Pushing the Limits: The Value of Using Executive Volunteer Consultants

Trudy Smith, Executive Service Corps of the Triangle


I’m often asked by nonprofit leaders whether I believe executive volunteers are the best way for a nonprofit to pursue consulting help and problem solving.  It is an important question:  do volunteer consultants offer the same level or perhaps a higher level of expertise than for-profit consultants?  What are the pros and cons?  And where is the value?

Diversity and Business Acumen

At Executive Service Corps, we have volunteers who offer their services for free, as a way to give back to their communities and make a difference.  The majority of our consultants are retired executives, with impeccable resumes and a very high level of expertise and business acumen.

Many have served as senior corporate officers and directors; some have served as executive directors of large nonprofit organizations and foundations; and a few have served in key leadership positions in universities and other educational organizations.

Lori O’Keefe, Vice President for Philanthropic Services and COO for Triangle Community Foundation, used our services for strategic planning. “I thought the ESC consultants were very skilled at leading us through this planning, but yet were flexible to meet our special needs.  The consultants were very professional, and knew when to push us and also when to step back and let us lead.”

When we pair up two to three of our consultants with such diverse backgrounds, and send them on an assignment, the nonprofit organization receives a level of expertise and professionalism that they might never be able to afford to hire.

Whether helping a nonprofit with a marketing problem, developing a strategic plan, or  0ffering Board development or executive coaching, these professionals can offer a lifetime of experience that would be hard to be duplicated.  By calling on their backgrounds, they offer real world experience that is instantly credible.

As one of our recent clients, Harrell Rentz, Principal of Wood Charter School in Chatham County, NC, said, “The consultants came in with great ideas, but also were good at listening to us and tweaking their ideas to make it work best for us.”

The Price Is Right

I believe another important factor is cost.  Given the difficult situation we all face in terms of expense control, volunteer consultants offer an exceptional value.  For example, while we charge a small administrative fee for our services, our consultants receive no compensation, other than lots of thanks!

A recent client, David Rosenblitt, MD, Clinical and Executive Director of the Lucy Daniels Center in Cary, NC, summed it up nicely. “The value received for the very modest fee is just tremendous.”

Turnkey is a Problem

So is there an area where volunteer consultants don’t measure up?  Yes.

It is often hard for an organization likes ours to offer full turnkey solutions to a problem.  For example, if a nonprofit  wanted someone to develop a capital campaign from scratch, set up systems, staff phones, make calls, create a website, and manage all aspects of the project, then that is above the scope of volunteers in an organization like ours.

But we find that most nonprofits have less complicated needs than this.  Filling those needs is the niche where executive volunteers can make a tremendous difference!

Trudy Smith is the Executive Director of the Executive Service Corps of the Triangle, Durham, North Carolina

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