How to and How Not to Hire a Racial Equity Consultant

blue-puzzled-pororo-and-pink-happy-loopy-wavingThis week I spent time with colleagues who are racial equity consultants. I’ve compiled a short list of what works and doesn’t work when looking to hire a racial equity consultant.

Have a budget number and share it – Hiring a racial equity consultant isn’t like hiring a consultant to do your bookkeeping or even hiring a grant writer. Those jobs are fairly routine and they can charge by the hour. A good consultant needs to know the budget and scope of a project so they can give you an accurate quote and scope of work. Good consultants aren’t out to ‘get you’ and over charge you. They need to know your budget so they can plan and give you a realistic sense of how far your budget will take you with them.

Equity consultants in the Seattle area charge in the range of $100-250/hr, [2021 — update to $150-350/hr]. As consultants, we don’t have other grant money or other projects funds to defray costs and must charge what we need to live and grow a small business. We also need to cover expenses such as technology (e.g. wi-fi, laptops, printers, etc.), office space, taxes, insurance, retirement, etc.

Be honest about what you can afford. A friend put together a cost sheet for an organization and her contact went on to pick it apart to look for cost savings. That wasn’t a good experience for either side. Be upfront about how much you have and the consultant will be up front of what they can do and what to expect from them.

Don’t expect free – We know many people are doing good work and money isn’t always in abundance, but racial equity consultants can’t work for free either. This is our livelihoods. I also realize someone will ask “Can’t you do pro bono work?” As a consultant, I could do pro bono work, but doing more of the same work doesn’t feed my soul and help me grow and frankly it is tiresome to do more of the same but know I’m not getting paid. With my volunteer time, I want to learn something new and gain new insights and skills.

If you value racial equity work, value it by putting financial resources to it. My friend Kam has a joke about volunteering.  She repeats back to them their same statement with the phrase ‘work for free’ in it: “You want me to work for free doing a racial equity training?” “You want me to work for free analyzing your race data?” “You want me to work for free talking to your white friend who is interested in equity and trying to get a job? Um no thanks, you can talk to them. I’m stopping the personal privilege train here.”

Before I sound too jaded, there are times when pro bono work is appropriate. There are many groups who benefit from pro bono consulting and there are times we’re happy to support volunteer work. My litmus test of where to give my ‘work for free time’ is asking will it authentically support communities of color and what is my relationship with the person asking. If the request will support a community of color and I have a relationship with the person asking I’m more likely to say yes. Heidi uses a similar question screen to decide where to donate her time.

Have a plan – When you contact a racial equity consultant please have a basic idea and plan for what you are looking for. Are you looking for consulting, training, facilitation, or something else? Don’t say “We know we need to get smarter about this equity stuff.” Put a timeline on your plan, when do you want to start the work, is the timeline negotiable, how often do you want to meet or train? Who are you expecting the consultant to work with board, staff, external stakeholders? What is the demographic breakdown of who will be involved? It is best to do some pre-thinking and sketching these things out so you know what you are looking for and requesting when you talk to a consultant. Write it out and share it with the consultant you’re trying to hire.

No RFPs please – Please do not put together a request for proposal (RFP) process. RFP processes are a waste of money and time. I know a few top-notch consultants who refuse to do RFPs because they cost them too much time to respond and when they don’t get the work they are out money and time.

I once helped a friend write an RFP that she didn’t win. On the decline email the organization that put out the RFP said she was the runner up but they went with a different approach. The kicker was, they still liked her proposal and took ideas from it for their project. Not only was my friend out money and time from writing an RFP, her information and thoughts were extracted with no compensation.

Is your work all white? – Heidi has reached the point where she tells groups if they are serious they need to diversify who is in their training. Having only white people in trainings to talk about race doesn’t lend itself well to change. If you have an all or majority white staff and you want to do some racial equity work be willing to pay community partners to join your trainings and be thought partners with you. Read Heidi’s previous blog post about no more culturally competence training.

Ask early – Many of the best consultants are busy people. If possible have a flexible timeline and contact them early in your process. If they say no you may also want to check back with them in a few months to see if they have an opening in their schedule.

Be respectful – Please be respectful of a consultant’s time and intellectual property. If you are requesting an informational interview or a planning meeting before you negotiate a contract please remember this is unpaid time for the consultant. Maybe they are willing to give you their time in the hopes it leads to paid work. A friend told me she once met with a nonprofit three times, 60-min each meeting, not including prep and travel time, and the nonprofit chose another consultant. She felt burned from investing so much time into an organization that hadn’t shared up front they were talking to other consultants as well. The consultant community is small too so if you want a good referral it is important to be respectful to consultants otherwise you might be out of luck overall.

If you don’t have money to hire a consultant there are still things your organization can do – In another post in the future, we’ll unpack this a bit more. For now, I don’t want anyone to say “well Erin said we need to have money and a diverse staff to start working on race stuff so we won’t.” If your organization is serious about deepening its work around race then start.

Some low cost or no-cost ideas:

  • Start a monthly reading club have coworkers suggest an article to read.  Host a monthly potluck lunch to discuss the book or article. If people don’t have time to read suggest a TED Talk and bring people together to watch it together and talk about what they learned.
  • Invite a partner organization to talk about what they are doing around racial equity and how they got started. Be nice and buy their favorite coffee drink and have it waiting for them, or better yet buy/bring them lunch.
  • Cancel a staff meeting and tell people to go out and use that time attending a community meeting in a community of color. Please do this respectfully.
  • Focus your professional development dollars on topics that deal with understanding race, racism, and racial equity. Utilizing the resources you have and targeting them is an important way to start.

Posted by Erin Okuno, thanks to CiKeithia, Heidi, Stephan, and many others for their insights.

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