Friday, June 25, 2010

Please, more consultants speaking at conferences!

I feel a bit weird this year - it will be the first conference 'season' that I am not planning on whizzing around the world to learn and present at conferences.  I am sneaking over to Canada in November (I know, madness) and speaking at the ADMA Forum (26 July) and the F&P Forum (Sep 1) here in Australia.
Speaking at conferences is important for consultants and suppliers like me, but should there be more charity people speaking?
At the recent fundraising conference in New Zealand, an inspiring plenary from Richard Woodward reminded me why I am in this business, and even more importantly, gave me some tools to use whenever things get tough. Richard is a consultant, based in Australia, who helps charities raise money.  
I also learned things from Simone Joyeaux, Gregor Drugowitsch, Tom Ahern, Christiana Stergiou, John Godfrey and Trevor Garrett. All are consultants, except Trevor, who is head of the NZ Charity Commission. I did not attend a session presented by a charity employee.
My gripe this month is not the fact there are not many charity people speaking. What agitates me is the number of people complaining about the fact that at fundraising conferences - AFP (USA and Canada), IOF (UK), IFC (Holland) and FIA (Australia) -"there are not enough charity people speaking!"

This ‘problem' is so rife that some conferences ‘positively discriminate' to have charity people speak. This is one of those problems that's all about prejudice rather than substance. The consultants I named above work either mostly or exclusively with charities. They are charity people. They are just paid indirectly as opposed to directly, and they work for more than one charity. Surely the fundamental purpose of going to a conference is to gain learning and raise more money?

I think we should make demands about what we learn and the quality of the teaching - not who teaches us. Why should we care who delivers the training, as long as it is good? Most of these consultants used to be charity employees. For example, Gregor worked for Red Cross and Amnesty for many years.
When consultants stop working at a particular nonprofit they don't suddenly lose their knowledge. In fact, by the nature of their business, they are exposed to many more variables and initiatives than would be possible within just one charity. A consultant's session may not necessarily be better than that of a charity's ... but it's not inherently worse!

One pro-charity speaker argument is that they can include case studies and results. But from  my experience, consultants are more likely to present case studies, results and comparisons - and across several charities, not just one. This is valuable contextual information. Sharing the results of one charity using a survey to identify bequest leads is great. But having several case studies is better. It gives the student a broader context to consider.
Pareto staff members are encouraged to speak at conferences, and we give tons of information away. 

We also show real case studies with real results often (with permission from our clients, of course). We are not unique. Most consultant speakers include case studies and results; hardly any spruik their services in a crude way. Yes, they will (and should) mention what they do, and they may be cheeky or involve clients. But as long as you are learning, why do we care so much about the fact they are a supplier?

I believe most of these suppliers get up there and present for a host of reasons: ego; a desire to create change; passion for the sector; passion for their area of expertise (e.g. face-to-face fundraising); personal development - or a free ticket. Tom Ahern and Simone Joyeaux, for example, will "work for scenery"! 

Of course those reasons (except maybe the scenery one) are the same for charity staff. The big difference boils down to the last motivator for consultants: that it is good business sense. Getting up and showing people the ropes, teaching, building, challenging - this exposes them to potential customers. They don't need to do the ‘hard-sell', they just need to be genuinely helpful.

Most of what we teach is already in the books. Very little is new to the sector, but it could be new to the attendee. Explaining it well, giving examples and inspiring others is our job. And if we do it well, people will be more likely to talk to us about our business. It also means there is a lot of pressure to be a good presenter. I think that leads to probably 70-90% of presentation submissions coming from consultants.

Consultants can justify their investment in presenting because it is really good for business.  They can justify the use of company resources and the hours put into the preparation to compile the data, put together a good presentation, cruise YouTube for good video to embed, put in some practice time ... well, at least that's how I justify it to my board!
So what should (we) charity people think about all this?
Good! Great stuff! Let the consultants put in the time, let them massage their egos, let them live and become!  But they better bloody teach me something that I can do without hiring them to improve my charity's income.
Next time someone says they are "sick of all these consultants presenting" - ask them why. When they say "I want to see more charity staff up there" -  ask them why again.
(This blog is a slightly updated version of my most recent Agitator Column in F&P magazine E-bulletin.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Get Up! think out of the box

Our lovely Australian politicians do a PR exercise where you can bid for a special treat with one of them.  The leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott auctioned off a surfing lesson with him (like Vladimir Putin he loves to show his physical prowess off - and fair enough, because he has a lot more than me).

Tony is pretty outspoken in a traditional conservative way - as well as describing climate change as 'absolute crap' his policies on refugees trying to reach safety by fleeing their homes in dangerous boats do not sit comfortably with social justice and human rights groups.

Australian pressure group GetUp! motivated donors to put in some money and bid for this opportunity - and lined up a refugee to take the surf lesson and tell Tony his story.

Campaigning genius! Tons of press (even if the bid hadn't won - but it did) and now they are running another campaign to get enough money to air a TV Ad.

Great, specific, well thought through fundraising tactics.

Disaster Fundraising Guide download it here