A consultant is an expert that provides analysis and advice to organizations. Traditionally, consulting has focused on increasing an organization’s productivity and profit. In recent years, more niche consulting needs have arisen, including social impact consulting. These consultants help organizations (usually non-profits) develop long-term and sustainable practices that both boost the org’s impact and bring in funds. How does a person become a social impact consultant?
Steps to become a social impact consultant
In most cases, traditional and social impact consultants need the same educational background. A bachelor’s degree is usually required, though some employers look for consultants with a master’s degree. A Ph.D. is generally not something you’ll need, though it does represent the educational peak of expertise. What field should your education be in? There isn’t one pathway that’s required. Companies will typically want a business degree or something similar like marketing, management, finance, and so on. These degrees are valuable to organizations because they want a consultant who understands how businesses and nonprofits work.
Major consulting firms typically offer summer internships. Social impact consulting firms (like Social Impact, a global development and management firm) are also starting to offer more opportunities for interns. If you can’t get an internship with a social impact firm, any consultant firm will give you valuable experience and help you develop the skills you’ll need down the road. Internships with nonprofits and organizations that work in social justice/human rights also look good on your resume.
Internships can count as work experience, but to get hired as a social impact consultant, you will most likely need a handful of years at a non-internship job. In a job description we found for an associate consultant, the organization required 2-4 years of experience in “relevant issues and industries.” That included research, social impact, NGO/nonprofits, corporate responsibility, and so on. For another consultant position, an organization wanted at least 2 years of full-time, post-degree experience. When applying for jobs, it’s essential to demonstrate how your work experience prepares you for a position. Necessary skills include analyzing lots of information; solving complex problems; and clearly communicating in writing and speaking. As with any career, it’s unlikely you’ll get your “dream job” right away. You can choose jobs that you feel best prepare you for the ideal position that you want.
Should you join a consulting firm or not?
If you want to work as a social impact consultant, do you need to join a consulting firm? Today, there’s a good number of consultant firms that focus on social impact or that have dedicated sectors to that field. Founded in 2000, FSG is a global social impact consulting firm that’s worked with companies like General Mills, the Toyota Mobility Foundation, and Oxfam America. They work in a variety of fields including corporate social responsibility, education and youth, global health, and global development. Also founded in 2000, The Bridgespan Group is a nonprofit based in Boston, Massachusetts that offers management consulting to philanthropists and nonprofits. It focuses on areas like global development, education, and public health.
There are several benefits to working for a social impact consulting firm. You get access to an established network and the firm’s reputation. Companies will be more likely to consider you when you come from a place known for choosing its consultants carefully. You’ll also develop skills specific to consulting and become very familiar with how consulting works. That said, you don’t need to join a firm to become a consultant. You can build your reputation and network on your own, though it’s often more challenging. If you’ve worked for a while and are switching to consulting, you should have connections and a reputation already, which can make the transition smoother.
How to land projects as a social impact consultant
Organizations looking for consultants want to be sure they’re spending their money wisely. You’ll need to back up any claim you make with experience and successful projects. To protect the confidentiality of your past clients, you should have set talking points, such as how much your efforts have increased fundraising or how much money you’ve saved a client. You shouldn’t give specific details about how you did that because that would be breaking confidentiality. If you need to be more specific, make sure you’ve cleared it with the past client.
How much do social impact consultants make?
In the United States, ZipRecruiter estimates an average yearly salary of almost $77,000. Nationally (and internationally), the pay varies considerably, so consultants can expect much higher salaries depending on their experience and skills. The more success you have, the more you can charge. Always be sure an organization knows what they get for their money, including the services you’re offering, what outcomes they can expect, and how long a project will likely take. Clarity is key in the often complicated business of social impact consulting. As the social impact consultant industry grows, your ability to communicate and meet expectations can set you apart.