Working with Corporate Volunteers and Consultants

How to Save the World and Succeed in Business (premasagar, Flickr)A short guide to orienting consultants to your organization's culture, in order to ensure everyone is speaking the same language.


Working with Corporate Volunteers and Consultants

It's all about culture

March 3, 2000

When you bring in a volunteer or consultant who is used to working in the corporate world, you may have to orient them to nonprofit culture and circumstances, almost as if they were visiting another country. The key to a successful working relationship is explicit communication about what makes your agency's needs and processes different.

Corporate volunteers and consultants may be accustomed to recommending expensive, complex solutions. They might envision a system that is actually faster, bigger, more elaborate and harder to maintain than you need. They may not realize that their solution does not fit your nonprofit context. It is crucial that you spell out your organization's limits regarding money and staff capacity. Corporate volunteers and consultants are also often used to dealing with first or second generation technology. If they walk into an agency, for example, and discover a bunch of five year old machines, their first reaction might be to want to upgrade everything, even if those machines are doing the job they are supposed to.

It is a good idea to ask the volunteer or consultant to give you at least two assessments: a "dream" assessment (If you had an unlimited budget, what would you do?) and a "bare-bones" assessment (With a limited budget, what are the things you should do first?). Make sure the volunteer or consultant is aware of the overall skill level of your staff and of the resources you have for training staff and supporting the technology once it is in place. It's also a good idea to let them know about slow budget approval processes, so they don't get frustrated at an apparent lack of action.

As with any field, technical volunteers and consultants tend to use language and vocabulary specific to their field, which can be confusing or frustrating to non-technical people. They also might be unclear about what you do, or how things work in your organization. Let them know that they might be talking over your head, but also be aware that you might be talking over theirs.

Just as with cross-cultural exchanges, a collaboration across different organizational cultures works best with a sense of humor and explicit communication about differences.


Copyright © 2000 CompuMentor. This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.



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