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Putting Something Back

This Article is reproduced from Top-Consultant.com 15th May 2013

The Worshipful Company of Management Consultants can help consultancy firms maximise the effectiveness - and professional benefits - of their philanthropic endeavours, says our management consultancy columnist, Mick James.

One of the better kept secrets in the industry is the existence of the Worshipful Company of Management Consultants. Granted a Royal Charter in 2008, they now sit proudly alongside such obscure medieval trades as cordwainer and tallow chandler, and have recently been joined by the equally endangered modern species ‘international banker’ and ‘tax adviser’.

From the outside it’s easy to see the Livery Companies as some sort of sub-masonic gathering for the well-fed and the well-connected, but their activities these days are primarily philanthropic, and ‘Putting Something Back’ was indeed the theme of a recent awards dinner I attended as a guest of the Company.

Unlike the older livery companies, who are often endowed with formerly unconsidered chunks of land that now sit underneath the major retail and financial centres of London, the Management Consultants have to live by their wits, and these awards were designed to reflect the success of the industry in ‘putting something back’ through pro bono projects with charities.

As well as recognising individual projects, the Company also undertook the UK’s first survey of the pro bono activities of the industry. In total the industry had contributed an estimated £80m to various good causes, about three-quarters of which came in the form of donated professional time.

While there’s nothing wrong with money, this donation of time allows for a deeper level of involvement and connection with the project concerned, particularly as it is consultancy time that is being donated.

What also emerged from the awards was the diversity of the work being undertaken, both in terms of the projects being undertaken and where the consultancies where able to make a contribution.

The Worshipful Company grouped its awards under three major categories. The Health and Well-Being Award went to ASE Consulting, who supported clinicians working in refugee camps in Sudan with online communication and also gave technical assistance to Uganda Lodge to create a community health centre. PwC was the winner of the Education and Young People category working with Beyond Sport, a global not for profit organisation that uses sport as a mechanism to drive social change. Finally in the Employability category, Oliver Wyman won the award for its work with Trees for Cities, a charity which works with local communities to “green urban areas in most need of greening”, which I am happy to report includes my street which has received quite a few of their trees.

Pro bono work is, of course, not without its ethical dilemmas: which charities should be helped, and which are big enough to look after themselves? What about the consultants who work professionally in the charity sector? Can consultants give something back without treading on their toes? On the other hand, can professional services always afford to service charities properly without charging them too much?

These are fascinating questions, particularly when it comes to consultancy, where in many cases you can argue that since the cost of effective consultancy will always be covered by future gains, it doesn’t matter if you charge for it or not. I was interested to see that projects nominated for an award (Deloitte with the Prince’s Trust) made use of Social Impact Bonds, which seem like an innovative way, not just of squaring some of these circles, but of massively ramping up the sort of socially useful activity where the future payback is clear but the immediate funding unavailable.

All that said, I would hate to see the pro bono work being undertaken by consultancies on such a massive scale being reduced to any kind of simple utilitarian calculus. There’s a lot to be said for straightforward generosity, and all heads of consultancies should recognise how good this sort of activity is, not just for the community but for the individual consultant, who may feel that they need a little bit more in their lives than living out of a suitcase to help other people make money. There are a staggering number of studies that show how volunteering and giving contributes to individual well-being and broadens one’s perspectives. If you really want to combine that with a bit of commercial canniness, then you can look at how some organisations cleverly manage to combine their extra-curricular activities with a bit of personal and professional development for the individuals concerned. This is one area where no-one should shy away from the win-win solution.

The biggest question should really be, where do we start? Most companies follow their heart when it comes to a choice of organisation to support, but how to maximise their effectiveness, particularly when deploying professional expertise, might not be so obvious. So why not do the really clever thing and consult an expert – the Worshipful Company is continually reaching out to new members (contact clerk@wcomc.org) and will be more than happy to support – and recognise – your endeavours.

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.