2.9 Feeling Disrespected & Misunderstood as a Fundraising Consultant

Dear Kim:

Do you have any advice and/or insights for dealing with people who don’t understand (or make minimizing assumptions) about being a fundraising consultant? I find myself getting snippy and making admittedly defensive remarks or puffing myself up when my career as a fundraising consultant comes up in casual conversation and the reaction is dismissive/less than favorable.

Long-term I realize this is an issue of building confidence in my own worth and focusing on the positive feedback I receive from clients. But I’m wondering on a practical level if you have any responses that you (or others you know) recommend in the moment? It is so frustrating that fundraising isn’t widely acknowledged as a legitimate career, but I’m also aware that I’m not doing myself any favors or reflecting well on the fundraising profession by being snarky.

~Getting No Respect

Dear No:

I can’t tell from your email whether people are more dismissive of being a consultant or of being in fundraising, but perhaps it is both.  People often joke about consulting:  “You borrow my watch to tell me the time” or “Free advice for a price” and I always respond by joking back:  “Yeah, let me see that watch.”  I have usually found that people are more puzzled by fundraising:  “Can you make a living doing that?” or “Do you eat lunch all day with rich people?”  Those kinds of questions should be seen as wonderful invitations to really describe what we do, but again with a light touch.

I don’t know where you are encountering these responses, but I think it would be helpful to reflect on how few people have jobs they like.  Many jobs are mind deadening, many others involve working for corporations with dubious moral standards, still others require being supervised by people with more power than intelligence.  When people meet fundraising consultants, they are a little envious—we work for the common good, we set our own hours, and we choose who we work with and who we don’t.  Consulting is not easy but it is fulfilling and for that we are grateful.

So my practical suggestions are:  practice compassion, respond with a joke, and show interest in the person you are talking to by asking questions:    “How do you like your job?”  “How did you get into that line of work?”  In other words, be the person who changes other people’s perceptions about fundraising and consulting.  Imagine people you talk with telling others, “I just met the nicest person.  She was warm and interested in a lot of things.  She’s a consultant.”

~Kim Klein