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DLN Consulting helps non-profits, small businesses help themselves

Deb Nelson honed her passion for non-profits into a consulting career, earning the respect of the community in the process. (Iain Woessner/The Dickinson Press)1 / 2
Deb Nelson has earned a litany of accolades over her long consulting career, and her good reputation invigorates her business. (Iain Woessner/The Dickinson Press)2 / 2

DLN Consulting doesn't advertise. It doesn't need to.

"I've been in business since 1998. It's all word of mouth, there's no reason for us to advertise, none whatsoever," said Deb Nelson, president of DLN Consulting, a consulting agency that works with nonprofits, small businesses and government agencies to develop strategic plans. "Advertising typically doesn't bring us business," Nelson said. "Nonprofits don't look at ads, they look at who they know, or who can make a recommendation."

Nelson demonstrates the impact of reputation. She began her career as a high school history and government teacher. In 1982 she and her husband moved to Dickinson, where at that time there were no teaching openings. Undeterred, she started working in the nonprofit sector.

"I really became enamored with it," she said. Experiencing firsthand the trials and tribulations that nonprofits have to endure, particularly at the smallest level, Nelson came out the other side with a wealth of knowledge—and a good reputation.

"I had people calling and asking me, 'Deb we really need a strategic plan' ... and when that started, it was word of mouth," Nelson said. "I just started a business. If you're going to be a consultant, you have to base it on your knowledge base."

Nelson's knowledge includes grant-writing, evaluation planning and logistics work. She helps plan large-scale conferences with hundreds of attendees and she also provides grant-writing courses to up-and-coming nonprofits.

"My whole philosophy is (if) they can't afford a grant writer, we need to teach them how to write better grants themselves," she said. "One of the biggest successes I have is when people call me and say, 'Thank you for the grant writing course. I just wrote a grant and I got it!' That's exciting, because the average for successful proposals is 20 percent. You have to write a lot of grants."

Nelson's approach is about giving her clients the tools they need to "swim on their own."

"I think what it does is it puts ownership of the end result, whether it's a grant or ... a strategic plan, the ownership lies with the organization, not with who is providing the product, but who is going to or who needs to benefit from it," Nelson said. "It becomes their plan in doing that. It's not my version of what they need, it's their plan."

The only planning DLN doesn't do is engineering and land-use planning. Nelson said DLN works closely with nonprofits,not just in developing their plan, but also in providing consultations for a reasonable price.

"Nonprofits don't have big budgets," she said. "(DLN is) very different in that we don't have standard rates. I mean, I have a rate to ensure that we don't go broke, but we don't have a standard rate. I work with the nonprofit to find out number one what's your budget? What are your needs, what are you specifically looking for? Then we will do our very best to give them what we can give them."

She always encourages those she consults with to follow-up with their initial plan in a year to see what can be adjusted and to offer support.

Though Dickinson has seen its fortunes rise in recent years, nonprofits have struggled as wages in the area increase. Expectations rise, but the resources needed to meet those expectations do not.

"It creates a tremendous strain on the individuals that work there," Nelson said. To be a nonprofit is to perpetually struggle with money, as there can never be enough—which is why it's critical for new nonprofits to start by setting realistic goals, Nelson said.

"If they can achieve three good goals over the next one or two years, instead of trying to save the world and having 10 or 12 goals, they'll be much more successful and they'll feel better about themselves," she said.

DLN Consulting has provided services for a long list of local and area agencies, including Able Inc., the House of Manna, the Jamestown Community Coalition, Dickinson State University, the North Dakota Department of Health. They can be reached at 701-483-2801. Their offices are at 2493 4th Ave. W, Suite G, Dickinson.