Posted by: Don Linnen | 22 June 2007

Today’s Experts

The Wall Street Journal today says you can hire a consultant to help you name your baby. A friend of mine told me yesterday that a couple of years ago she worked part time as a consultant to individual families to help them get their high school kids into the “right” university.

If I stopped blogging right now and went for a run in my neighborhood, I’d pass at least three consultants, aka “nannies,” taking their charges out for a stroll. Ah….the wonders of “outsourcing.” Life in the 21st Century. Don’t cha just love it!

This isn’t a rant against it. I like to cook, but I often outsource our meals. I know where to go for some really good food ready to reheat and serve at home. The chefs at Whole Foods and Central Market are terrific! Those folks are experts at making good, healthy food.

There are lots of “experts” out there. An old joke is that an “x” is an unknown factor. A “spurt” is a drip of water under pressure. Therefore an “expert” is an unknown drip under pressure.

Experts are often called consultants. If they come from out of town, they’re more of an expert. Or not. They are unknown, but rarely are drips.

Through 20+ years of selling computer systems to large corporations, I mostly practiced consultive selling myself. Some things, especially complex things, are just not a quick sell.

Frankly, more than consulting, I probably did more coaching, advising, encouraging, and gathering of experts, technical wizards, and gurus to solve problems for my customers. I’ve always been a little suspicious of the consultant who is also the guru.

Business author Michael Treacy says that “there are way more gurus than there are new ideas.” There are new tools for the 21st Century, but basic, good ideas are centuries old.

If your organization is looking for a consultive guru, it might be wise to read “Bad Consultant Confidential” in the Chronicles of Philanthropy. If you’re a new nonprofit, I highly recommend a subscription to the Chron.

In a nutshell, the article says that good consultants can really help, but a bad choice can at a minimum lose you considerable time and money. It goes on to say that consultants need to thoroughly understand your organization. That means they’re either a really quick study or they have previous experience with organizations similar to your size and your mission.

You also need to be prepared for additional work if change is to truly be implemented. Change will probably not happen quickly. And it will only happen if you act. (I’ve coached one nonprofit that listens politely and smiles at my recommendations. Little action has yet to occur.)

Finally, if your income is weak, don’t count on magic bullets from a development guru to help you raise funds. There’s no speed dating in this game. Relationships with funders are everything. Good, solid relationships take time.

Now we’re back to one of those basics, a good ideas that is centuries old.

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