Planning is an essential yet resource-intensive process—whether you’re preparing for a vacation or outlining the next strategic priorities for your nonprofit. That’s why, when it’s time for many nonprofits to develop a strategic plan, one key question often pops up: “Should we hire a consultant?”

Strategic planning is a powerful opportunity to align your teams, engage your community, and set your nonprofit up for a stable, successful future. In many cases, partnering with a nonprofit consultant can streamline the process and ensure you get the most out of your efforts.

In this guide, we’ll cover the basics you need to know to decide whether hiring a consultant is the right choice for your organization.

Common Approaches to Strategic Planning

Every nonprofit’s strategic planning journey will vary depending on its goals, resources, and past experience. There is no single best approach to take. Instead, based on your organization’s needs, you might choose from the following options:

  • Consultant-led. A consultant can facilitate meaningful conversations about your mission and strategies, engage your stakeholders in various ways, and conduct a strategic planning retreat for your board and leadership. Then, at the end of the process, they’ll draft your strategic plan for you, making adjustments as needed until you’re satisfied with the finished product.
  • Consultant-guided. If your nonprofit would like to gain more experience in strategic planning, consider enlisting a consultant to coach your team rather than direct it. This way, you can keep your hands on the reins while learning from a professional who has years of practice in successful strategic planning.
  • Self-directed. If conserving resources is a top priority for your nonprofit, then you may opt to handle the strategic planning process all on your own. You might attend strategic planning conferences, read guidebooks, and look for templates online to lead your team.

For nonprofits looking to build the internal capacity to create effective strategic plans on their own, consider enrolling in a cohort-based strategic planning program hosted by capable consultants. While these cohort-based training opportunities are self-directed, you’ll be able to rely on expert guidance and peer support every step of the way.

The Benefits of Hiring a Strategic Planning Consultant

If you’re new to strategic planning, or if you’ve never reached out to a consultant before, you might be wondering exactly how these experts can improve your process. Specifically, a strategic planning consultant can:

  • Tailor the strategic planning process to your needs. The consultant will assess your goals, challenges, and resources to design an approach that works best for your nonprofit. For example, you might have a short amount of time in which to complete your plan or you might need to take some time to align board members on the purpose of your strategic planning before you get started.
  • Encourage more authentic feedback. By collecting input from your donors, volunteers, beneficiaries, and other stakeholders, you can ensure you represent all of their interests in your nonprofit’s strategic plan. A consultant, as a neutral third party, can collect more honest and authentic feedback from your community members and report them back to you.
  • Challenge the status quo at your nonprofit. It can be easy to fall into the same old strategies and discussions after working on your mission year after year. A consultant brings in an outside perspective that allows them to promote deeper conversations, critical thinking, and innovation during your strategic planning process.

Plus, if you find a consultant that understands your mission and works well with your nonprofit, you can turn them into a long-term partner. According to Double the Donation, recent trends related to artificial intelligence, donor acquisition, and influencer partnerships are popping up all over the sector. Having an informed expert you can rely on is essential to embrace these changes.

8 Considerations to Prepare for Strategic Planning

Now that you understand the benefits of strategic planning consultants, outline your nonprofit’s specific needs to find out where a consultant might fit into your process.

Laridae’s guide recommends asking these questions among your board and leadership team to prepare for a productive strategic planning journey:

Questions to ask before nonprofit strategic planning, as mentioned in the text below.

  • Do we have a clear and concise goal for this strategic plan?
  • Why are we creating a strategic plan now?
  • Is our nonprofit ready for honest, open reflection?
  • How much of our time and resources can we commit to this process?
  • Who will lead our strategic planning process?
  • How will we engage stakeholders?
  • How will we measure progress toward our strategic planning goals?
  • What tools, skills, or guidance do we need to make the most of this process?

While strategic planning can help your nonprofit adapt to a new fundraising strategy or recent changes within your organization, an ongoing leadership transition may present some challenges to creating a clear plan to guide your next three to five years. If that’s the case for your nonprofit, you might reach out to a consultant for their advice first before diving into the process.

Bonus: How to Find the Right Consultant

Consultants can support your organization in countless ways, from developing a Salesforce change management strategy to providing governance training to your board. Because of this, it’s important to find a consultant with in-depth experience assisting nonprofits like yours in strategic planning and other aspects of nonprofit work.

Follow these steps to narrow down the most suitable consulting firms for your nonprofit:

  • Define your goals and budget.
  • Research nonprofit consultants online.
  • Meet with potential consultants to discuss your needs.
  • Assess the proposals you receive.
  • Invite the top consultant to present their proposal at a board meeting.

Once you’ve made your choice, sign a contract with the consultant. Set your professional relationship up for success by clarifying your expectations upfront regarding payment schedules and communication timelines.

You can think of a consultant as an expert, a teacher, and a partner in your nonprofit’s overall impact. These professionals can advise you through strategic planning, train your managers, and steer your organization confidently through whatever it’s currently facing. Once you’ve wrapped up your strategic plan, share it with your stakeholders and report regularly on your progress to maintain momentum and accountability from one year to the next.