Ask what the consultant will do for you, or what he or she recommends. Avoid asking for long written plans. Elaborate "work plans" or proposals are often standardized; each one is essentially the same as the next, with the name of your organization substituted for the name of the previous organization.
Finally, the consultant must be able to articulate the mission of your organization and believe that your group should exist. Out of conviction as well as needing a job, he or she needs to care about what you stand for and want to help you. This is particularly important if your group is controversial or has a "troublemaker" image. Avoid consultants who advise you to "tone down" your message or broaden your goals "to make everyone feel included."
Ask how much fundraising/grant writing he or she has done, and with what success. Has the person worked with organizations similar to yours both in purpose and strategy, and in similar locales? If questions of gender, sexual orientation, race, class, or disability are very important in your organization, ask the consultant what experience they have working on these issues as well, or with diverse groups of people.
If you don't know the person by reputation, ask for the last three groups she or he has worked with. Then call those groups and ask about the consultant. Was the person helpful? Did the consultant listen well and really understand the situation? Would this group hire this consultant again?
If you envision a relationship with the consultant involving more than a day or two, you may wish to meet the person to see if you like the person and would feel good taking his or her advice. Sometimes an excellent fundraising consultant is not the right person for your group because the personalities will not mesh. If the organization dislikes the consultant, both the person's advice and your money are wasted.
What should I look for when hiring a grant writer?