Planning new facilities, expanding existing ones, or renovating requires specialized guidance and resources.

Procuring Consultant Services for a Capital Project

A new capital project can be exciting and daunting. Without previous capital construction and pre-development experience, it may be difficult to anticipate the process, cost, and scope of work required. Given that the process also presents new opportunities and uncertainties, early engagement with professional consultation is highly recommended.

Foraker is a resource for direct services in some areas and for referrals to others for the rest. Tips on Hiring and Using Consultants Effectively is a great place to start for a short primer on effective consulting relationships. This resource guides you through questions to assess your needs, understand how to negotiate the relationship with consultants, and tips for establishing a contract.

There are many highly qualified consultants who may be able to assist you in navigating the capital project process. We strongly encourage you to find the right set of partners to achieve your project goals. Consultants have expertise in specific subject areas and can provide consultation or technical assistance on an individual basis. You may engage a project manager to help you through the entire pre-development process or you might seek support for many of the steps along the way including but not limited to:

  • Strategic planning
  • Business planning
  • Marketing/feasibility studies
  • Code and condition surveys
  • Site evaluation
  • Engineering studies
  • Architectural space planning and concept design
  • Project cost estimating
  • Fundraising specific to capital campaigns

Foraker can assist you with some of the items on this list, specifically strategic planning, business planning, and fundraising. You’ll find more information here.

Your primary consultant with a capital project will likely be your architect. Ideally, that person will be hired early in the process in order to avoid costly mistakes down the road, before construction is already under way. Regardless of which expert you choose, make sure the mission of the organization and the goals of the community are woven throughout all the decisions.  In the end, nonprofits engage in capital projects because mission is better served not because of the building itself.

For a capital project, early education about what to expect in this process can also improve your success in making the best decisions – including a more informed decision about whether to proceed with the capital project or not. A consultant can help you navigate through your options by sorting out the pros and cons of either working with your existing space, moving, or building a new facility.

Capital projects, by necessity, require the collaboration of many people. Each set of relationships and opportunities is unique. Your primary consultant can help you bring focus to your project and serve as a catalyst in planning next steps.

The following chart highlights the most common consultants associated with different project phases. Note that additional consultants may be required for a unique project type. Similarly, not all of the listed consultants will be required for every project.

Construction Project Phases and Potential Consultants 

Phase Consultant Primary Role
Programming Project Manager Helps focus direction based on the organization’s needs and should be engaged as soon as possible. This person can keep the organization’s mission and goals in the “driver’s seat” when it comes to major decisions throughout the process and can often identify the challenges, opportunities, and connections along the way and to help organizations avoid common missteps.
Architect Works with the organization to bring together the list of building wants and needs, ultimately identifying the scope of work to be designed
Strategic Planner and/or Capacity Building Consultant focused on organizations and collaborations Provides facilitation and consultation on strategic planning, good governance, leadership, collaborative frameworks, and many other aspects related to ensuring a healthy organization
Fundraising Consultant Provides expert guidance, facilitation, and education focused on capital campaigns
Marketing and/or Feasibility Firm Provides consultation to evaluate the financial viability of a project and develop a realistic business plan to operate the facility
Attorney Represents your organization’s interests and assets. This is especially helpful in a collaborative process in which groups are sharing space. It can also help protect the new asset from liability.
Phase Consultant Primary Role
Site Evaluation Architect/Civil Engineer Assesses the site for fit with organization’s desired program, ensuring it meets zoning requirements, soil condition, physical access, and utility access
Site Surveyor Provides survey for a site plan – will be used with permitting and design
Title Company Provides services if lot is purchased
Real Estate Appraiser Provides services if assets are sold or new lot is purchased
Code and condition surveys of existing structures Assists in determining direction (modify, expand, relocate, build new)
Geotechnical Analysis Determines the soil quality and bearing capacity for a new structure
Hazardous Materials Inspector Provides services if renovating an existing space or working with a previously contaminated site – may include determining the presence of asbestos or lead
Phase Consultant Primary Role
Conceptual Architect and Engineers

(Civil, Mechanical, Electrical, Structural)

Architect works with organization to develop a conceptual design. Engineers are invited to provide a narrative input.
Environmental Specialist(s) Provides comments on environmentally sensitive sites
Phase Consultant Primary Role
Schematic Architect and Engineers Continue to develop plans and specifications
Zoning Consultant The architect will perform an initial zoning study. For unusual conditions, additional support may be required.
Construction Manager Meets with organization and architect to provide construction insight and cost savings design modification suggestions for construction
Specialists: i.e. acoustics, equipment planner, furniture, interior designer, security systems, landscape, energy consultant Provide specific guidance for a unique project type or program specific issue
Accessibility Provides guidance to ensure the project meets ADA guidelines
  Cost Estimator Provides a cost estimate based on the drawing and specifications to determine if the design can be built within budget
Phase Consultant Primary Role
Design Development Architect and Engineers Continue to refine plans and specifications with enough detail to engage in value engineering and obtain a refined cost estimate
Builder or Construction Contractor Provides value engineering input to potentially reduce time and material costs, resulting in project savings. They also can help identify risks, provide input for cost estimates, value engineering, and project schedule projections.
Cost Estimator Provides a cost estimate based on the refined drawings and specifications to determine if the design can be built within budget


Architect and Engineers Continue to refine plans and specifications for a complete set of construction documents – assists with preparation for bidding
Bidding Phase Architect or Project Manager Assists with bidding process


Architect and Engineers Respond to construction contractor questions
Adapted from, Breaking Ground – A Comprehensive Planning Guide for Health Center Capital Projects from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, List of Potential Project Team Players, pages 19-21. 

Architect as Consultant

When choosing any consultant, it is important to find the “right” fit. This excellent resource from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Breaking Ground: A Comprehensive Planning Guide for Health Center Capital Projects further describes criteria for selecting many of the consultants you may require, including an architect.

For nonprofits, it is critical to find an architect who has an understanding of sustainable capital projects.

A sustainable project is one that is:

  • Needed
  • Consistent with strategic and community plans
  • The right size for the purpose
  • Designed to minimize operation and maintenance expenses

An architect’s primary role is to employ vision, creativity, and technical skills coupled with an understanding of financial constraints, regional zoning and regulatory issues, and then design a functional space that meets the organization’s needs. They will help you determine which additional consultants to bring onto the team, such as engineers or other building specialists, and when to bring them on during the process.

For new construction, this typically includes civil, structural, mechanical, and electrical engineers. Depending on the type of project, it could also include other specialists such as an acoustic or healthcare specialist. A cost estimator will be required to assist the design team in assuring the project scope fits within the budget. Additionally, a construction contractor may be brought in prior to bidding and construction to provide value engineering.

Procurement of A/E Services, Qualification-Based Selection

When selecting architectural and engineering team services, a procurement process known as qualification-based selection is recommended. Selection based on lowest cost is generally recognized as a poor criterion for selection when quality and professional creativity are desired. In this competitive process, consulting firms submit a statement of qualifications, rather than a price.

The selection committee will evaluate and select the most qualified firm based on factors such as:

  • Professional knowledge and skill of the overall team
  • Experience
  • Capacity and capability
  • Demonstrated success on similar projects
  • Other project-specific factors, such as understanding of the project’s unique risks and challenges

Submissions are rated and the top-ranked firm is identified. A fair and reasonable negotiation of fees will then be based on an agreed-upon scope of services. Since the cost of work is not considered when making the initial selection of the most appropriate provider of the professional services, the focus is on choosing the firm whose qualities provide the best match with the organization and project.

Targeted expertise is critical to the success of a new capital project through all phases. Consulting relationships, when managed effectively, can save valuable time and resources to achieve greater results.