Why Hire a Consultant?

Debra Chandler, ACCA member, Chandler Consulting

There is great value in seeking out new ideas to support and challenge your non-profit arts organization.

While it is a non-profit’s staff that has the power to make changes and implement programs, sometimes an organization needs an expert who is contracted for a period of time to help move forward a particular project or even help redirect a mission.

Consultants bring specialized skills, experience, knowledge, or access to information. They can be strategic or operational. Usually, a consultant offers a fresh perspective on a situation, opportunity or challenge that internal staff may simply be too involved with to manage objectively.

For instance, perhaps your organization is considering a new fundraising strategy, but you want an independent perspective on how it might work. You’re thinking of purchasing a new ticketing system, but you aren’t really sure that anyone on your staff has the expertise to make the right choice. You need a renewed strategic road map and an outside perspective. Consultants can be used to free up time for managers and directors or provide expertise that the organization lacks.

Here are some other reasons why a non-profit might choose to hire a consultant:

  • Research new trends, obstacles, or events and assess their potential impact
  • Help an organization’s managers reach their marketing and audience development goals
  • Start or fix fundraising or capital campaigns
  • Identify and solve communication issues
  • Help train new board members
  • Develop a new strategic plan or road map

Consultants are a resource for any organization requiring feasibility studies, research projects, cultural analysis, or assistance with a large range of organizational development needs.

Arts Consultants Canada / Consultants canadiens en arts (ACCA) was formed to advance excellence and professionalism in the field for the benefit of both consultants and clients alike, with the ultimate goal of improving the organizational health and vitality of Canada’s arts sector. ACCA promotes the use of experienced consultants by recommending qualifications, ethics and best practices.

The consultants at strengtheningnonprofits.org define a consultant as “a person in a position to have some influence over an individual, a group or an organization, but who has no direct power to make changes or implement programs.” This is important. Consultants can jump into the execution of work, but more often they advise, guide and help to build the base from which your internal staff or volunteers can move forward.

Consultants are there to enhance, propel, nudge and make sure that you can continue to develop and create amazing cultural, social and educational experiences for your audience and community. Most consultants have years of senior leadership experience in arts and culture, management expertise, or are specialists in arts and cultural institution management consulting.

I like this big-picture overview excerpted from Metris Arts Consulting:

Consultants interview lots of different people and run focus groups. We listen deeply. We analyze impacts and lessons learned. We articulate policy trends. We ask good questions. We develop tools to help monitor progress towards reaching project goals. We share ideas. We advance the conversation.

If your goal is increasing community impact with your art, and you need both strategic and tactical advice and guidance, a consultant can help. If you need to know the basics of fundraising to get your new staff up to speed, consultants can help. If you have reached a plateau in audience growth and need new ideas and techniques, consultants can help.

So, define your project. Know exactly what your problem or opportunity is, discuss it internally, and then have a conversation with a few consultants about it. Research your situation and potential consultants alike. Make sure that dealing with your issue or opportunity will support a strategic priority or a goal for your organization. The last thing anyone needs these days is distractions.

When you are sure of your need, compile your reasons and expectations, and let the RFP writing begin!


Arts Consultants Canada / Consultants canadiens en arts
Metris Arts Consulting
Want Innovative Thinking? Hire from the Humanities, Tony Goldsby-Smith, Harvard Business Review
Working with Consultants, Strengthening Nonprofits: A Capacity Builder’s Resource Library (PDF)