1. Advertise widely.
The assumption that the person you happen to know is the best available is usually small thinking. You may still hire your acquaintance, but find out who else is available...cream rises.
2. Ask around.
The best connections are usually made by asking sister agencies for referrals. They will usually let you know who is dynamite, and who is a smoke bomb.
3. Local is good, but sometimes not best.
Good consultants are not geographically bound, in this age of modem, fax and teleconferencing. Local knowledge is important for some fundraising, but experience, integrity and competence is best located with a wide search pattern. Caution: just because someone has been in business nationwide or forever does not necessarily mean they are good--mediocre folks sometimes rattle around the larger system simply because they appear to have been doing this forever.
4. Check references.
A surprising number of organizations fail to do so, thinking that this would be embarrassing or even insulting. This is just not so...good consultants like to work with competent organizations, and like to show off samples of their work, telephone numbers of satisfied clients, presentation material, and track record of funding success. When calling, ask about deadline meets, revision responsiveness and "cookie cutter" versus customized approaches. It is revealing to ask about disagreements as well, as professional integrity often shows most strongly here.
5. Consider consultants as prospective employees.
Interview them with the same careful consideration as to their interpersonal skills, ability to work well with your team, communication skills and compatibility. Trust your gut feeling if you find someone who reads right but feels wrong--you must be able to work closely with them or not at all.
6. Ask what they charge.
You are usually better off getting a flat rate for the completed assignment. It is not tacky to discuss costs with consultants and negotiate them, dealing with project contract caps, hourly rates, retainers for telephone consultation, etc. If you want a really rough idea of consultant costs, take your executive director's hourly wage, add benefits and double the figure.
Sometimes, your organization has a consultant need without adequate funding to meet full consultant costs. You may want to consider the beginner grantwriter, out to make a name by pulling in major funding for a project. This is high risk, high gain...you may score and get a grant for little or no fee, or you may lose totally a funding opportunity.