10 Things That Strike Fear in the Heart of Any Nonprofit Consultant!
Nonprofit consulting is a great way to make a living. You get to serve a variety important causes with a skill set that’s unique to you.
But let’s face it, it’s not all mission-focused, heart fulfilling fun. You have challenges that can give you pause, if not scare you away from even starting. Here’s my top 10:
- Episodic paychecks. This is first because its what people think of the most. Nonprofits have their business cycles, and you’ll ride that wave with them. How will you survive without a regular paycheck? It takes some discipline and some months, finesse.
- Always counting pennies. If you worked for a nonprofit before consulting to them, you learned the discipline of thrift. It’s a skill that will serve you well throughout your nonprofit consulting career, even as your consultancy makes a sustainable income.
- Healthcare. The best case scenario is a spouse with a heath plan that covers you. You might also have a steady enough job with a client who can pick you up on theirs, or at least offer you the option to buy in at their group rate. Otherwise, you depend on whatever the current marketplace offers for independent coverage, or worse, go without.
- Complicated taxes. Remember the days when you filed a 1040EZ? Over. consider an accountant at least to review what you did for taxes, or turn over the whole process to them.
- Deadbeat clients. Yeah, it happens. Even if you carefully select a client, their circumstances can change in the middle of your job. In the nonprofit world, the pecking order is mission first, followed by payroll, utilities, and then down the line…. you. That said, I meet few nonprofit consultants who complain of non-payment by clients. Slow payment, yes. No payment, rarely.
- Uncomfortable work. As someone with experience in the nonprofit world, or even in the business world, hard work is no stranger. Uncomfortable? That’s different.Now that you’re on your own, you are responsible for all of the things that others did, that you didn’t really like. Maybe that’s marketing, or accounting or computer issues or any number of processes that someone else was there to address. Now its you. Get comfortable with it.
- Inconvenient hours. Nonprofits are known for their inconvenient hours. Evening meetings with volunteers. Weekend retreats. Twenty-four/seven service operations. Special events. As their consultant, you are right there with them.
- Isolation. It’s easy to get socially, and physically isolated as a nonprofit consultant. Socially? As a consultant, even if you worked for a nonprofit just last week, now you’re “one of them.” You’re part of their work, but not really. Physically? A lot of consulting work is done remotely, at a home office or other, non-client site location.
- How others see you socially. Be ready for your friends not to take your work seriously, at least at the start. Some of this is jealousy. Some is is misunderstanding. Some is fear. You don’t have a boss to complain about like they do. “If only I had the guts you do,” they’re thinking. “I can’t imagine what you do all day,” they might ask. Maybe it’s time to sit down over a beer or some coffee and bring them up to speed.
- How others see you professionally. Be ready for your neighbors to think that you don’t really have a job, so maybe you can watch their kids when they don’t make it home in time, or look for that Amazon package at their door. To your clients, you become the “business” that is out for yourself, or who may not really care as much about their mission as they do.