Your time as a nonprofit consultant versus their time as a nonprofit client
I’ve noticed that I have a very different concept of “time” then my clients. While this is natural, and I’ll explain why I also find it a bit frustrating.
It’s natural for 2 reasons:
- For a lot of nonprofits, “process” is king. What they do programmatically is often built on processes. For example, if you’re working with a social service organization, much of their work is taking their clients through a multistep process to get to their ideal end result, whether that’s getting somebody a job, making sure they find new housing or any number of other intended results. While you might not think that this should impact their ability to respond to you, you’ll find that it’s ingrained in the culture, right down to their cutting your final check. The one subsector of the nonprofit economy that I hear most complaints about among my colleagues in higher education. Waiting for a decision from a college or university can be painful. You better have other things going if for nothing else to keep your mind occupied if not your bank account full
- Your clients are usually paid by a paycheck which they get weekly, biweekly or monthly. You, of course, are usually paid when your job is complete, or if you meet particular milestones in the project. Maybe you’ve set up an arrangement where you build a monthly for hours, but the idea is that whether they get to you today tomorrow or next week, they still get their paycheck. Waiting 2 weeks for somebody to get back to you in response to your giving them a draft on a grant proposal or a design to review means that your paycheck is delayed. It’s a tough situation to be in because your client too hard is not good for your relationship. Yet not pressing them at all means not making your bills this month.
What’s a consultant to do? I find that this is a balance between relationship and education. Of course, we all need to have strong relationships with our clients. This allows for important feedback in both directions. What this also allows for is education. With a good relationship, it’s not as difficult to help a nonprofit employee understand that for you to be most effective, you either need to pick up the pace of a project, or get responses more quickly.
There are always times when this won’t work. While your primary contact might have empathy for your position, his or her higher-ups, or even their finance office, might take the attitude of “that’s their problem.” At that point, you need to make a decision about whether, despite the amount of money involved, that this client is worth it to re-engage for future projects. Alternatively, you can simply plan for it, and make sure that you have other projects that you’re working on to fill the gaps so that you can not only endure this situation but several simultaneously. After all, at some point, they will pay and so will the others.
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