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  • Straight from the source – March 2021

    Summer has ended and Autumn is upon us. This is a glorious season where parks and tree lined streets become a palette of colours falling to the ground promising rest and renewal.

    On the weekend, I spent some time in my garden which we planted many years ago. Over the years we have nourished it, guided it through storms and weathered the droughts. We haven’t had a bushfire given we are inner suburban, but we have had to protect the more delicate shrubs from the scorching summer sun.

    Tending to a garden is not easy even when you are promised a low maintenance one. Grass grows, shrubs become trees and roots take hold. Unless you look after it, cut and prune it, your garden can escape you. Of course, you can outsource the maintenance, but you will still need to make decisions about what stays and goes and what changes you would like made.

    Over the years I have experimented with different plants, sought support and positioned my garden to be the best it can be given our changing environment.

    Last month I encouraged all not-for-profits to invest time in thinking about positioning for the future and what you need to do differently. This month I want to share my thoughts on strategic thinking and point you to the myriad of support available to help you grow your NFP.

    I have spent the last few weeks hearing from our Stewardship Group members about the positive impact achieved by the Government’s economic stimulus support package and the difference it has made to the sector. However, the temporary JobKeeper Payment scheme will end on 28 March 2021. And whilst you may be eligible for the JobMaker Hiring Credit and other financial assistance, at some point you will need to rip that band aid off and stand tall so you can grow stronger.

    Like trees in a garden, organisations come in different shapes and sizes with different requirements. If a tree fails to thrive, we work out what is causing the problem and we treat it. Similarly, if your not-for-profit is finding it difficult to meet its financial and regulatory obligations, you will need to look at what’s driving the issue/s.

    A good starting point is going back to basics and validating your organisation’s objective. As you know, many not-for-profits are started from the heart for a particular purpose. Like a business it is important to check whether that purpose is still relevant or whether it has changed and therefore requires a different strategy and governance framework. While it can be a difficult decision, it’s ok to wind up a not-for-profit if the original purpose no longer exists.

    I am reminded of the very first not-for-profit I helped establish. We had DGR status and our purpose was to fundraise and promote the treatment of thalassaemia in Australia. After years of successful fundraising, we met as a board to discuss our future. We had met our purpose and the service we offered was being met by others….so we had a choice – stay, grow and diversify or wind up and move on. We wound up and moved on. For us the decision was easier given that we relied on volunteers, did not employ anyone and had not accumulated any assets that would need to be divested.

    If winding up is not an option for your not-for-profit, you need to think about your governance arrangements including your risk exposure. Many not-for-profits establish a board of directors. Having sat and consulted on several boards, my observation is that board members should represent diverse views and disciplines to help you navigate, especially in uncertain times. Board member roles will help you answer important questions around risk, profit, provisioning, liquidity and goals.

    I know that a NFP’s focus is to help the community and deliver important services. Most NFPs want to get it right and avoid non-compliance. The ATO has a range of tools and services to help make it easier for you if you are starting up, winding down, running or changing your organisation. Recently I recorded a videoExternal Link to promote our support for the sector.

    Australia is out of lockdown; the vaccines have landed and hopefully we continue the road to recovery!

    Remember to review your landscape and understand your goals. Surround yourself with diversity and expertise and nurture regularly. Like gardens, organisations need maintenance if you are to truly reap the splendour they provide.


    Last modified: 02 Mar 2021QC 64948