Setting Up a Successful Collaboration with Consultants

At some point, you may need to hire a consultant to help you write a proposal. The consultant may be a subject-matter expert who can work with you on strategy, a grant writer who can write the content and manage the proposal process, or a former government or foundation staff member who can help with the review process and ensure your proposal is responsive to the funder’s needs.

To avoid issues during the proposal process, before you contact a potential consultant to discuss the opportunity, you’ll need to do some preparatory work. This prep work will help guarantee that the initial conversation with the consultant covers all the bases in terms of what will be required; it will also help the consultant by giving her enough information to make an informed decision about whether she can meet your expectations. Leave out this preparatory step, and you may end up in a situation where the consultant is unable to participate at the level or within the timeframe that you need her to.

Thinking of Hiring a Consultant? Here’s Your Homework.

TIME: Sketch out the proposal calendar so you know roughly at what stage(s) of the proposal process, and for how long, you’ll need the consultant to be involved. Depending on the type of proposal and the consultant’s expertise and envisioned role, this could vary from a few days to a few months. Before you contact a potential consultant, ideally you should have some sense of the expected release date of the opportunity announcement. When you speak to the consultant, you can review the preliminary proposal schedule with her to see if she anticipates any scheduling conflicts.

MATERIALS: Gather background materials to share with the consultant to help her evaluate the consultancy and come up to speed on the proposed project. If the pre-solicitation or the request for applications (RFA) has already been released, you will want to send the consultant a copy.

Other things to share include:

  • Copies of your organization’s latest annual report, mission statement, and capacity statement;

  • A list of recent grants your organization has received (donor, amount, project period, project name) relevant to the opportunity under consideration; and

  • The bios of your organization's senior leaders and technical staff.

For a rebid or follow-on project (i.e., continuance of a currently funded project), you should share a copy of the last proposal, copies of all project reports submitted to the donor, and any publications produced during the current project.

PROCESS: Decide how you would like the collaboration with the consultant to work. Unless things are spelled out, the consultant could assume all she will be doing is discussing the proposal’s development with technical staff and senior leadership on an “on call” basis.

To set the proper expectations, which should ultimately be incorporated into the consultant agreement, some questions to consider are:

  • Do you want the consultant to be in your office every day during the work period, or are you okay with the consultant working remotely and communicating with you via email and conference calls? If it will be a long-distance collaboration, do you anticipate meeting with the consultant on a regular basis at fixed times, or will the meetings most likely be ad hoc?

  • Should the consultant plan on attending some planning meetings in-person, such as the kick-off meeting for the proposal process? If so, do you have an idea when these meetings might take place and where they will be held?

  • If you are hiring a consultant to act as an expert reviewer and strategist (as opposed to a hands-on grant writer) are you open to receiving the consultant’s feedback in any form, verbal or written? Or, do you want the consultant to provide everything in writing? In addition to written feedback on proposal drafts, possible work products could include a summary of trends in the project's area of focus or an analysis of the donor’s current projects, interests, and recent funding decisions.

  • Will the consultant need access to equipment (e.g., webcam, Windows-based computer) or services such as Skype to connect with you and your colleagues during the proposal process?

If you think through these three major areas of time, materials, and process, you’ll go into the initial meeting with the consultant being clear on what you need. This clarity will help you articulate your expectations for the consultant position, which in turn will help the consultant make an informed decision regarding whether she is the right person for the scope of work.