How to consult ethically to nonprofits
Ethical Consulting - Wednesday Session 1
- Thoughts and concerns in the room:
- Keep things fair for both client and consultant.
- How do we value labor?
- How to keep hourly rates fair but sustainable?
- How to keep expectations reasonable given capacity and budgets.
- Billing for all the work we do.
- Long-term health of the project.
- For clients in the developing world: how to work with them ethically as outsiders, making sure people own their own tools.
- Avoiding burnout.
- Wanting to see a client’s work succeed, but running out of budget.
- Concerns about undercutting other developers.
- Tech work being overvalued by society, which allows us to set higher rates that we feel we ought to given societal inequity.
- The fact that these conversations can be difficult.
- Common threads:
- 1. Rates and billing.
- 2. Organizational value and contributing to an org’s success (i.e. not just extracting money from an org), and not just extracting from an org.
- 3. Well-being, and addressing our own needs as humans.
- 4. Forming community around these issues, and being able to discuss them.
- How to determine a sliding scale that’s grounded in real needs?
- Value-based (as opposed to hourly) rates: can cause issues when a project takes longer than expected or scope creep occurs; however, hourly rates cause sticker shock.
- Billing time for educating yourself on new things.
- Idea: when “eating” hours, list them on invoice as pro bono to help foster a culture of valuing work.
- One common issue: Changes in the scope or depth that happens during a project necessarily causes a change in billable hours. The client doesn’t always understand this, and it can be difficult to communicate it.
- Ways to address it:
- Padding/contingency hours.
- Invoicing for project management.
- Discovery phase as a separate work agreement, with a set of solid deliverables including a better estimate, including how much project management/communication time a client will need.
- Difficulties estimating projects, when each one is different.
- Think about how long a project will take, then double it.
- Charging overage at lower rates.
- Be upfront about how the estimate might change depending on scope.
- Limit scope to fit within a fixed budget.
- Other things to consider:
- Understanding that the client might not understand how tech works, how long tasks might take, and how seemingly small things might be. https://xkcd.com/1425/
- Lots of communication about how/when scope is changing. Collaboration with client: “How to we solve this problem together?”
- Communicating a plan for overage hours ahead of time, like billing overage hours at a lower rate.
- Agile development: difficult with for NP clients; can work with focusing on what’s important, what’s achievable. Setting realistic expectations, and exceeding them if possible. Starting with significant discovery/kickoff meeting to really understand the scope of the phase/sprint/project.
- Other issues:
- Mismatch of pacing and capacity with client and consultant; arranging it such that neither client nor consultant are waiting on each other.
- When working as a sub-contractor, not knowing how much discovery has been done, what relationship is.
2. Not being an extractive entity.
- Pre-engagement to find alignment: the value of that stage being paid for, whether explicitly or as padding.
- Issues caused when we are upfront that discovery takes time, but less ethical other shops might make unrealistic promises.
- Requirements document/Needs assessment
- Helps understand what a given budget will realistically allow.
- The RFP document.
- Can be unreal if developed in isolation, as opposed to during a collaborative discovery practice. Can result in a product that ultimately doesn’t serve client or consultant.
- Guarding against doing discovery work on spec.
- Issues with aging invoices.
- Understanding that work has value
- Threatens our future work, our other clients.
- Deposits and progressive monthly billing can help avoid aging invoices.
3. Community building: continuing the conversation.
- Aspiration Tech will host a listserv for technical consulting. Also, people can and should have meetups.
- Web of Change community, which can be problematic.