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Endeavour consultant Shahroz Ehsan shares his tips on collaborating with nonprofit clients for maximum community impact April 24th, 2020

Shahroz Ehsan, is a civil engineer and Assistant Project Manager with EllisDon. His professional experience has provided valuable perspective in the nonprofit consulting projects he’s been part of through his time with Endeavour and he’s found that the benefits run both ways. Shahroz shares,

“Endeavour presented me with a perfect opportunity to be part of the local community while growing professionally and personally by learning from an environment rooted in meritocracy, collaboration, diversity, and support. My experiences as a pro bono consultant and then as an engagement manager has brought new insights on how to serve my clients better and lead a team of highly accomplished individuals in both my volunteer and professional roles.” 

We asked Shahorz to share some of the top insights he’s learned from working on consulting projects with nonprofits in the GTA.

Listening for strengths and gaps to create maximum community impact

Working with nonprofits has driven home for me how important it is to really listen to the client. Because nonprofits often have more limited access to budgets or other resources compared to corporations, being able to listen for and then succinctly summarize and balance their unique business challenges but also their best assets is what creates maximum impact. 

This insight has also served me well at work, being in an industry where I have to regularly liaise with clients and subcontractors. It’s similar to the 80-20 rule, with 80% of outputs coming from 20% of inputs. So being able to identify and prioritize the key drivers that have the most effect on a task or project helps focus the team’s effort for greater outcomes.

Understanding nonprofit needs to inform practical solutions

In one of my past Endeavour projects the consulting team needed a better understanding of the needs of the community our nonprofit client was serving. To engage the community we organized a workshop and invited a variety of stakeholders to share their thoughts, and it revealed a growing demand for their services and a desire from the community for the organization to expand their seasonal programming. This insight along with our own research, helped to inform our final recommendations to the client and opened up more opportunities to apply for funding options to support a more sustained presence throughout the year.

Defining a mutual understanding of the project

Effective consulting comes down to a mutual understanding between the client and consulting team about the problem being solved for. But understanding needs to be shared through the entire process, so it’s important to maintain regular touchpoints so that the consulting team’s recommendations are continuously being aligned with facts and feedback. Revisiting the scope of work at key milestones is also essential to tracking the progress of a project and agreeing on direction whether that means staying the course, or pivoting when necessary. 

And even within the consulting team, clarity is key. Understanding each other’s strengths and weaknesses, defining roles and responsibilities, and sharing feedback to ensure the team is on the same page and working towards an outcome that everyone buys into makes the process smoother and ensures your final recommendations meet your client’s needs.

Testing your assumptions

Because each client faces unique challenges it’s important to discuss and stress test the recommendations your team is making with your client. Some important questions you’ll want to consider may be: Does your client have the tools or framework to implement your solution? Do they have ample resources to sustain the solution? 

Generally, you’ll come up with an initial bank of recommendations but you’ll want to narrow it down with stress tests that measure against the metrics your client is looking for. You may find that what you thought was your best idea may not perform as expected. So instead of being single minded about a particular solution you want to keep your options open at first and incorporate testing to lead you to the solution your client is looking for.

Final Thoughts

As a consulting team you really want to listen to the client and understand what they are asking for so you can tailor your approach and recommendations. At times you may be looking at the symptoms, but what you need to do is engage your client to understand the cause – that’s where real consulting is.

Shahroz Ehsan is an Engagement Manager with Endeavor and Assistant Project Manager with EllisDon. When he’s not working Shahroz is a passionate runner, traveller, and a tennis fanatic.

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