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Q:
How do I become a nonprofit consultant or grant writer?
A:

For the right person, working as an independent consultant can have many advantages, including setting one's own schedule and priorities, working with a variety of clients, and developing a wide range of personal skills and experience.

However, like any start-up, launching your own consulting business involves some financial risk and a great deal of personal commitment. While working independently often provides for greater personal freedom, it may also involve an inconsistent workload and an unpredictable income.

Consultants must be well-organized and self-disciplined in order to effectively manage their time and resources while working with several different clients at any given time. Some other considerations include:

  • Experience/credentials: As a consultant, you are the product. Nonprofit organizations select consultants based on their experience, education, and other credentials, as well as personal referrals. Before setting out on your own, you will need to consider whether or not you have the experience needed to advise different types of nonprofits on a wide variety of topics. You may also want to consider certification, such as CFRE, or even graduate or professional education to build your knowledge base.
  • Contracts/fees: Consultants must know how to develop effective contracts with clients. You will also need to research other consultants' fees and develop your own fee system. Will you charge by the hour, or on an annual or project basis?
  • Specialization: Nonprofit consultants may begin as generalists, but most will eventually focus on one or a few aspects of fundraising, management, or grant writing. Know your preferred areas as well as those in which you do not wish to consult.
  • Physical space: On the more practical side, you must determine where to set up your workspace. Working from home may seem comforting, but it can be distracting or tiresome. Having an office outside the home can help provide focus and a routine, but you probably will need to pay rent.
  • Lack of benefits: While individuals are often able to increase their earnings by shifting to consulting, this can be offset by the loss of insurance coverage, retirement funds, and other benefits associated with institutional employment.

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