The complexity and pressures of leading a theological institution demand outside expertise, and recent trends in theological education attest to the use of more and more consultants. Many schools are using multiple consultants at the same time.

During a recent conversation with a seminary president, we talked about consultants. How many consultants were presently being used at this president’s institution? “I simply don’t know,” he admitted. “Each department brings in and works with its own consultants. I just know we use lots of outside talent. We have to.”

As consultants are called to assist schools with fundraising and enrollment, strategic plans and branding, IT and HR, schools must manage these critical outside resources. How do you leverage a consultant’s skills and expertise while keeping an eye on the bottom line? 

Here are four strategies for managing outside consultants:

  1. Take an inventory. Make a list of all consultants used by all areas of your institution. Be sure to define “consultant” broadly enough to include lawyers, service providers, coaches, and IT specialists. Include who is responsible for which consultant, as well as their departments, contractual commitments, time frames, and the budget for each consultant.
  2. Conduct a cost/benefit analysis. What does the inventory reveal?  Where might there be savings? Where is the quality improving?  What benefits are being gained? Can these benefits be measured? Would hiring an in-house staff person be more effective in any of these positions? Which consultants are working, and which ones aren't?  And how much money is being budgeted as a fixed cost for consultants each year?
  3. Bring the inventory into the light. Discuss the inventory with your cabinet, CFO, or board chair. What have you discovered through this exercise? What is your investment in outside expertise? Is it working as a strategy? This conversation will confirm the benefits of your investment, reveal waste and inefficiencies, or suggest alternative approaches.
  4. Keep the list updated. The amount of money invested in consultants can be a hidden budget investment -- not good or bad, but hidden. So keep your list of consultants updated.

As consultants continue to play a significant role in the leadership of theological schools, consultants need to be managed effectively to best leverage their skills, expertise, and abilities.  Is the management of your consultants herding cattle? Yes, at the beginning. But consultant management is a good exercise in stewardship, and one that can produce fruit for years to come.

For practical tips regarding hiring the right consultant, please see In Trust’s resource "How to Hire Consultants."