Earlier this month we were delighted to host Jim L’Estrange at the Hill Rogers April Twilight Seminar. A highly-regarded former CEO of Cancer Council NSW, Jim successfully transitioned his career from high level positions within the corporate world into the Not-for-Profit sector.

Over the course of this transition, Jim faced a wide range of challenges across many parts of the organisation including governance and transparency issues, changing entrenched attitudes, driving a performance culture and pursuing more effective and sustainable revenue streams. His presentation was enlightening for all who attended, with particular relevance to those working in, or with, Nor-for-Profit organisations.

Below are some the key observations and learnings from Jim’s presentation, reproduced with his kind permission.

The NFP Sector is large and complex

With an estimated 54,000 registered charities in Australia, the NFP sector is large, diverse and highly competitive. While 40% of NFP organisations have annual income of less than $50,000, the top 5% compromise an overwhelming 95% of the entire sector income. In the context of achieving growth – and even survival – this top-heavy income structure presents significant challenges, especially for new NFP organisations and those sitting outside the top tier.

Can a charity have a performance culture?

Without question, this is one of the primary challenges for any Not-for-Profit organisation given the hugely competitive and scrutinised landscape in which they operate in Australia today. A tremendous responsibility exists to maximise the funds raised from community donations. However on its own this isn’t enough. To ensure sustained success and growth, NFP CEOs must also ensure every dollar is spent as effectively and efficiently as possible – something that demands a true performance culture. As Jim L’Estrange explains himself, “The responsibility to be transparent and to communicate how that donation is used makes such a difference when building and retaining trust, relationships and partnerships within the community.”

There are many factors contributing to a performance culture in the NFP sector. Balancing these requires great managerial skill. One of the more important lies in constantly identifying ways to maintain a strong, inspired, respected and highly motivated workforce/volunteer force. Another increasingly important strategy is bolstering an organisation’s performance skills by capitalising upon the positive trend of corporate leaders moving into the NFP sector – specifically by attracting quality candidates as members of the Board, Executive or simply in a pro bono consulting capacity. However as Jim L’Estrange highlighted there can be challenges in ensuring an individual’s private sector skills align effectively with the organisation’s vision and needs, as it’s often easier said than done. No matter how talented someone might be, great care needs to be taken to understand how their skillset can be most effectively channeled. There is also a fundamental need for the individual to understand the charity and embrace its raison d’être.

Changing attitudes via a clear purpose

The NFP landscape is constantly evolving. Whilst often creating opportunities, this also results in many challenges for senior managers who are tasked with helping their organisation successfully navigate frequent changes at different levels of their organisation.

From his own experiences, Jim found the greatest challenge lay in finding effective ways to engage, empower and enable the organisation’s stakeholders, staff and volunteers. “You need to be an NFP with purpose,” he said, explaining success typically comes when you’re able to take others on the journey with you, shifting attitudes by helping them understand your organisation’s clear and meaningful purpose, anchored to strong strategic plan. One of the keys to achieving this is having a focus on areas historically underinvested in by NFPs, including Brand, Technology and Finance. A genuine commitment to Human Resources is also vital, including staff engagement, the development of stronger management skills and ongoing communication across every facet of the organisation.

Raising revenue and fundraising

Clearly, revenue and fundraising acumen sits at the core of any Not-for-Profit organisation. After all, no matter how noble your goals, it’s impossible to achieve them without funding. Given the two are inextricably linked, the challenge for CEOs is therefore to make their organisation as effective at generating revenue as possible, thus increasing its ability to drive genuinely positive outcomes.

A myriad of factors can influence an organisation’s effectiveness in this area. They include the ability to harness technology and social media, adapt to changing markets and competition, manage rising costs, refresh ‘tired’ events to maintain their relevance, and forge strong ongoing relationships with volunteers, donors, media and the community as a whole. All need to be considered and acted upon with confidence, as required.

Ultimately, success is all about getting the balance right for the unique requirements, and personality, of your organisation.

Hill Rogers brings a wealth of experience in assisting Not-for-Profit organisations. You can find our more about our NFP services here.