At some time or another, a Head Start program may decide that the problem they’re facing needs the expertise and advice of an outside consultant. Consultants play an important part of any successful Head Start program and can help bring lasting change and quality improvements to a program.
The Strategic Use of Consultants Guide was developed to help agencies design their targeted training and technical assistance needs and hire consultants to fill those needs. We won’t go into great detail on the Guide for the purposes of this blog. Instead, we interviewed a Head Start director about her experience with using consultants. Here are some of the things we learned from that conversation.
Why hire a consultant?
Being a strong leader means knowing when to ask for help. The Georgia Center for Nonprofits cites three reasons to hire an outside consultant: objectivity, specialized expertise, and experience.
Objectivity – Sometimes it takes an outsider without preconceived notions to help the agency gain perspective.
Specialized Expertise – A good consultant will specialize in a few highly specific areas. And while volunteers are useful resources, every nonprofit organization can tell you there’s a big difference between paid assistance and volunteer assistance.
Experience – Consultants will have a breadth of knowledge that can only be gained by training many agencies in the same topic over and over. They’ve probably already seen your problem before, and know how to solve it effectively and efficiently.
Where to find a consultant?
Most of the time agencies find consultants at conferences or from references from other Head Start programs. Also, the State Association can be helpful in providing ideas for consultants in specific areas. It’s a good idea to keep a database of consultants available. Every time you hear of a consultant or meet one at a conference, log their contact information and areas of expertise. Even if you don’t need their services now, you may later.
How to choose the right person?
In the Strategic Use of Consultants Guide, OHS suggests the following strategy in hiring a consultant:
• Advertising the position
• Seeking qualified candidates from your organization’s consultant pool
• Making the most of talent within your organization
• Soliciting the advice of Head Start colleagues and partners
However, as any Head Start leader will tell you, when choosing your consultant, don’t underestimate the value of your intuition and the importance of feeling comfortable with the person you’re choosing. It’s much easier to communicate and engage in honest dialogue with your consultant if you feel camaraderie and trust. In your interview, you may want to ask questions about their passion for Head Start or early childhood education in general.
What about costs?
Everyone at some point has had experience with the old adage: You get what you pay for. While price is an important consideration, it shouldn’t be the ONLY consideration. Head Start agencies are not made of money, and every dollar is crucial, especially with the estimated 5% reduction expected across the board. Make sure the consultant can provide the right balance of expertise and service you require to move your program forward. Otherwise, it’s just money wasted.
What about The Gravely Group?
The Gravely Group is a national training and consulting agency for Head Start programs on several program areas, including Program Governance, Effective Meetings, Board Development, Parent Involvement, Fatherhood, and Team Building. We are also experienced in training AIAN (American Indian Alaska Native) programs.