What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your job? And what’s the state of play for not-for-profits around Australia?
We ask nine leading women to fill us in.
President, AIESEC Australia
Leadership can be cool
I’ve recently noticed an attitude amongst some young people along the lines of ‘too cool to stand out, too cool to raise my hand in class, too cool to stand up for something I believe in’ and the sad thing is that, it quickly becomes ‘too cool to achieve and too cool to contribute’. It’s easy to judge young people as complacent or lazy, however I believe the biggest obstacle is the perception of leadership in Australia. We must start a conversation about everyday youth leadership and give young people the courage to push against the barriers of their personal limitations. This isn’t easy, it can’t be solved with a pep talk, it requires young people to be placed in challenging environments outside of their comfort zone and given the opportunity define themselves outside of pre-defined societal boundaries.
CEO, Asylum Seekers Centre
Dignity is everything
Our biggest challenge is to find employment for our clients, 80 per cent of whom are homeless and without any form of government support when they arrive. The dignity and financial independence of work is vital to help people to start rebuilding their lives. We would welcome anyone who has work to contact us – we have so many work-ready people who would be a great asset to any organisation.
Co-founder, Sydney Story Factory
You can always find a story
One of my current favourite stories is ‘Poopy the One-Eyed Dinosaur’, by a seven-year-old boy in foster care. It started with him wanting to write about poo, as most seven-year-old boys want to do. With some gentle persuasion, however, the story evolved into a beautiful love story about two dinosaurs that is both touching and funny (“Poopy said, ‘I love you.’ Julia said, ‘Go and get a bath!’). If you try, you can nearly always find a better story hidden beneath your first idea. That’s worth remembering whatever age you are.
Coordinator, Women’s Legal Service
Help your volunteers
WLS is very fortunate to have so many volunteers to assist us in providing services to women, and without them we wouldn’t be able to provide the number of services [we do]. There are many reasons why volunteers connect with our service, but the frequent feedback we get is that volunteers stay at WLS because they like making a difference. We provide a number benefits to volunteers like training, acknowledgement and opportunities for professional networking to encourage volunteering. However, none of these strategies are more powerful than a volunteer connecting with the values of our organisation and their genuine desire to want to help women. We have found social media an invaluable tool to attract potential volunteers.
CEO, Landcare Australia
There is a truism in social media: content is king. We certainly believe in that approach and as a result we publish content that is current and relevant to our audience. We also believe that we must add our voice to any content, not just post someone else’s. It’s important to post fresh content regularly to keep people looking at your site. Planning out a content calendar to identify key events and announcements is also critical to optimise engagement across your various social media assets and platforms. Having someone monitoring your assets is essential to ensure that you mitigate any potential reputational risks as well as allowing your organisation to capitalise on the myriad of opportunities that exist to maximise your reach and engagement with your audiences.
CEO, Breast Cancer Network Australia
English isn’t the only language
Our work revolves around the voices and needs of our women, and what we can do to support them and make sure they have the information they need when going through a breast cancer diagnosis. BCNA’s projects are very evidence-based. For example, our CALD [culturally and linguistically diverse] program was a direct response to a real need in the community. Imagine what it might be like to be diagnosed with breast cancer if you spoke no English or were unfamiliar with the Australian health system. Over the past year BCNA has developed a series of resources in Arabic, Chinese, Greek, Italian and Vietnamese and has been training community liaison volunteers to support these communities.
CEO, The Smith Family
Part-time doesn’t have to be permanent
As a working mum with two now-adult children, I know how difficult it can be to successfully balance career and home life. When my children were young, I took a sideways step in my career to work part-time and in roles that gave me greater flexibility. I was fortunate to be able to do this and am fully supportive of my colleagues being able to adapt their work preferences around family needs. I believe it is possible to have a demanding career and a family, but in my case I took the view that I wouldn’t try and do it all at the same time.
CEO & Founder, Project Futures
Don’t do it all yourself
The biggest challenge for any start up, whether it be business or not for profit, is navigating the regulations in the sector and setting it up right. I am not a lawyer or an accountant, so making sure I had people with those skills around me from the beginning was key. Telling entrepreneurs the truth about entrepreneurship is discussed in a great TED talk by Ernesto Sirolli, who suggest that both small and large companies have to be capable of doing three things (and this goes for a charity too): “You have to have a fantastic product or service, you have to have wonderful marketing and branding and you must possess tremendous financial management. And guess what, there has never been a single human being who can make it, sell it and look after the money!”
The biggest misconception that people seem to have around not for profits is that you have to provide some sort of service – orphanage, run a school, a safe house or help line – to solve major social issues. Project Futures serves a different function, but not less valuable. We raise capital and provide a financial lifeline to organisations working on the ground. We are but one cog in a bigger wheel that ensures this sector functions effectively. Ernesto was right on more than one front, sometimes you can’t do it all yourself.
Program Manager, Regenesis Youth, PCYC
The power of mentors
We are providing a service to young people who need support to repair and develop their approach to learning and regain confidence and trust in their education. This means creating a non-threatening environment that supports the individual to explore their own learning potential and realise that the purpose of education is empowerment and fulfilling self-potential. Positive adult and peer networks are crucial to this transformation in young people, which is our main focus at PCYC. Nurturing these powerful mentor-mentee relationships wherever positive growth needs to occur, is something any NFP could benefit from.