Collaboration Corner: Meghann Beer & Debra Natenshon

02/12/2019 12:09 PM | Deleted user

Spotlight on ACN Partnerships

by Liz Duffrin, ACN Member

Meghann Beer, who once helped launch and lead a community development nonprofit working in the Democratic Republic of Congo, joined ACN in 2012. She had just moved to Chicago from Bloomington, Indiana, where she consulted for nonprofits and taught nonprofit management at Indiana University.

Debra Natenshon joined ACN in 2013. At the time, she was the CEO of a national nonprofit consulting group but wanted to transition to consulting in Chicago.  

When fellow consultant Carol White introduced Meghann and Debra at an ACN event several years ago, their connection was almost immediate.

The two found they had complementary skill sets, and even better, “We liked each other right away,” says Debra. “That’s an important ingredient in knowing you’d like to work together.”

Their chance to collaborate finally came in 2017 when a board member of a large educational service vendor approached Debra with a major project: “The client wanted a strategic plan but embedded in the plan, they needed a fundraising assessment,” she says. “I didn’t have that specific expertise, but I thought of Meghann immediately.”

At many points during the year-long endeavor that followed, each of them remarked that she would never have taken on the project without the other.

Besides having a partner to share the workload, Meghann says, they valued each other’s varied experience and skills. “We were able to grapple with challenges and think through the process in order to make valuable recommendations to the client.”

The client’s challenges involved businesses processes, board governance, strategy implementation and personalities, Debra recalls. “If you’re an independent consultant with a complex project, you’re often working in an echo chamber. It was really important with this project to have each other as thought partners.”

By the end of the project, the client’s strategic planning task force was pleased with how far they had come and impressed with the clarity of the plan and fundraising assessment.

The two offered advice to other consultants looking for partnerships:

  •         Get to know your potential partner, says Debra. “Make sure you trust the person and have an understanding of the skills they bring.”
  •         Decide in advance who is taking the lead on which part of the work.  “You want the experience to be seamless for the client,” Debra explains, “so it needs to be clear for the consultants.”
  •         Build in time for reflection and collaboration in addition to time spent with the client or on a deliverable, Meghann advises. “That time was critical for our thought process.”

Debra names the chance to meet potential collaborators one the biggest benefits of an ACN membership. “It’s marvelous to meet other consultants with complementary skill sets. There’s no shortage of work in Chicago,” she observes, “but the work is often more complex than one person can do alone.”

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