Why Use a Consultant?

“Why should we use a consultant? Why would we spend money on an outsider who could not possibly know as much about the congregation as we do?”

This is a question that may arise in a congregation when bringing in a stewardship consultant is under consideration. It’s a fair question that is appropriate to ask, and it deserves a thoughtful answer. Even in the best of times, congregational resources are precious assets, and should be invested carefully.

We do not always recommend bringing in a consultant. While a consultant is often an important part of the solution, there are times wherein the congregation may not be ready, when the issue at hand is not well suited for a consultant-based solution, or appropriate resources may be available at the region or district. Where a consultant does represent a value solution, we will so recommend.

Dr. Wayne Clark’s (former Director of the UUA’s Congregational Stewardship Network -CSN) book, Beyond Fundraising, devotes an entire chapter to the question of when to bring in a consultant, in recognition that this is often a decision that is new to congregational leaders. When to bring a consultant on board is an important decision. Here are some factors to consider:

  • Fresh perspectives
  • Important opportunities for change
  • Information as to how others have addressed similar challenges
  • Skills not otherwise available within the congregation
  • Materials and lessons to be used in follow-on years
  • Confidence that you have taken every reasonable step to ensure success in congregational endeavors
  • The consultation fees represent a very small investment as a percentage of the annual budget or a capital campaign

Fresh perspectives: Sometimes it can be difficult to clearly see and define challenges that are so close, so long running, or so intertwined with other facets of congregational life. A stewardship consultant has experience in all aspects of congregational life, and brings to the discussion ideas and experience outside of the congregation. Sometimes a fresh point of view is exactly what is needed. If what you have been doing to date has not brought satisfactory results, bringing in a consultant can prove to be the catalyst needed for results.

Important opportunities for change: A congregation may find making a big change or taking a “leap of faith” a difficult step to take. It’s natural and often prudent to have doubts, especially when seeking a culture change, such as how we think about money and spirituality. A stewardship consultant can bring additional experience and expertise to that conversation, helping the congregation make the right decision based not only on its own knowledge, but also taking advantage of theused in follow-on years: While the consultant works with you to address your current challenges and opportunities, an equally important objective is to equip your congregation for continued growth and improvement for the years ahead. The consultant will provide you materials, references, and information to build capacity and  enable the congregation to do well long after the consultant has departed.

Confidence that you have taken every reasonable step to ensure success in congregational endeavors: Breaking out of a plateau in the budget drive, setting an inspiring but realistic capital fund raising goal, concluding a successful capital campaign – these are important and complex moments in the life of a congregation. No outcome can be guaranteed, but utilizing a consultant can certainly improve the odds. Conversely, if an initiative does not go well when the decision was made to forego capitalizing on the availability of a consultant, its difficult to conclude that every reasonable step was taken to ensure success.

The consultation fees represent a very small investment as a percentage of the annual budget or a capital campaign: Bringing in a consultant, even at our rates, represents a measurable investment for the congregation, and it’s often a new outlay that members and leaders have not considered previously. In addition to the above considerations, it’s helpful to recognize that the consultation fees represent a very small percentage of the annual budget (in most cases, around 4% of the funds raised). Programs can usually be expected to raise more than they would have without consultant support.

The congregation and the leadership should weigh the factors discussed above in making decisions as to how best to invest congregational resources and plan for success. Whether to use a consultant is a decision that can only be made by each congregation and its leadership.