The nonprofit sector is all about improving the world around us for the better. Those of us who work in this field know that it takes dedication and drive to tackle the big problems of the world. Whether an organization’s focus is global health, education, the environment, the arts, or any of the other myriad worthy causes out there, we know this work has the power to transform individual lives and entire communities.
We also know that the work cannot be done alone.
Whether it’s revamping an outdated website, bringing a fresh set of eyes to your strategic planning, conducting an annual audit, or something else entirely, chances are your organization has had a project that required hiring outside help.
It can be stressful to manage these projects. How do you know if you’ve found the right person to assist your organization? How do you keep a project on track when you’re working across time zones, even continents?
We’ve compiled our four best tips for managing vendor and contractor relationships.
1. Use your network.
Often the best way to determine that best outside firm to use (or not use!) is by asking your contacts who they recommend for a project. Need to get 500 t-shirts printed for your organization’s 5K? Want to add an HR consultant to help out your overburdened admin team? Chances are, there is someone in your network who has had a similar need and can point you in the right direction.
The truth is that there are probably a lot of good options out there for, say, a graphic designer, but finding one who can do the work and shares your values and understands your cause can be a little trickier.
With a little bit of diligence, though, we are confident you can find the right fit! Ask around on listservs, Facebook groups, professional meetups, and other resources you regularly use. If you’re not involved in any, look for ones in your area or field. (For North Carolina-based nonprofits, try the NC Center for Nonprofits. You can also look for a local YNPN chapter, the Association of Fundraising Professionals if you work in development, and many others!).
2. Manage expectations by keeping communication clear, direct, and concise.
This is good advice when working with anyone, but especially important when managing a project during which you may not see or hear from stakeholders on a daily or even weekly basis. How do you make sure projects are moving in the right direction?
Well, besides responding to emails in a timely fashion and making certain you’ve answered and asked all questions thoroughly (common sense, right?), we suggest sitting down with your contractor before a project starts to manage expectations. If your contractor is planning to send a weekly check-in email and you want to meet only once a month but in person, expect to run into problems! Sort out what works best for all parties based on deadlines and schedules and stay in touch throughout the project so you can adjust if needed. This helps to keep you organized as you manage multiple projects in your organization and helps your contractor, who is likely juggling multiple clients, to
3. Don’t forget the value of an in-person meeting.
We mentioned it above, but it’s worth repeating here! These days it’s possible to do entire projects remotely, without ever gathering your team in the same location. Sometimes geography necessitates this, but if you can, try to work at least one in-person meeting into your project timeline. You can form stronger relationships in person, accomplish more in a shorter amount of time without the back and forth of multiple emails, and come away feeling more engaged and reinvigorated.
Not possible to swing an in-person meeting? The good news is that there are a lot of excellent video conferencing and messaging systems available today, like Zoom, Skype, GoToMeeting, LINE, and WhatsApp. If you can’t meet face-to-face, you can try the next best solution!
4. Be open to trying new things.
One of the biggest benefits of working with professionals outside your organization is the opportunity to be introduced to new tools, methods, and perspectives. Try to keep an open mind as you work together and you may come away with creative ideas and solutions you can implement in your nonprofit.
Maybe you’re used to managing a project through email and Trello, but your consultant suggests looking into Basecamp for a particularly complex and lengthy project. Perhaps you’re working with a photographer who suggests looking into a better system of photo management and you start to explore new solutions. It could even be as simple as working with a researcher in your field who helps you brainstorm solutions to a longstanding problem.
Bottom line: this is an opportunity to break down silos and expand your network, ultimately making you a more effective world-changer as you work for your organization’s cause.
Better Contractor and Vendor Relationships Equal Better Program Outcomes
And isn’t that why we all do what we do? At MiracleFeet, we’re driven by a desire to see all children born with clubfoot run freely without the pain of disability. When we’re able to work more collaboratively with others, it helps us to achieve our mission.
Do you have tips for working with outside vendors and contractors? We’d love to hear from you!