewing external stakeholders
    Writing memos for internal use throughout the process
    Writing materials for public use
    Skills training on specific topics
    Coaching one or more individuals


3. Determine organization’s readiness to engage in the project


In addition to defining specific goals for a RoadMap consultant, you should think about whether your organization is ready for outside assistance: Do you have the staff time and energy needed to focus on the particular issues at this time?  Can the Executive Director and other organizational leaders engage consistently in the project to ensure buy-in and follow through?  What are the pros and cons of working on this at this time?  Are there competing priorities or crisis-conditions that will affect staff or board members’ ability to focus on the project?  RoadMap  can help you assess organizational readiness to ensure that the project can be successful.


4. Set goals and expectations


Once you have narrowed the issues to be investigated, it is important to set concrete goals. These should be explicit and shared between the organization and the consultant. Goals may shift as the consultant assesses the situation in more detail or as the work progresses. Any shifts should be articulated explicitly. Clarifying goals is an important starting point and will establish a common understanding of expected outcomes as you monitor your progress over time.


  • Goals: What will be accomplished?  What will be different in your organization as a result of this project? How will the organization measure success? How will it evaluate the consultant’s role and project outcomes?
  • Timeline: How many hours do you think will be required to accomplish the project? What is your target date for completion? Are there other benchmarks between the start and end of the project that will help you RoadMap a timeline? Are there specific deadlines, related meetings, retreats or Board actions that need to be taken into account with regard to the timeline?
  • Team: Who will be involved in selecting the consultant? Who should be on the Project Team that will be involved in doing the work?  Who will serve as the liaison or primary contact person with the consultant?