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Donor Participation Project

Missed Deadlines and Scope Creep: How to Navigate Common Challenges with Consultants

Hiring a consultant can be invaluable for nonprofits, but it also introduces challenges like missed deadlines and scope creep that require navigation. Missed deadlines often happen despite the best of intentions from both parties. Life events emerge and priorities shift, and what seemed feasible in the planning stages may prove unrealistic.

The key is maintaining open communication.

Explain the situation truthfully but compassionately, revising deadlines collaboratively. Consultants aiming to build long-term relationships will show flexibility; work with them on realistic solutions. Internally, reset stakeholder expectations, emphasizing that quality work takes time. Build in margin for the unexpected in the future.

Scope creep refers to the natural tendency for projects to expand beyond initial parameters.

This frequently stems from enthusiasm, as new possibilities emerge. Again, ongoing communication is critical. Consultants should speak up if extra work strains their capacity or budget before resentment builds. Clients should avoid presenting new ideas as fait accompli.

Discuss any changes openly, including new deadlines, work, and fees.

Both parties must compromise to find the optimal balance of scope and feasibility. If significant changes are needed, it may make sense to end the current project and launch a new engagement with revised goals.

Navigating challenges with consultants requires empathy, honesty and a solutions-oriented mindset from all sides. While missed deadlines and scope creep can damage relationships and trust if left unaddressed, a willingness to be flexible, communicate openly, and focus on a mutually agreeable path forward can actually strengthen partnerships.

When challenges arise, follow the Golden Rule, treating your consultant—and client!—as you would like to be treated in their place. Approach the situation not as a conflict to win but an opportunity to forge an even more productive working relationship based on good faith and understanding. With this mindset, common challenges often become a chance to build rapport and demonstrate reliability, cultivating partnerships for the long-term.

View the full recording of this session in our Resource Library.

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