Consultants as extended family

21 Mar

In the latest installment of my diatribe on saying thank you, I’m going to throw you a curve ball. In addition to donors, volunteers and staff, you need to thank any consultants with whom you do business. Yes, I know, you pay them, isn’t that enough?

You shouldn't have! But I'm glad you did...

Speaking as a consultant, eh, maybe. Yes, money figures into all of my client relationships. I have to eat and pay rent, too. But as an independent business person, I get to decide who puts money in my pocket and how much access they have to my time.

You don’t pay my taxes or health insurance (trust me, I am well aware of that). I don’t get interoffice memos or attend staff meetings. But I share a passion for your mission (or you wouldn’t be my client), you bring me in to help solve your biggest challenges and trust me with some deep, dark agency issues which I divulge to no one, except for maybe the Mean Kitty.

This implies a level of professional intimacy, for lack of a better word. I may not be a blood relative, but I’m the next best thing, especially if we have an ongoing arrangement.

Making me one happy consultant and keeping me around doesn’t begin and end with money. Just like everyone else, I like to feel appreciated and that my efforts mean something to you. Here’s a short list of ways to keep your favorite trouble shooter on board:

Treat me like family: I have had clients invite me to potluck lunches and staff holiday parties, which I love. I enjoy hanging out with the people with whom I write grants and getting to know the rest of the staff. I’m the kind of person who just likes to be included. It really is the thought that counts.

Make me feel welcome: Make it easy for me to be in your space. Give me the code to the copy machine and the wireless key. Give me some place to set up. I don’t require a permanent work space, although one client gave me a cubicle, I was there so much. I also had a cubby with my name on it in the mail room. This was as much a convenience for staff as it was for me. Make it easy for me to settle in and get my job done, and you’ll see me a lot more.

Know me: I had a client who knew I frequently skipped lunch while on deadline and made sure to have packets of those cheese and peanut butter crackers in her office for me. I had a client who gave me a gift certificate to DSW (shoes!) after completing a particularly difficult grant. I’ve gotten Starbucks (the self-employed person’s conference room) gift cards for Christmas, small gifts for the Mean Kitty and comp tickets to a wine tasting fundraising event. All of these things spell: Loretta.

Give me your time: I always say that grant writing is a team sport. Make yourself available to me. Don’t leave me hanging or make me guess at the right response to a question on an RFP. If I feel isolated or ineffective, I get frustrated. And when I get frustrated, I get gone.

Make it real: I have a client who loves to tell me stories about how the grants I write help their clients. I love/hate this little perk. I love hearing about people’s lives changing dramatically–it makes my work more real, less abstract and theoretical, but she always makes me cry, which I hate!

And as always: Say thank you! And be sincere.

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