Consultants: the Toughest Partner You’ll Ever Love

Love Your Consultant
Being founded by a Peace Corps volunteer, we have a fondness at Idealist Consulting for the slogan, “the toughest job you’ll ever love.” We find it is an apt way to describe the consultant-nonprofit relationship as well: when it goes well, it is life-changing, but when it goes poorly, cultures collide and no one wins. This post was originally written with the Salesforce community in mind (you can read our full case for hiring a Salesforce consultant here), but the tips are equally applicable for anyone embarking on large technology projects.

So, you’ve finally gotten approval for that tech improvement you’ve been advocating for for years–congratulations! As a nonprofit, you very likely received a discount, but you still understandably want to make the most of your limited budget. At Idealist Consulting, we’ve heard many arguments over the years for “going it alone,” and we wanted to share some of our reasons for saving yourself a whole lot of grief by engaging a consulting partner.

“We’ve got smart, young staff – can’t they just figure it out through Google?”

Of course – to a point. However:

  • You have to know what questions to ask. This can be much more complicated when you’re dealing with a CRM or designing a new website than when you’re just trying to, say, teach yourself how to properly use hashtags or make pickles.
  • There will be opportunity cost. If you give up internal staff time to database configuration, some other core business function undoubtedly suffers.
  • Finally, with great power comes great responsibility: User-friendly wizards and point-and-click technology have made day-to-day use much better for the typical nonprofit admin, but there are still a lot of ways to create massive issues with items like duplicate records if you’re not used to the system. If put in the wrong hands this power can inadvertently create massive inefficiencies and gaps.

“We don’t have budget to spend on consultants.”

Many organizations make the mistake of spending their full technology budget on licenses or a couple powerful apps, and absorb the painful costs of time wasted trying to figure out how to use it. Here’s how an upfront investment in consultants can often save money in the long run:

  • Very few products can actually be used “out of the box” with no configuration.
  • The littlest things can often be the most costly, if approached incorrectly (looking at you, data migration).
  • Do it nice or do it twice: As we have seen with, it is vastly more expensive to fix a broken database later rather than doing it right the first time and paying to configure a working database.

“We’ve got a tech expert on staff already.”

Lucky you! But, I’m guessing bottlenecks may be an issue. Here are some of the advantages to having both an internal staff expert plus a consultant:

  • Tactics vs. Strategy: Staff experts are great for tactics (like knowing how to change a field value, or sending out an email newsletter) but consultants are often better for strategic decisions like knowing which applications will play best with your business process. It’s much easier to have strategic perspective on this when you’re not immersed in office politics.
  • Consultants know technology just like you know your mission: In the Salesforce world, this includes staying up to date with the best applications on the AppExchange, staying on top of relevant Hub and Success Community conversations and Salesforce updates, learning from the successes and failures of past clients.
  • Most reputable consulting firms use train-the-trainer methodology to encourage user adoption and maximize the impact of your investment.

“We don’t use external or remote resources.”

Most consulting firms have remote resources that are still based in the US, so time differences are minimal. Also, many have hubs in major cities so if you require an in-person meeting for a large project it can often be arranged.

“We’re in too deep to engage a consultant now.”

Consultants are not above “rescues”. If you didn’t initially engage a consultant or chose one that didn’t fit your needs, don’t give up. Any reputable firm has probably seen worse and although it may be a bit more painful than if we had talked earlier on, we can very likely help.

To end on a positive note: when a consultant-nonprofit relationship goes well, it can be truly great for everyone involved. Check out Calista’s “Six Ways to be a Great Client” to make the most of this relationship. Also, we are admittedly biased on this topic and want to hear from you too – please add to the conversation in comments below. For the full original post including more Salesforce-specific examples, head on over to Idealist Consulting’s blog.

Idealist Consulting is hosting the Engagement Party October 15 in San Francisco and you are invited! Join us for a TED-style talk on “play”, drinks, catered eats, DJ, photo booth, and more. RSVP here.

Idealist Consulting

About Idealist Consulting

Idealist Consulting is dedicated to providing nonprofits, private sector businesses, and government with advanced technical solutions that help them run more effectively. Whether it is Salesforce consulting, mobile development, or technical training, we make every effort to provide thoughtful, ethical and approachable support. Idealist Consulting is recognized as one of the original Salesforce implementation partners and has been a top-rated consulting firm on the AppExchange for five years running. Idealist Consulting has implemented over 700 projects and is endorsed by Gartner for high-speed, low-risk Salesforce deployments. For more information visit

One comment

  1. Mary Pustejovsky

    Amen! I’m currently working with an organization where they have an AWESOME technical person on staff and it is still a challenging project. We bounce ideas off each other and I think in the end it will result in a better implementation.

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