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  • Straight from the source – May 2022

    ‘Efficiency and effectiveness are not about working harder but working smarter’!

    We hear this remark a lot, but I often wonder whether we take the time to reflect on what it means in practice.

    Commonly, ‘working smarter and not harder’ is taken to mean that a person or an organisation has a clear strategy that prioritises the most important activities. This is important because it maximises productivity and minimises feelings of being overwhelmed, overcommitted, frustrated, and overworked.

    A personal example that comes to mind is when, as a newlywed, I was working full time as well as studying for an MBA. My 'crossroads moment’ happened when I was pacing the house at 2am with an important paper due the next day.

    For me, it was not good enough to pass, we were being driven to excel and challenge ourselves. On top of this pressure, the MBA was costing me a fortune out-of-pocket, so I wanted a good return on investment. On this night, when I felt I was losing my mind, it seemed that no matter how hard I worked, I wasn’t excelling in any of my roles.

    So I did the only thing I could. I stopped and reassessed.

    Together with my husband, I reassessed my priorities and put in place some strategies. My marriage was not negotiable; nor were my aspirations. At a time when we were under considerable financial pressure, I decided to take a year off work to focus on my studies.

    Immediately, the pressure was alleviated because I had a plan that focused on what was most important. Once I communicated this plan, many opportunities presented themselves, and I was offered a full year scholarship to complete my studies.

    I share this example for several reasons. I know many not-for-profits are feeling overwhelmed. There is much uncertainty around, and the cost of living is ever increasing. This impacts the Australian community’s reliance on the services provided by not-for-profits. Additionally, in the last 3 years we have confronted multiple disasters that have drawn on not-for-profit resources and resilience. This has created sector fatigue, which is further exacerbated by a shortage in particular skills and availability of volunteers.

    It is for many a ‘crossroads moment’ that may require a pause and reflection.

    For any organisation, it is important to pause, reflect and consider if all their activities are aligned to their purpose. This is especially important for not-for-profits given the Australian community’s and government’s trust placed in them.

    Larger not-for-profits and those with Board oversight often run strategic sessions. This is something we do in the ATO at several levels. Like many not-for-profits, the ATO’s NFP Centre has finite resources to support the sector and deliver on government policies. For this reason, it's essential my team has a clear line of sight on our role and objectives and that we are all focussed on achieving the outcomes expected by the sector and government.

    Just last week my team confirmed that the Application for refund of franking credits is now available online for NFPs to download as a fillable PDF. Not-for-profits will no longer receive applications by post. This milestone has taken some time to deliver, given organisational priorities and challenges. While it can be disappointing to have to put some activities on hold for a time, it is very rewarding to be able to deliver and simultaneously know that key priorities were met in the meantime.

    In the ATO we’ve recently been running an internal risk campaign to highlight four common organisational challenges which we know can drive and heighten risk:

    • unclear accountabilities
    • misaligned strategies
    • poor use of data, and
    • lack of prioritisation.

    All organisations, large or small, can consider these challenges in the context of their operations, particularly if they are feeling stretched.

    I dedicated last month’s blog to self-assessing income tax exempt not-for-profits and provided a commitment that we will work with you to understand your needs and design a workable solution for the new reporting requirement. This has not changed.

    We are an organisation made up of people that confront similar challenges experienced by the not-for-profit sector. There is a lot of trust placed in us to deliver services and commitments for the Australian community and Government. We have finite resources and are held to account for our expenditure and activities. This is sound business practice.

    For this reason, I encourage all not-for-profits to think about what it means to work smarter. If you are feeling overwhelmed or fatigued, take a moment, pause, and reflect on your purpose, strategies, and drivers of risk. I know it can be confronting and uncomfortable, especially if you have to make changes or press pause on a particular project. However, you may find that the decisions you make provide new and creative opportunities, just like they did for me so many years ago.

    Take care and enjoy the last month of Autumn, a season that provides great opportunity for reflection.


    Last modified: 10 May 2022QC 69516