I received some interesting client feedback recently. When presented with a piece of information in one of my written reports, a member of the Board of Directors commented...
…well, it’s obvious he’s just Googled that because I’ve never heard of it...
Needless to say, that really touched a nerve. It really irked me because it not only points to a deeply frustrating response from a supposedly engaged client, but it also indicates a degree of skepticism about my knowledge and expertise and arguably my credibility as a consultant to the nonprofit sector. I may of course be reading far too much into it (I probably am) and it could simply be an example of complete arrogance from an overinflated ego, but it got me thinking about myprofessional credentials and credibility.
One of my specialisms is corporate governance and I work with boards to embed good practice around the board table. I’m a recognised authority on nonprofit governance and I enjoy a positive reputation for engaging boards in enthusiastic debate on what can sometimes be perceived as a really boring subject (now who has the overinflated ego?!). But that reputation is promoted via word-of-mouth. I rely heavily, as most of us do, on recommendations and referrals to generate business, and whilst my portfolio of past projects is noteworthy, if you don’t know me or know of me, then how do you assess my value to your organization when my authority is only really understood by the people who know me.
As consultants we’re asking potential clients to invest in us and to trust us in their business, and whilst there are some excellent B2B tools that we can use to market ourselves (this platform being the obvious example), as far as I'm aware, there is no real benchmark that potential clients can use to ascertain our expertise as consultants to nonprofits.
When I submit a proposal, I usually underline my credentials by referencing career highlights, including my experience as an association Chief Executive. But so what?! That’s what I used to be, not who I am now. There are professional standards for nonprofit employees against which people can be measured but against what standards can we be measured as consultants to nonprofits? How can our skills, knowledge, and expertise be widely recognized and understood?
We need to start talking with real intent about professional standards in nonprofit consulting: identifying and promoting the core competencies that make for a successful and credible investment by our clients. Let’s start talking about accreditation. Let’s discuss and agree what constitutes our profession. Let’s talk about global professional standards in consultancy.
I spend a lot of time telling membership CEOs "you’re a membership professional not a professional in the industry which your organization serves" and yet no one says that to me about me and my profession. I don’t work in a nonprofit (although my accountant may disagree), I work in support of nonprofits. So what does that mean? What behaviors, what knowledge, what experience, what skills are required? What does membership of my professional bodies (such as the Association of Consultants to Nonprofits) tell people about me? And how do I demonstrate my value? Sadly, I can’t just Google it, so let’s have that conversation. Reach out to me and let’s start exploring together.