Agencies hire consultants because there is no extra time available among the staff for working on special projects. We understand that. Even not so special projects are managed by consultants. Agencies spend the time and talents of staff on direct service work, and have less access to their insights and experience when consultants work on research, planning and organizational design. By outsourcing the thinking and planning aspects of not-for-profit management, we run the risk of losing buy-in to the final result.
When we say we’re building community capacity, we mean it. Our approach involves facilitating the work of management teams but not replacing it. A successful project to us is one that builds the capacity of community organizations while at the same time executing on project goals.
Data analysis is one area where developing your internal capacity will pay off. This may seem a little counter-intuitive: I've heard Executive Directors say they can lose up to three months or every year to data gathering and reporting. Funders have different priorities, funding periods, and definitions of inputs and outcomes. This adds up to a lot of time and money spent gathering information that doesn't mean a lot to an agency’s measure of its impact in the world.
All this reporting overhead can cause agencies to neglect some unique impact measures. It's critical to long-term success to be clear about the beneficiaries you’re serving or the cause you’re championing, the outcomes you expect for the beneficiaries or the change you hope to make. Come up with two or three clear outcome measures to track how you’re doing, and take time to think about and discuss the results.You spend so much time on reporting to funders, make sure you also develop the internal capacity to tell your own unique story and measure your impact on the community you serve.
Of course, we are consultants, and we think we can add a lot of value. The difference is that in every engagement we work on building your internal capacity for the next time. An important benefit of that collaborative style is the buy-in you get to the final result. Data gathering and analysis is one example of internal capacity building that will make planning and resource allocation better. In the end, the better you can tell the story of your impact, the more support you can secure.