What do I tell people I do?

I confess lately I have been feeling a little insecure about my job as an auditor. Maybe it is an identity crisis. Maybe it is a yearning for popularity. A few recent encounters have left me wondering if this is the right profession for me. I was recently at a fund raising event for work and started a conversation with one of the attendees. This ‘unnamed’ lady initially seemed excited to find I worked for World Vision. She was obviously a supporter and advocate, hence her presence at the event. “What do you do there?” she asked. “I am an auditor”. “Oh…” she muttered almost with a tinge of disdain and then proceeded to roll her eyes. We continued on with a pleasant conversation but walking away from the encounter, I couldn’t seem to shake the emotion welling up in me because of her reaction. I have been fortunate (I guess) to not have received this reaction very often. However, I know behind closed doors, behind the niceties and pleasantries of clients, there is often a desire for audit to just ‘go away’ and not be a bother. 

My fellow auditors out there, have you ever felt this way? Have you wondered why this job you have been given to do matters? 

Another recent experience left me thinking more deeply about what I do. I was at a fund raising and nonprofit industry conference and was probably the only auditor in attendance. During many of the networking opportunities, I struck up conversations with the likes of fund raising directors, consultants and capacity building professionals. A common question when they found out I was an auditor was, “What does that mean? What do you do?” A few years ago I would have used typical audit-type language and say I assessed risk and evaluated controls and understood process. However, in thinking more deeply about the ‘why’ I do what I do, I came up with a layman’s version I believe really gets to the heart of what I do. I said to almost all of them in separate conversation, “I represent stakeholders external to management, including the board of directors, donors and beneficiaries. As an independent and objective professional, I help them understand if the organization is set up for success.” The light bulbs immediately went on and I found I didn’t have to further explain myself or justify my role in the organization. 

I work for an organization that aims to provide life in all its fullness to the children we serve. We work in relief and development settings all around the world with a goal of helping communities become self-sustaining and thrive. Often, we choose to work in the toughest contexts with the poorest of the poor. The work we do is a matter of life and death. When we make wrong decisions resulting in loss of resources or when there is waste, children’s lives are at stake. 

As an organization, we need to be great at what we do because it matters. We are stewards of a tremendous amount of resources from those who are generous to give it to us for those who need it the most. Trust is a key element in what we do. The trust does not come easily. We have to earn it every day by the decisions we make and how we choose to act as an organization. 

We are not a perfect organization. There is no perfect organization. But we need to strive to be the best we can be. Mediocrity is death.

As an auditor, I have a role to play in helping the organization become more effective, efficient and compliant. 

For my fellow auditors out there, take heart and be encouraged. We are not going to win any popularity contests, but there is much good we can do.


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