Nonprofit Consulting: How To Start A Nonprofit Consulting Business

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If you’ve worked in the nonprofit sector, you’ve gained valuable experience and wisdom — experience and wisdom nonprofit organizations would pay for.

Why not take your experience and use it to start a non-profit consulting business?

Consider the example of non-profit consultant Douglas Nelson and his consultancy The Discovery Group.

Douglas works with medium and large-sized charitable organizations, sharing his expertise to help them with leadership, governance, fundraising, and strategic planning.

Starting a consulting business is an example of entrepreneurial consulting: using what you’ve learned in your career and offering that expertise to other organizations in your industry.

In this article, we’ll show you how to start your own nonprofit consulting business.

By the end, you will have a clear understanding of how you can take the skills you’ve developed working in the nonprofit world and building a profitable consulting business.

Ready? Let’s dive in…

As a nonprofit consultant, you may serve as a creative problem-solver, an experienced strategizer, or a wise vision-caster.

What Is a Nonprofit Consultant?

A nonprofit consultant is an independent expert who helps nonprofit organizations of various sizes overcome challenges, meet their needs, and achieve their goals more efficiently.

As a nonprofit consultant, you may serve as a creative problem-solver, an experienced strategizer, or a wise vision-caster.

What are some reasons why a nonprofit organization would hire a consultant?

  • To help them with fundraising and grant writing.
  • To provide strategic thinking about setting and achieving goals.
  • To improve organizational development and operational efficiency.
  • To overcome key challenges or make the most of upcoming opportunities.

Here’s an example from a nonprofit consultant (and one of our Clarity Coaching clients).

Nonprofit executive teams and boards sometimes struggle to figure out how to ensure their organizations and infrastructure fully embody their mission and values.

According to A. Nicole Campbell, a member of our Clarity Coaching Program, her consultancy Build Up Advisory Group “helps clients lead brave, strategic socio-economic change by building their infrastructure capacity,”

She provides clients with the “time and space” they need to ensure they can embody their values in everything they do.

Examples Of Nonprofit Consulting Services

Nonprofit consultants work to solve various challenges nonprofits face, and thus, they provide many different services.

Douglas Nelson learned over the course of his career that the biggest challenges faced by charitable organizations are often self-imposed.

In his business, he helps clients get out of their own way by improving their operations and executive efficiency.

Whether a client needs help with leadership development, governance, fundraising, or executive coaching, Douglas and his team work collaboratively with them to define their objectives, overcome obstacles, and achieve their outcomes.

In his own words, “We work side-by-side with our clients to help them envision change, determine how to make it happen, and put the necessary tools and skills in place for success.”

As the many testimonials on their website make clear, The Discovery Group has helped hundreds of social profit clients to make a big impact in their communities.

5 Steps to Become a Nonprofit Consultant

So, how do you take your experience in the nonprofit world and turn it into a thriving nonprofit consulting business?

Follow these five steps.

1) Get specific about your ideal nonprofit client

Nonprofit organizations come in all shapes and sizes, with a very broad range of missions and visions.

You can’t reach out to all of them. If you cast your net too broadly, you will blunt the impact of your message.

It may seem counterintuitive, but the narrower you focus — and the more precise you get about who you want to reach — the more your nonprofit consulting business will stand out.

For example, The Discovery Group specifically targets medium and large-sized charitable organizations that need help with board governance, strategic planning, and executive training.

Build Up Advisory Group focuses on philanthropic organizations in the social sector, particularly those looking for help with infrastructure design.

When you get highly specific about your ideal client, you will have a much easier time creating magnetic messaging that appeals to their needs.

You will also gain clarity about how to price your consulting services in order to communicate the value of what you have to offer.

It may seem counterintuitive, but the narrower you focus — and the more precise you get about who you want to reach — the more your nonprofit consulting business will stand out.

2) Write messaging that attracts your ideal client

Your Magnetic Message speaks directly to your ideal client’s challenges so they feel understood.

It grabs their attention, sparks their curiosity, and entices them to reach out to you to learn more.

For example, a new philanthropic organization might have a hard time figuring out how to organize its internal team capacity in a way that will meet all of its priorities.

When they come across messaging from Build Up Advisory, they think, “Wow, Nic understands just how difficult it is to organize the infrastructure for a nonprofit. I wonder how she can help us?”

To create impactful messaging, we recommend the framework: Problem – Action – Results.

Your ideal clients have problems, many of which are unique to the nonprofit world.

Write those problems down. For example…

  • Maybe they need help with fundraising and writing grants;
  • Maybe they’re struggling to figure out how best to design their organizational infrastructure;
  • Or maybe they need help getting their board fully engaged and holding them accountable.

Let your ideal client know that you understand what their specific challenges are.

Then, explain how you help clients just like them to solve those challenges.

Finally, share the results they can expect to achieve from implementing your solutions.

Here’s an example:

  • Problem: Your ideal client is struggling to raise funds to meet their operational needs, a common challenge in the nonprofit world.
  • Solution: You offer a workshop that helps organizations like theirs tell compelling stories about their operational needs and the impact of the work they do.
  • Result: Clients who have attended the workshop have, on average, doubled the amount of money they receive from fundraisers.

To make it as simple as possible, use our “Magnetic Message Formula” which will help you create a straightforward and effective message to attract your ideal client.

Here’s what it looks like:

I help [WHO] to [solve WHAT problem] so they can [see WHAT result].

For example, a new philanthropic organization might have a hard time figuring out how to structure their organization so that it operates efficiently.

They might also struggle with writing effective grants that will win them the funds they need.

Then they come across messaging from Build Up Advisory Group that says, “We help brave philanthropies and nonprofits scale their impact by strengthening their grant making and organizational structuring.”

nonprofit consulting website

The Discovery Group has similarly impactful messaging: “The work of the social profit sector isn’t always easy, and things don’t always go as planned…Through active listening and demonstrable respect, we align with clients and colleagues to define the challenge, consider the options, and find the right path forward together.”

3) Create and price your strategic offer

Your ideal nonprofit client is dealing with problems and challenges inside of their organization.

You, the nonprofit consultant, offer expert solutions (services) to solve those problems.

And most importantly, your services are going to help your client achieve their desired outcomes. That’s why they’ll pay your consulting fees.

However, to make them feel comfortable about the amount you charge, you must clearly communicate the value of your services and the impact you’re going to make on their organization.

For example, if you’re going to help them double the effectiveness of their fundraising, that’s going to make a positive impact on their growth.

Speak about that result up front, and you’ll increase the chance they’ll invest in your services.

Remember, much of your work as a consultant entails going out and winning new clients. An hourly rate doesn’t compensate you for the work you do marketing.

For this reason, we do not recommend charging an hourly rate. As a long-term pricing strategy, it will limit your growth.

That’s why we encourage consultants to charge value-based fees based on the tangible and intangible value you create for your nonprofit clients.

4) Rev up your marketing engine

Nonprofit organizations are dealing with unique problems, and they’re open to help.

But they may not realize there are experts out there — nonprofit consultants — who have expertise in solving their specific problems.

If they don’t know you exist, then they’re not going to come to you and ask for help.

The onus is on you to reach out, start relationships, learn about your ideal clients, and articulate how you can help.

That’s the essence of effective marketing.

Reach out, build trust, and let your ideal client know how you can help them with their most pressing challenges.

When you reach out, build relationships, and share what you’ll know, you’ll find ideal clients reaching out to you saying things like: “Hey, that blog post you made provided some great tips for grant writing. Could we talk to you about some of the problems we’re having?”

There are plenty of ways to market yourself, but we’ve found that the most effective marketing habits are Outreach, Follow-up, and Authority-building.

  • Outreach – Share valuable content with your ideal clients directly through LinkedIn or email. By adding value to their lives, you generate interest in your work.
  • Follow-up – Add more value over time by sending clients direct messages or emails on topics relevant to the nonprofit industry or their niche.
  • Authority-building – Publish regular content on your blog, website, and social media platforms to share what you know and position yourself continually as a nonprofit expert. This will bolster your outreach and follow-up efforts.

When you combine outreach, follow-up, and authority-building in your marketing, you build relationships with your ideal client and open up opportunities for meaningful conversations.

The onus is on you to reach out, start relationships, learn about your ideal clients, and articulate how you can help.

5) Create meaningful conversations

You’ll know your marketing engine is working well when prospective clients begin responding.

They’ll appreciate the value you’re already providing and reach out to you to have meaningful conversations about their nonprofit challenges and your offers.

Your goal in those conversations is not to “close the sale.” Instead, it’s to help the client understand their situation and clarify their desired outcome.

Once they agree that you can help them, then you can make an offer like this:

It seems like our two-week fundraising development workshop would help you communicate more impactfully with potential donors and help you meet your financial goals faster and more efficiently. Let me show you what that would look like.”

Nonprofit Consultant Case Study: A. Nic Campbell

There are a couple of questions that nonprofit consultants almost always ask us: How much should I charge my clients for my consulting services? How much will clients be willing to pay?

The nonprofit consultants in our Clarity Coaching Program make as much as $2,000,000 a year from their consulting fees — but your income will vary depending on the services you offer and the kinds of clients you take on.

Let’s look at the example of Build Up Advisory Group.

They have identified a few key problems that plague many nonprofit organizations.

For example, most nonprofits struggle with fundraising, so they can speak to this precise issue: “You have difficulty raising funds because you are unable to tell a compelling story about your operational and infrastructure needs and their impact on your programmatic work.”

A. Nicole Campbell credits our Clarity Coaching Program with identifying this clear area of need and creating a portfolio of services to address this and other areas of focus.

After going through the program, she says, “You’re able to learn from other people, listen to their experiences, and discover how they are dealing with their struggles.

About her coaches and mentors in the program, she says, “They bring so much experience to the table, and they are strategic, analytical thinkers.”

She learned how to identify her ideal client, create a portfolio of specific services with clear pricing, and build compelling messaging around it.

All of this has enabled her to serve many nonprofits and philanthropic organizations — and build a very profitable business doing so.

Get Customized Coaching To Start Your Nonprofit Consulting Business

We’ve coached many nonprofit consultants to help them start and grow their consulting business — and we can do the same for you.

In our Clarity Coaching program, we’ve helped over 850 consultants to build a more strategic, profitable, and scalable, consulting business.

We’ve worked with nonprofit consultants and understand the specific nuances of starting, growing, and scaling a nonprofit consulting business specifically.

LEARN MORE ABOUT CLARITY COACHING

We’ll work hands-on with you to develop a strategic plan and then dive deep and work through your ideal client clarity, strategic messaging, consulting offers, fees and pricing, business model optimization, and help you to set up your marketing engine and lead generation system to consistently attract ideal clients.

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