The value of exploratory calls
Knowing how to gracefully assess client readiness and fit is a critical part of exploratory meetings. Part of my job as a consultant is to help a client recognize their readiness level before our work even begins! And when we both can agree it’s a good fit relationship, it’s a true win-win.
Assessing readiness and fit upfront helps eliminate hours of unpaid “exploratory work” on the side of the consultant, and saves time, effort, and expenses for the nonprofit. Most importantly, it ensures a successful partnership that results in meaningful change.
Here are FIVE things that I listen for (and ask of myself) during an exploratory conversation:
Are the decision makers on the call? Have I asked for them to be? If not, you can expect to be asked to do a second call with the Executive Director, Board Chair, or others. Asking decision makers to be part of the initial call is a tactful way to approach this BEFORE you have the exploratory conversation. Having decision makers present is another way to suss out if everyone is on the same page regarding the need for consulting services (see #2). It’s also a great opportunity to get an inside look at any politics at play (read: influence and relationships) and how that might impact a potential consulting partnership.
Is there clarity around the potential project? Can I help them find it during the call? If the person who you are on the call with can’t tell you what needs to be done, read #1 and reschedule. If all the key decision makers are on the call and they still only have a general idea or no consensus on what type of services they are looking for, this may be a red flag. Sometimes saying something as gentle and direct as: “I heard you say that you needed help with X. This seems to be an additional pain point or a new direction. Are you hoping to address this as well or did you want to stick with the original idea?” will help the client recognize they have multiple needs or lack consensus, as well as provide you clarity on whether what you have to offer (see #3) is a fit.
Are they looking for an exception to my fees, services, or area of expertise? Am I clear on what I offer? A service menu is helpful for the client and the consultant. Sure, there are times when you may decide to adjust your fee up or down or take on a project that is slightly outside your typical scope of work. However, having a set “menu” can be incredibly helpful in assessing fit. For example: if a client is looking for interim development services and that isn’t on your menu, then that’s the perfect entre to say: “We don’t offer that service, but I do have a list of other consultants I know and trust who do.” Having a menu with set prices to share with clients also helps eliminate requests for exceptions to your fees. Working for less than you feel you are worth only leads to burn-out and resentment. Don’t do it!
Do they fit within the description of my ideal client? A clear understanding of who your ideal client is can be one of the most helpful and important pieces of determining fit. Are your services geared toward large, medium, or small nonprofits? Do you do your best work with a team or one-on-one? Is your ideal client looking for assistance with strategy or implementation? Do you specialize in a particular area of nonprofit service such as the environment, racial equity, housing, or healthcare? Many of the answers to these questions can be determined prior to a conversation to eliminate or confirm the need for an official “exploratory conversation”.
How does the conversation feel? Remember - an exploratory call is as much about you assessing fit as it is the potential client. Never underestimate the importance of conversation ease, sense of humor, collaboration, openness, and enthusiasm. Having an enjoyable working relationship can be one of the biggest predictors of success (and good health for everyone!).
Ready for a conversation to learn more? Frances Roen, founder of Fundraising Sol, offers complimentary 30-minute exploratory calls for nonprofits looking for fundraising planning and strategy related to annual development goals, campaigns, endowments, and grant prospecting.
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