INSTITUTE OF FUNDRAISING: Member Viewpoint - Preparation is crucial to making the most out of sector consultancy

Chris Phillips, senior consultant with Richard Evans Affinity Services

Having recently returned to full-time consultancy I am still amazed by the lack of preparation that voluntary sector organisations undertake before asking a consultant to quote for a particular piece of work. The sector is still wary and suspicious of how consultants can support them, and it seems that outsourcing is an ugly word; as for paying the appropriate rate for more than 100 years' collective experience, forget it.

Many consultants from the commercial world will no longer work with the voluntary sector saying we are badly prepared, have no commitment to the process, are time wasters (mainly in meetings) and are bad payers.No wonder they don't want to work with us.

A request for fundraising is usually the last thing that is needed; business plans, trustee governance and sometimes even guidance with the work they are doing, must always come first - it is only then that the focus on fundraising can work.

These massive generalisations tend to refer to small organisations. Medium and large charities seldom seek advice until in difficulties and then find it hard to ask for help. Few chief executives ask for advice before a problem arises, and few fundraising directors seek the mentoring support a consultant can give them. Many times we hear that "the previous director left suddenly and we need to start again", but the voice is coming from the bottom of a big hole.

A plea: if you consider using a consultant - and you should - think about it. Write a brief to define the problem and outcomes, and don't ask 20 consultants to quote (try to find up to three specialists). Find an approved budget, and most of all, ask for help, advice and support before the ground gives way. In other words, use our knowledge before the hole gets too deep.

- The Institute welcomes Viewpoint articles from its members. Please email the membership manager (Membership@institute-of-fundraising.org.uk).

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