Andy Taylor at The Desired Effect is finding that most people haven’t a clue what a consultant is or does. And some are outright hostile.
Meeting someone new always, and within minutes, involves that most common of questions – what do you do? When I was a fundraising director my simple, two-word answer was usually well understood -although ‘Group Manager for Individual Giving’ required a bit more explanation. When I went into consultancy last year, I didn’t give any thought to my new reply until I was met by a succession of puzzled looks or blank expressions, which set me thinking.
Part of the problem is that just saying ‘consultant’ could mean anything. But narrowing it down to something like ‘fundraising consultant’, doesn’t really add much clarity either. It sounds too much like ‘management consultant’, which could cover absolutely anything- and usually does.
What really surprised me though, was the occasional look of thinly concealed disdain. One man I got chatting to pulled a face and rolled his eyes upwards - as if I’d just told him I was the guy who cleans up the spills in the sewage works- It’s a dirty job, but I suppose someone has to do it.
Perhaps all those stories of government giving millions of taxpayers’ money to big firms for grandiose projects have spoilt it for the rest of us. The word consultant is synonymous with rip-off charges and dubious worth. Maybe we’re now up there with estate agents and politicians. I’m waiting for someone to say; ‘oh, would you like to borrow my watch so I can ask you the time?’ If anyone knows a decent riposte to this then I’m all ears.
The problem, if there is one, could be made worse by the fact that I and many other consultants work for many different causes. I’m a mercenary, a sort of latter day sell-sword for anyone willing to pay my price. Or so it might seem to others.
I’m told I worry too much. But the public does expect charities to spend wisely. I saw a recent survey that said the main reason people stop giving is because they think money is wasted. If they get the idea that their favourite cause was ‘wasting’ money on that most nefarious of breeds- the consultants- then I see trouble ahead.
I tweeted last week that fundraisers should stop calling themselves fundraisers. If you’re one, and someone asks how you earn a crust, then tell them you’re helping to find a cure for cancer, to feed starving kids in Africa, or whatever it is that your charity does. That’s not spin, by the way, that’s exactly what you’re doing; the money you raise is no more than a means to an end. Likewise, whilst my business card says consultant on it, what I should say is that I’m helping find a solution for this, or helping people who suffer that, which is exactly what being a consultant who helps clients raise more money is all about too.