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How can you become a nonprofit consultant?

Have you been having a hard time finding a nonprofit job?

Do you have years of experience that can translate to helping nonprofits, but no idea how to go about getting a foothold in this field?

Have you thought about becoming a nonprofit consultant?

Yesterday at the last Nonprofit Career Club meeting, we talked with Mike Bacon of Bacon Lee and Associates about becoming a nonprofit consultant. Here’s what he shared with us.

Be proactive, not reactive
This means go out and meet people. Dedicate 20% of your time to thinking about the next 3 months and have people you can put in the client pipeline. Professional organizations and certifications really do matter, if you go out and network and work your memberships, this can lead to real connections, relationships, and contracts for you.

Establish credibility with a couple of good contracts
Work for a little less at first, and get people to give you good references, and introduce yourself to their circle. You can also establish a group of advisors, people who can help open doors for you, and advance relationships for you.

Treat yourself like a client, and market yourself.
Think about how you want to market yourself. Do you have a broad range of experiences, or do you have a niche, a deep knowledge of one particular area? For example, working an annual fund is a niche. Doing Capital Campaigns and Major Gifts is a niche. Doing Planned Giving is very technical, and is a good thing for those with a law background to go into. Also, writing Federal grants is a niche. Where could you specialize?

If you want to get paid, do these things.

  • You can get paid hourly, per project, or on retainer. He recommends per project. For example, if you’re doing grantwriting, you can get a fee for the research, fee to making templates, and a fee to churn out 5 grant proposals per month. This is easy for a busy development office to outsource.
  • Get a contract before you start any work. The contract will include a workplan. Here are MY responsibilities, here are YOUR responsibilities, and here’s how we’re going to do this.
  • Do monthly invoicing, and send the invoice both hard copy and electronically
  • When you decide on a price, add $500.00 to it. You are going to undersell yourself.
  • Expect slow payments.
  • Offer discounts if they pay within two weeks.
  • You may have to chase them. Say, “My invoice hasn’t been paid for a month, so we’re going to stop working until you get caught up.”
  • Do NOT go anywhere near commission-based fundraising.Set money aside for Quarterly Taxes, Insurance, Savings, and a 401KSo you can have 3 or 4 accounts, and set aside money in each one for these various things. When you’re a sole proprietorship, this is key, you’re going to have quarterly taxes, and this can really bite you at the end of the year if you haven’t paid all year.Also, you need good legal advice. So get a friend or acquaintance to look over contracts for you.Want to hear my story as a nonprofit consultant? Read on.When I started as a nonprofit fundraising consultant in 2003, I had no idea what I was doing. I thought that since I wrote a grant for an Indonesian nonprofit, that fundraisers just wrote grants. Then I started finding harp jobs for a nonprofit group of harpists I was working for. Then I started designing letterhead and business cards for another nonprofit I worked for. Then I started doing speaking engagements. And at the time, I was just going with the flow, not really thinking about if this fit into a “job description” or not, just trying to get done whatever needed to get done. Then I organized an event for 60 people with speakers and food, invites, etc. Then I started to help nonprofits have more effective websites.All of this was without any business cards, any web presence, just word of mouth. I really had more work than I knew what to do with. Suddenly I was doing marketing, graphic design, grant research, event management, everything, just because I was willing to work hard, and put myself out there and meet people. 
    Eventually I started working full time for nonprofits and moved up to Development Director, then went back into consulting in 2009.
     You can have lots of work too, if you’re willing to put yourself out there as a person who can help others. Because I believe that if you educate yourself about fundraising, take a course or three, and start getting out there, you are going to find a lot of nonprofits who need your help. You can go to AFP conferences, local nonprofit association conferences, or webinars.You can do it!Learn more about my fundraising consultingWho is out there? Find a fundraising consultant.
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