The Difference between Consultant and Counsel

As I work with my clients in the field I often identify my role differently depending on the situation. Sometimes I’m a consultant and sometimes I am counsel. To many the difference may seem trivial, but I think it points to a very important distinction in the types of services and relationships we bring to our clients.

To help explain the difference I’ll use a couple of examples. Sometimes I’m called on to provide a leadership or strategic planning workshop. Or to provide a training session for a foundation or governing board. In these instances I consider the work that I do as one of a consultant. The client has asked for a limited set of services for which I will provide some direction and expertise. This is the role of a consultant—to provide guidance to help address a particular issue or problem for which I have some background.

Sometimes, however, following my limited consulting role, the client wants to move forward with a longer term engagement such as a Major Gifts campaign. I then see my role transitioning from one of consultant to one of campaign counsel. The difference is that, in a campaign, I work side by side with the leadership of the college helping to set longer term direction, strategies, and goals. Additionally, I am available as a confidential advisor to help overcome operational, political, and situational problems as they arise. This happens during the course of any campaign. I am often called upon to work with college leadership on issues that have only an indirect bearing on the progress of the campaign yet are extremely important to the overall well-being of the institution.

Also, in my role as campaign counsel, I’m available almost 24/7 whether during a site visit or at any other time. Often, even though we may have completed a contract, former clients will call to ask advice and to seek direction on a new issue. I provide ongoing “counsel” for these clients. To me it’s part of an ongoing trust relationship that has been built over time.

In this way, our role is similar to that of legal counsel. You probably wouldn’t call your attorney your consultant. The nature of the ongoing relationship you have with that person is one of counselor and client. In this respect, the work I do as your confidential campaign counsel is very similar.

So, you may call me someday with a request for a consulting project. I will happily provide you with a well thought out proposal. However, it is my hope that, over time, the consulting role will evolve into the role of counsel.

Rich Gross Solutions Consulting Councel

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