The (contract) end is near. What's your survival plan?

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When you have a rockstar consultant doing great work for your nonprofit organization, nearing the end of your contract with him or her can be a real downer. You may be wondering, “how are we going to keep up this momentum once our consultant leaves?”

(If, on the other hand, you have a less than stellar consultant doing subpar work for your nonprofit, you may want to pause here and go check out my previous blogs in this series. They’re all about partnering effectively with nonprofit consultants and you can read each post here, here, here, and here, and

When you’re parting ways with a consultant that has brought real value to your nonprofit, it’s important to remember that there’s a lot you can do to ensure the good work will continue. Here are four things you can do well before the end of the engagement, to sustain the work long after you and your consultant part ways...

1. Take ownership of the project and its outcomes. You’ve hired a consultant to do work for your nonprofit, so that means less work for you and your team, right? Well … not exactly (sorry!). Sure, the consultant will have his or her assignments and deliverables to complete, but as the organizational leader you are responsible for ensuring the project stays on track and delivers the results that your organization needs. By stepping up and taking ownership of the project decisions and outcomes while the work is underway, you will be in a much stronger position to continue leading and sustaining the changes once the consultant’s work is done.

2. Build internal capacity. Often times you hire a consultant because he or she brings an expertise or skill set that your team does not possess internally. Whether it be a particular fundraising ability, skillful meeting facilitation, or otherwise, the good news is that your consultant’s capabilities don’t have to leave your organization when he or she walks out the door. Instead, identify the key skills you’d like your team to develop internally, and ask your consultant to provide training or coaching to you and other team members throughout the project. Have this conversation early on, so that you can identify and use hands-on learning opportunities when the consultant is delivering the work under his or her contract. For example, you could consider co-facilitating a meeting with your consultant and ask for training and feedback to develop your capacity to run effective meetings. Or, you may accompany your consultant on a donor visit and practice making the ask for the first time.

3. Identify immediate next steps and be obsessive about sticking with them. When your consultant’s contract ends, your organization enters a transition period that will test the “stickiness” of the work you’ve done together. Will your organization be able to sustain the changes you’ve worked so hard to create, or will you slide back into old ways of operating? To make sure the changes stick, work with your consultant and team towards the end of the project period to develop a 1-3 month post-project implementation plan. In the plan, identify the immediate next steps you will take to keep up the good work, and assign responsibility and deadlines to each task. While you’re creating new habits and putting these new practices into place, be obsessive (yes, obsessive!) about sticking with the work. Meet weekly (at least) to track key milestones, evaluate the work, and make course corrections. Once you’re into your new groove, you can pull back the throttle a little bit, but these first couple of months will really make or break the changes you’ve worked so hard to create.

4. Consider a light touch, ongoing consulting engagement Let me start by saying: this is not a sales plug. The last thing I want is for my clients to become dependent on me, or any consultant, for support.

Having said that, when you’ve just “completed” a big change initiative at your organization (I put completed in quotes, because we all know the work is never really done…), it can be helpful to have ongoing support from an external accountability partner. Consider whether your nonprofit would benefit from monthly check-in meetings with your consultant to touch base on how the post-project implementation is going, tease out what you’re learning, and adapt plans as things inevitably change. For a relatively small amount of money, that light-touch support could make a big difference to the long-term sustainability of your work.

Now, over to you!

What have you and your nonprofit done to sustain the results of a consulting project long after your consultant engagement is over? And to my consultant friends out there, what do you do with your clients to set them up for success after you’ve finished your work together? That sums up our blog series on how to partner effectively with consultants to advance your nonprofit’s effectiveness and impact. I hope you enjoyed it! Please feel free to reach out with your thoughts on this series or suggestions for future post topics!