Surfacing an Evaluation Firm
In the last post we discussed seven characteristics to look for in an evaluation consultant. In this post, we’ll discuss how to actually go about surfacing one and how to manage the hiring process. In other words we’ll look at how to narrow your choices down to a short list of consultants from which to choose. First, of course—how do you locate prospective consultants? It probably doesn’t come as a surprise for us to suggest that colleagues in your field are probably the best place to start. But when you’re given a name, don’t take it at face value. Ask about your colleague’s experience with the consultant keeping in mind the list of desirable characteristics we mentioned earlier.
But what do you do if you don’t have a colleague who has worked recently with an evaluator. Where else can you look? First try asking your funders. They may know of a firm based on their work with other nonprofits or through their own experience with evaluation firms. A local United Way may be appropriate as well. Another great source may be a local, regional or national association of organizations in your field.
You’ll probably want to review four or five proposals before you create a short list of firms to interview. If the referral sources mentioned above don’t generate a sufficient number of leads, you may need to consult a directory. Probably the best source in the evaluation space is the online directory maintained by the American Evaluation Association. They list individual evaluators and evaluation firms in all fifty states. The significant advantage they provide is some level of certainty that the individuals on their list are actually evaluation professionals—you have to be a member of the AEA to have a listing. This may not be the case elsewhere. Indeed some directories allow consultants to list so many practice areas, surfacing a real specialist can be next to impossible. If you’ve read our previous post, you know that at least as far as evaluation is concerned, technical expertise is critical to a successful project. Consultants who bill themselves as generalists may not have it.
Many organizations seeking a consultant issue a formal RFP, or request for proposals, believing that it creates a level playing field on which firms can pitch their approaches and compete for business. It is important to recognize however that not all evaluation projects begin with an RFP. In our next post, we’ll cover some alternatives to the formal RFP. Stay tuned!