Charitable intentions

24-Jun-2014

The culture of ‘Putting Something Back’ through support of the charitable sector is engrained in the consultancy industry, says our management consultancy columnist Mick James, and such collaborations can bring rewards for both sides.

This is a tough job sometimes – last week saw me once again donning black tie and relentlessly downing gourmet food and fine wines in pursuit of the hottest stories in the consultancy market.

The occasion was the Celebration Dinner of the Worshipful Company of Management Consultants, a now established annual event to showcase and recognise the invaluable support the profession gives to the charitable sector.

Charitable work has always been at the heart of the livery movement, but the Company has made “Putting Something Back” a key priority and theme of its activities, and itself responds to about 60 requests a year for support, the vast majority of which it manages to respond to with its own resources.

But this event is not simply the Company patting itself on the back: rather it is about recognising and enabling the much wider culture of charitable donation and pro bono work that goes into the sector as a whole.

To this end the Company has teamed up with the MCA to carry out research into the charitable activities of the consultancy industry. The encouraging result this year was that despite the rapid acceleration of client demand, the industry managed to maintain its activity at the same level as last year. That’s an estimated £80m of charitable support, nearly 70% of which was in the form of pro bono donated time, some 500,000 man hours of it. And of course the value of that time to the charities concerned will have been far greater.

This year the dinner showcased two of the Company’s own causes, the London Area Sea Cadets and the National Youth Orchestra. I have to say I was staggered by the self-assurance and poise shown by the teenagers from these groups, who were if anything less overawed by the surroundings of Plaisterers’ Hall than some of the guests. It was a telling example of just what these sorts of activities can mean to the lives of young people, if properly supported.

Sarah Young, investment director of Impetus–The Private Equity Foundation which aims to transform the lives of young people to become highly effective, made the point that “making a difference is not straightforward – it needs more than good intentions” and that “the management consultancy industry and the charitable sector have a lot to learn from each other”.

I think this is key – there’s obviously an overriding moral imperative to “give something back” but the opportunity is there for the consultancy industry both to contribute and to gain using its own skills. I have, for example, seen a very nice patio built by members of a Big Four firm but was that really the best use of their time? What was the learning?

The overlap between consultancy work and charities is massive – just look at the need to gain stakeholder buy-in, to achieve results through influence. Like consultancies, charities regularly come under fire – there’s a row now about CEO remuneration – and like consultancies they urgently need to shift the argument to effectiveness rather than good intentions, from inputs to outputs.

So when consultancies work with charities it is – or should be – about more than having a few well-meaning folk hanging around. As another speaker, Katherine Kerswell, Director General of Civil Service Reform at the Cabinet Office, put it, “management consultants translate desire into reality”. So you might want to have a wilder dream than a patio.

This of course, needs to come with a certain humility: the image of the private sector know-it-all descending on the bumbling not-for-profit sector fools is one of the most alienating you can imagine. The charitable sector has many virtues, but also many institutional barriers to change – if you can negotiate those, you really will have won your spurs as a consultant.

That’s why it’s important, in my view, that the Worshipful Company becomes the focal point for pro bono work in the charitable sector. For a start they know what they are doing and can help with the obvious pitfalls. By highlighting more and more of the work that already goes on then they can act both as a repository of best practice and an inspiration to the rest of the industry. Finally, the networking opportunities between the schemes supported must be enormous.

This is extremely important for the smaller to medium consultancies – bigger firms have the resources and expertise to plan (and gain maximum PR advantage from) their corporate social responsibility programmes. For smaller organisations it’s often a more ad hoc and unsung approach – it’s time this work was brought into the light.

I say this not just as a chap who is looking forward to an even bigger dinner but because I truly believe that consultants have something unique to offer here.

So I urge everyone who is involved in this sort of work, and those who would like to be, to make contact with the Worshipful Company and help them promote and celebrate this wonderful aspect of our industry.


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All views expressed in this article are those of Mick James and do not necessarily reflect the views of Top-Consultant.com and Consultant-News.com.

Contact Mick with your views or suggestions at: mick.james@top-consultant.com
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