Consulting with Non Profits

The nonprofit sector is growing faster than either the business or government sectors and in the past decade consulting leaders like Accenture, Bain & Company, Booz Allen and McKinsey & Company, have either reformulated and/or expanded their nonprofit practice in response.

It’s not only sector growth that has fueled their interest. On October 3, 2010 the Financial Times (“Capturing the hearts and minds of MBAs”) reported a marked increase in new MBAs entering the nonprofit world. The competition to work at Bridgespan, the nonprofit child of Bain & Company, is as fierce as it is at Bain. No doubt this is due in part to some traditional MBA career paths disappearing in the recession, but not the only reason.

Growing up with Earth Day, “We are the World,” and continual media bombardment on global problems like widespread famine, natural catastrophes like floods, earthquakes and tsunamis, and disease like AIDS, this generation earnestly wants not only to do well, but to do good.

Management consulting firms rethought their involvement in the nonprofit sector to accommodate the aspirations of those they wanted to recruit and retain. Some have taken a novel approach. Bain & Company’s Bridgespan and Accenture Development Partners (ADP) are charitable entitles themselves and represent a new way of funneling firm resources into nonprofit work. Monitor Group’s Monitor Institute, a B Corporation, takes traditional pro bono practice to the next level through a strategic multi-year, multi-million dollar investment of pro-bono consulting and other support to just one organization — New Profit Inc., a nonprofit venture philanthropy organization.

In addition to expertise, one of the assets consultants bring to the nonprofit table is existing relationships with and insight into government and business. Together the sectors can better accomplish large-scale objectives than any one sector can alone. Your firm can help make it happen.

Nonprofit work is not for everyone, but association with good causes strengthens community relations, puts you in contact with influential community leaders, and lifts employee morale. While it not always as profitable as corporate work, the experience of many proves that you can generate decent revenue in this way…and feel darn good about it too.

Penelope Cagney, MA, CFRE, has twenty-five years’ experience as a consultant to nonprofit organizations and has worked with half a dozen consulting firms. She is the author of “Nonprofit Consulting Essentials: What Nonprofits and Consultants Need to Know” and is in demand as a presenter at international conferences.

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  • Great post. As a consultant who provides services to mostly small and midsize nonprofits I’d like to add that the largest nonprofits, the ones that are going to served by firms like Booz Allen and McKinsey, operate more like their for profit cousins than like their smaller siblings. For example, at community based organizations even the decision to engage consultants on a particular project can be a drawn out process involving both the board and senior staff. Consultants who are interested in working with these types of nonprofits will need to take differences of this sort into account.

    • Penelope Cagney

      Couldn't agree more, Al. The largest nonprofits more closely resemble businesses of a similar size than they do mid-size or small nonprofits. The challenges they face and and often the type of work consultants are called upon to perform are common to large organizations. Also, nonprofit work can take ttwo or three times longer because of the greater number of stakeholders and the consensus-based culture involved.

  • MonaH

    Great article! I am in the process of starting an NPO in Montreal, Canada and could definitely use some help. Would you happen to know anyone in the area that you can refer me to? I would really appreciate any information. Thanks!