Greetings from Los Angeles! My name is Rocele Estanislao and I have worked in the nonprofit and philanthropic sector for over 15 years in program evaluation and data management. I have thought of becoming an independent consultant; however, for various reasons haven’t taken the final leap. During the last three years, I started thinking about it more seriously and started to explore opportunities of doing consulting work while still holding a full-time job. Here are three lessons I have learned doing part-time consulting or pro bono work:
Lesson #1: Networking is vital, especially at and after AEA conferences. When I attended the AEA conference two years ago, I started to really think about consulting. While at the conference, I ran into a colleague that has worked at an independent evaluation consulting firm and a nonprofit specializing in nonprofit capacity building. After the conference, I emailed her letting her know that I wanted to get her perspectives on consulting. This led to chatting over the phone and me doing subcontract work for her while her evaluation staff was on maternity leave. In addition, she also taught a graduate course on using data in nonprofit organizations and invited me to present to the class. These experiences would not have happened if I didn’t follow up and network after AEA conferences.
Lesson #2: Take advantage of opportunities. At last year’s AEA conference, I almost passed up the chance of being on a panel on building a data viz culture moderated by Stephanie Evergreen. I was transitioning jobs and my current employer, at the time, withdrew from the session since they didn’t have the staff capacity to present at AEA. At first, I withdrew…however, after a colleague convinced me that I should still do it, I contacted Stephanie and told her I still would like to be part of the panel. Being part of the panel gave me an opportunity to highlight key lessons I have learned in promoting a data viz culture across several organizations making the presentation truly my own. Obviously, this wasn’t a paid gig; however, it was still rewarding to share my experiences and thoughts with a 200+ audience. It also gave be an opportunity to be part of Stephanie Evergreen’s blog about the panel.
Lesson #3: Part-time consulting or pro bono work is a lot work, but also rewarding. Doing part-time consulting work is time consuming especially when you have a full-time job. At the same time, it is totally rewarding and worth it. It gives you an opportunity to test the waters first and share your expertise and passion. It also helps you build evaluation capacity, networks and materials that you can use when you do decide to take the leap into independent consulting on a full-time basis.
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