Traditional vs. holistic
It’s unclear how many nonprofit consultants and consulting firms are currently operating in the United States, but by a quick Google search it appears to be hundreds. There are numerous articles on different types of nonprofit consultants and their specific niches of how they serve nonprofits. In essence, these services are typically performed in silos, and sometimes this is all an organization needs.
If your organization needs to improve its grant writing skills, it is likely you are only going to seek grant writing consulting. If you organization needs to create more intriguing messaging, you will likely only seek out a communications consultant. Many consulting firms, however, provide many different services because of the complex nature of operations. But are they holistic?
Most of us are familiar with the term “holistic” when it comes to the field of medicine. Instead of being prescribed medication after a 10-minute consultation with a doctor, a holistic provider may do a deeper assessment into all factors that could be creating a medical issue. A holistic provider may ask more probing questions than a traditional doctor.
A holistic operations consultant operates in the same way. Instead of placing a Band-Aid on a bleeding wound, a different approach to healing is taken to addressing pain points in a nonprofit.
A nonprofit executive may hire a consultant because there is consistently high staff turnover and due to this, planned initiatives are failing. The wound on the outside may appear to be high staff turnover, but a deeper dive into the entire organization’s operations and culture will likely reveal the true reason behind the staff turnover.
That is the promise of holistic consulting: finding the cause of the pain, making a plan that fits the organization’s culture, and executing strategy to stop the pain.
Here are 4 reasons why hiring a holistic operations consultant is vital to a nonprofit’s success
1. Leadership engagement
Every nonprofit leader is in their position for a reason. Many have been part of the organization at a grassroots level and worked their way into executive positions. Some have years of experience and are leading with the knowledge and resourcefulness they have acquired over time. They know what they need to do.
But there are typically some pain points in nonprofits:
- Low staff morale
- High staff turnover
- Failed or stagnant initiatives
- Lack of funding or resources
- Something else you may be thinking of right now as you’re reading this
How those pain points are identified is extremely important. Instead of asking a nonprofit leader, “How’s your organization doing?” a holistic consultant will ask these kinds of questions:
- “What is keeping you up at night?”
- “What is going on in your organization that is causing pain?”
- “What is causing you the most stress at work right now?”
When you start with a pain point, you have a different conversation. A more meaningful conversation. Nine out of ten times a senior leader can quickly engage in a full conversation with these simple prompts. A holistic consultant can hear those pain points and then speak to those pain points about the possible root issues that might be at work.
2. Organizational culture & values
Have you ever worked with a vendor that did not take into consideration your organization’s culture and values? Many of us have! This is because a vendor is typically hired to take on one task that is being asked of them.
A hired vendor can very easily change your accounting software from QuickBooks to Intacct. That is a very specific project. The vendor can teach you how to pull all the data out of one system and put it into a new system, based on how you want the reports to look. They can tell you that you are going to need some controls as to who is going to have access to this data.
Nonprofits may have the tendency to use operation consultants the same way they do vendors.
What they are not going to do is solve your issues surrounding data entry issues and data quality. Changing systems from QuickBooks to Intacct is not going to solve a “bad reporting” issue. However, changing culture will. Changing from one system to another is a process change. Managing people appropriately so that data entry and data quality is improved is a cultural change.
If you are going to build a house, you first examine the blueprint before you go out and buy equipment. Many people will go out and buy equipment and want it to build a house without looking at the blueprint.
The blueprint for a nonprofit organization is its culture and values. Nonprofits need a blueprint, to understand the direction of the organization, and how to build operations to get there. A holistic operations consultant not only takes this into consideration but will consider it the fundamentals for addressing pain points and ensuring successful change management.
3. Assessing it ALL
Since the approach of operations management consultancy differs from vendor services, a proper assessment is critical to addressing pain points. If you never do a full assessment, you will always think the issue is surface level.
We simply don’t know what we don’t know. If low staff morale is prevailing at your organization, a senior leader will likely have a difficult time finding the root cause of this issue. A holistic consultant can provide a deep dive into an organization’s culture and operations to find the root cause:
- Low staff morale may be the result of a poor work environment.
- If too many initiatives are going on at once, employees may not feel like they know what to do or end up feeling overwhelmed and cannot get their work done.
- Staff may not feel like their thoughts and opinions are valued, creating an environment of brewing resentment.
A senior leader will never know the root cause without a comprehensive organizational assessment. Many different assessments are used by consulting firms, but a holistic consultant will make sure to incorporate the following in an assessment:
- Detailed surveys/interviews with all staff
- Trending feedback responses
- In-depth interviews with executive leadership and decision makers
- Ongoing, inclusive conversations with leadership
- Asking questions they may not think to ask themselves
- Looking to find what the true pain points are, not seeking to create a narrative that aligns with pre-set beliefs of the issues at hand
In doing this type of assessment, an organization can be provided with realistic solutions that fit their culture and current state of operations.
4. Providing solutions that are actually solutions
In our personal and professional lives, often we are given “bad solutions” (i.e., advice that doesn’t consider the full picture) that don’t work to promote growth.
A simple example of this is how a consultant may approach how staff are using various platforms to store and report data. If one person is using Google Drive and another is using OneDrive, the systems are not talking to each other.
Without a full assessment, a consultant may provide a way to manage key information on a spreadsheet to have a more succinct way of reporting. While this may seem like a solution, without a full assessment of an organization’s hardware, software, or network, this may be posed as a “solution” but cannot be implemented because the entire scope of operations wasn’t considered.
A holistic operations consultant aims to meet their clients where they are to give solutions that actually work. The steps should mirror something like this:
- Conduct a detailed organizational assessment.
- Provide multiple solutions that can be implemented to bring them back into operational balance.
- Deliver as many options as needed to get an organization up and running or back on track, based on their financial situation.
Ongoing consultation, project management, administrative support services, or additional staff may be required depending on the scope of the pain points identified or how the organizational culture is impacting operations.
A holistic operations consultant will provide a great plan and strategy to meet their client’s needs, which is half the battle! To choose what path is best, whether that be implementation with or without additional consultation, is always the client’s choice. A great holistic consultant will set their clients up for success whether additional services are desired, or not.
The caveat to successful consultant collaboration
Before you begin sending proposals to hire a holistic operations consultant for your organization, consider if you are ready to accept their approach and expertise.
Ask yourself these 3 questions:
- “Are we willing to grant this person access to fully assess our organization?”
- “Are we ready to see potential pain points that we may not have been aware of before?”
- “Are we in a position to take feedback and implement it into our organization?”
If you can answer YES to these three questions, you are on your way to transformational success for your nonprofit!