When to hire a communications consultant


In the weeds? Maybe it’s time to hire someone.

If you’ve never worked with a freelancer or consultant before, it may not even occur to you as an option. Hiring someone on a contract or for project-based work can be a great way to maximize your limited resources. Here are a few examples of when it might be time to hire some help to extend your reach and fuel your mission.

You need a specialized skillset.

This is perhaps the most obvious situation. Small organizations and nonprofits tend to have generalists–people who can do a little bit of everything, but may not possess deep expertise in a particular skill set, such as graphic design, programming, search engine optimization or another highly technical field. Usually, this is because you don’t need full-time access to this skill. But if you know what you need, and just need someone to help you build it, a freelancer can be a great option.

You’re not sure what you need.

The other side of this coin is just as important. Maybe you don’t know exactly what you need, but you have a problem to solve. A trusted partner who can serve as a consultant can be a tremendous resource in this situation. They can conduct research, connect you with potential resources and present a clear situation analysis and possible solutions so that you can make informed decisions. In addition to saving you a lot of nitty-gritty work, freelancing consultants can bolster your authority if you are presenting your proposed course of action to your manager (or, as is so often the case within nonprofits, a committee). This person can also serve as a neutral outsider to help disarm some of the […?] so common to mission work.

Your Important/Not Urgent Quadrant is Sorely Neglected

When you’re a one-person team in an organization, sometimes you go through entire seasons feeling like you’re putting out fires rather than building the systems and tools that could make real progress toward your objectives.
By Rorybowman [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
Maybe you could really use an editorial calendar to help guide donor communications, but you just can’t find the time to build it out. Or maybe you have some highly detailed organizational project you don’t have a week to pore over, and it’s too important to rely on a volunteer who may not come through. Maybe there’s been something you’ve been meaning to research, and instead of spending 15 hours trawling the Internet for useful information, you’d really like a high-level report to help guide your next steps.

It’s Crunch Time

Year-end campaigns. Annual fundraising events. Whatever your organization’s insane crunch time is. When you’re working long hours and just aren’t sure how you’ll get everything done, an extra hand can be the difference between burnout and triumph.

You Need to Bridge a Vacancy

Even with plenty of notice and a thorough hand-off process, it can be hard to keep up when people leave your team. No, this likely isn’t the *best* time to also hire a brand-new freelancer, but if you have an existing relationship with someone you trust, it’s a great opportunity to hand off some of the work that might otherwise slip through the cracks as you’re saying goodbye to one team member, interviewing candidates and onboarding a new hire. Which brings me to the topic of next week’s post: Why you should have a relationship with a freelancer, even if you don’t think you need one. Stay tuned! Photo by Jonny Caspari on Unsplash

Four reasons former nonprofit pros make great freelancers

While my career has spanned a few different sectors over the past decade, I have spent most of my time in nonprofits. In that arena, I have felt the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, and through it all I’ve learned a ton. From my own experiences and from my interactions with talented colleagues across this space, I can confidently say that people who come from the nonprofit are uncommonly suited to the freelancing world. Here’s why.

We’re efficient.

Anyone who has made good things happen at a nonprofit knows how to turn a little into a lot. “Hustle” has become an almost meaningless buzzword, but in the nonprofit world, hustling is our standard M.O.

We often operate within tiny budgets with no room for extras, and still get amazing things done. Often, clients are looking for freelancers because of their own resource constraints (they need expertise or capacity but can’t hire someone on full-time), and nonprofit professionals can relate, adapt and–well (forgive me) hustle to make magic happen.

We’re courageous chameleons.


Photo by Nandhu Kumar on Unsplash

The “not my job” mentality that creeps into a lot of workplaces falls away out of necessity in the midst of a successful nonprofit project, and because of this, nonprofit professionals are among the scrappiest, most adaptable people I know.

Years ago, I was the junior member on a two-woman marketing team charged with the task of hosting a big wine tasting fundraiser on the eve of an even bigger, brand new music and wellness festival. From branding and getting people to show up, from permits to advertising to space planning, we were in charge of making it happen. It didn’t matter if I didn’t quite know how to do something, I had to figure it out.

In the weeks leading up to this weekend, despite all our preparations, I couldn’t help but wonder (and worry) how we’d manage to pull it off. My colleague, with several years of experience under her belt, was unruffled. She taught me the graceful art of eating the proverbial elephant.

To my amazement, everything went great. Our exhaustion was bone-deep by the end of the weekend, but we were triumphant. I will be forever grateful for that lesson in courage, because it was the first of many seemingly impossible tasks in my career.

We know how to measure results.

I think people in the for-profit sector often look at nonprofits (especially small ones) as lagging behind when it comes to things like metrics. Nonprofits have a reputation sometimes of being light on numbers.

The fact is, though, that funders want to know their return on investment, and consistent support hinges on being able to show what those funds means for a mission.

When you’re not in the business of making money, you have to get good at understanding your true impact. Successful nonprofit pros develop a critical eye for what’s working (or not), and how you can tell, and know how to communicate it in a way that resonates with supporters. This ability to SMART-ify objectives and then contextualize them, compellingly, make nonprofit pros savvy problem-solvers and great partners.


Photo by Marvin van Beek on Unsplash

We’re mission fueled (and we know how to fuel a mission).

Nonprofit professionals (at least the honest ones) aren’t in it to get rich. Sure, everyone works for a paycheck, but the nonprofit pros who find success and fulfillment in their work get behind the mission, and believe in it.

And because we ourselves believe in the work we do, we know how to spark that fire in other hearts.

Featured Photo by Vlad Tchompalov on Unsplash