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NPA Member Spotlight

Kathryn Key | CEO | SDECC – Sydney Drug Education & Counselling Centre

By NPA Member Spotlight, Personal

Kathryn Key 

CEO 

SDECC – Sydney Drug Education & Counselling Centre   

Have you always worked in the NFP/For Purpose sector? What inspired you to join the sector, and what do you find most rewarding about it? 

I have always worked in the NFP sector, apart from a brief stint in retail. I was only 21 years old when I got my first job in the sector, so I’m not sure how well developed my ideas about my career were to be honest! I had had my own challenges with my mental health in adolescence, and so I was personally invested in the mental health system. I also grew up in a family where social justice and politics were discussed a lot, and so I understood that there is a lot of unfairness in the world. It just seemed natural to me to want to help other people.  I started out in various case work and counselling roles, and then went into leadership after about ten years.   

What I find most rewarding about working in this sector is hearing people stories. Everyone is so different, and human beings are so adaptable and resilient. People often come for support when they are in crisis, but there is so much more to every person than their current set of circumstances. Therefore, the work is process of collaboration with the person to find out who they are and what they want and need. It’s a real privilege to be allowed to enter someone’s life and be trusted to support them, and I’ve always valued that.   

 

What is the greatest challenge you have experienced as a leader in the NFP sector? 

Resourcing… the non-profit sector has a lot less money than other sectors. This means that most aspects of the work are restricted by availability of funds. This has an impact on every area of operating, from the amount of support available to clients of services, to what we can pay our employees, to what kinds of office spaces and equipment we have access to, and what additional projects we can involve ourselves in. I’ve seen a push across the sector in the last ten years of trying to get NGOs to have the lowest operating costs possible, but this doesn’t produce the best outcomes. I’m all for responsible use of taxpayer funds, but for good service delivery employees need to be well supported through training, supervision and renumeration, and there needs to be sufficient management structures to ensure high quality systems and processes. Without high enough resourcing, too much pressure is put on employees, which then leads to burnout and turnover.  The whole sector struggles with this.  

 

What do you see as the critical to leadership and the future of the sector? 

I think the future of the sector will be about remaining focused on the communities and people we exist to support. As the NFP sector takes more and more from the business world, much of which is useful, there is a real danger of corporatising the work we do. We can easily start to talk about the people we support as KPI’s, to talk about things in terms of maximising viability or making sound business decisions or beating the competition. In truth, our sector exists for one purpose- to help vulnerable people, or prevent vulnerabilities from occurring in the first place. In leadership, I’ve experienced that it’s easy to get disconnected from this fact, and instead just get focused on meeting contractual obligations- numbers in, numbers out. It’s essential that we stay connected to the voices and experiences of the people who make up those numbers and understand the reasons people need support, what their experiences of this system are, what we can do to make it easier or simpler for them. I’m fortunate to work in the Northern Sydney Region now, where NFPs and funders cooperate well together and want to ensure that no one goes without a service they need. Senior managers are generally aiming to be on the same page and prioritise cooperation. It’s been a great experience in seeing what the future can be like if we really keep clients at the front of our decision making, and collaboratively advocate on social issues that matter to our communities.  

 

If you could mentor someone who is just starting out in your field, what advice would you give them? 

The most important thing in this work is keeping your clients at the front of every decision. Become clear about what is going to help you to deliver the best support- what training and support do you need to be and do your best? If you don’t know, how will you learn and who will help you? It takes time to feel comfortable with the kinds of complexities that arise, so asking for guidance and suggestions from more experienced people is essential.  

If you’re starting out in leadership, my advice would be to remain connected and centre your organisational systems and thinking around who your service exists to support. All conversations and decisions should come back to what will result in the best outcomes for those who use our services. Sometimes my own work doesn’t appear to be particularly relevant to clients, but it motivates me to remember that empowering and investing in our teams, managing the finances effectively, and making sure we meet our funding obligations is all being done to enable people to receive the best possible care and support. Also, as a leader you will need support – the work can be isolating at times. Build networks and invest in your professional development as it will be essential to your longevity and effectiveness.  

 

Nick Lawson | CEO | Bobby Goldsmith Foundation

By NPA Member Spotlight, Personal

Nick Lawson

CEO 

Bobby Goldsmith Foundation 

Have you always worked in the NFP/ForPurpose sector? What inspired you to join the sector, and what do you find most rewarding about it?  

Other than my early freelance travel/hospitality days I have always worked in the NFP/For Purpose sector. I’m not sure my path is so orthodox however. I started in NFP through Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders and to be honest, alongside a non-specific sense of doing something “good”, a lot of my motivation at the time was driven by a sense of adventure. I spent 17 years with MSF which were incredibly formative in my NFP understanding and education. I am inspired by the knowledge that whilst there is always a financial bottom line that influences the potential of any organisation, the organisations are there due to a fundamental belief in the potential improvement of people’s lives through a shared humanity. I am ever rewarded by my daily interactions with committed staff and the shared outcomes we can experience with clients. 

 

What is the greatest challenge you have experienced as a leader in the NFP sector?  

In a word, finance. We have all the ambition, direction, intellectual and physical capacity, and will to do more. Limited funding is the only thing holding us back. Having funders understanding the value of operational support and respecting longer-term value service and the funding of that, rather than individual short term projects would be helpful.  

 

What do you see as critical to leadership and the future of the sector?  

I value the shared collaborative debate inherent in NPA. The NFP sector is broad and diverse, and one size fits all philosophies or approaches are unlikely to be relevant. The ability for many to come together and reflect, allows for creativity and experientially-based concept, policy and practice building. Transparent, nuanced and readily available accountability benchmarks and metrics can also be helpful to measure success in outcomes and performance. 

 

If you could mentor someone who is just starting out in your field, what advice would you give them?  

It very much depends on what the person envisages for their career. In the event that management may appear on their horizon, an early understanding of the back-office components (finance, budgets, HR etc) of the activities you are engaged in will be incredibly helpful in seeing the whole of an organisation. And think about what two concepts mean to them: high ambiguity tolerance, and emotional intelligence. Investigating what they are and how to develop them will be time well spent.     

Mark Turley | CEO | Living My Way Ltd

By NPA Member Spotlight, Personal

Mark Turley

CEO 

Living My Way Ltd 

Have you always worked in the NFP/ForPurpose sector? What inspired you to join the sector, and what do you find most rewarding about it? 

Only since arriving in Australia in 2012.  In the UK, I was involved in a number of public sector community regeneration programs. Working within the NFP sector in Australia has been a natural and exciting extension of that work, providing greater life opportunities for people who have been robbed of those opportunities in the past.  Rubbing shoulders with my purpose driven colleagues in the sector and supporting great outcomes for the people we serve are the things that get me out of bed every day. 

 

What is the greatest challenge you have experienced as a leader in the NFP sector? 

Probably leading through change.  There has been a strong reform agenda in every sector I’ve been involved with here in Australia, but particularly the disability and community services sectors.  Gearing up for these changes is a real challenge in terms of keeping everyone happy at the same time – your clients, your funders, your team, your Board – mission impossible sometimes but we do the best we can. 

 

What do you see as the critical to leadership and the future of the sector? 

I think the smart organisations, and leaders, are getting back to basics – really understanding their core purpose and core business, understanding the difference they can make in peoples lives and developing contemporary solutions and services around those things.  

 

If you could mentor someone who is just starting out in your field, what advice would you give them? 

Choose a career where there’s a high certainty that you’ll be replaced by AI and retire early 😊. Just joking! Winston Churchill once said ‘Success is not final, failure is not fatal, it’s the courage to continue that counts’.  This is always my mantra, don’t get over inflated by current wins, there could always be something nasty lurking around the corner, but equally dust yourself down after a fall, learn from it and know the sun will break on a new day.  

Jennifer Birks | General Manger, Marketing & Fundraising | Foodbank NSW/ACT

By NPA Member Spotlight, Personal

Jennifer Birks 

General Manger, Marketing & Fundraising 

Foodbank NSW/ACT

Have you always worked in the NFP/ForPurpose sector? What inspired you to join the sector, and what do you find most rewarding about it?

I started my career in corporate marketing and relationship management roles and transitioned into the NFP sector. The transition was sparked by a moment of introspection sitting back in my chair in my last corporate role. I realised I needed to find a way to contribute more meaningfully to the world beyond financial gains. The realisation led me to search for opportunities in the NFP sector and found a role at Sydney Children’s Hospital Foundation. That cause, the role, and the people I worked with then would change everything for me. That was 12 years ago, and I have never looked back! What I find the most rewarding about our sector is the privilege of waking up every morning and knowing that my work will contribute to positive change for those who truly deserve it.

What is the greatest challenge you have experienced as a leader in the NFP sector?

We face challenges all the time in our sector, many can be out of our control like changing governments or changing economic landscapes. I think right now my biggest challenge is how to adopt new technologies and how to attract and retain top talent on tight budgets and I’ve seen this problem come up across our sector so much lately. I don’t know what the solution to either is just yet, but I will keep working at it.

What do you see as critical to leadership and the future of the sector?

We are lucky that our leadership in this sector is always anchored in purpose. It will always involve developing strategies, fostering teams, and engaging stakeholders like many other industries. But it is always centred around a very real and core mission. As our sector evolves, we can’t lose site of the value people and experiences bring to the table. In amongst ever changing tactics, techniques and technology, we need our people to stay empathetic, adaptable, accountable, and resilient. If we bring these attitudes to our work every day, we will be better placed to balance priorities, impact, and financial sustainability.

If you could mentor someone who is just starting out in your field, what advice would you give them?

Stay curious and embrace a growth mindset. Acknowledge that experience, the good the bad and the ugly, are all opportunities to learn and grow. Not every moment in NFP will be warm and fuzzy, but your work will always matter. Let your curiosity drive you to learn from the generous people in our sector and be open to sharing your own experiences when asked. Lastly, always stay deeply connected to the purpose that drives your work.

Bryan Mattes | Strategic Project Manager | SDN Childrens Services

By NPA Member Spotlight, Personal

Bryan Mattes 

Strategic Project Manager

SDN Childrens Services   

Have you always worked in the NFP/ForPurpose sector? What inspired you to join the sector, and what do you find most rewarding about it? 

Oh no, when I first left University, I ended up working for a Japanese investment bank, it took me a couple of years to decide that that was not for me.  I decided to give myself 12 months to extricate myself from banking, deciding I should find a job working on the business side of film or television.  I ended up working in the music industry for a number of different record labels over the next couple of decades.  It was in between record labels (such a stable industry to work in) that I had my first NFP experience – Opera Australia – it was a short engagement before being lured back into commercial music, but it introduced me to the NFP sector and the amazing passion of people who chose to work in the sector – I think I knew then it would always play a large part in my working life.   

Later on I landed at Sculpture by the Sea as General Manager and then later again at Variety – the Children’s Charity (yes, I’ve had a good number of jobs).  I’m currently Strategic Project Manager at SDN Children’s Services, where I’ve been contracting since March 2021, aside from a brief 5 months with Musica Viva Australia in the first half of 2022. 

I think I’ve always been driven by purpose and I know working for the dollar has never been enough for me, I need the connection.  At University I did my honours thesis on Corporate Social Responsibility – pretty out there thinking in the early-mid  90s but I have always believed organisations whether for profit or for purpose have a social contract and should be doing good not just making money. 

What’s most rewarding about it? Too many things: the people I get to work with, the outcomes and impact I help to achieve and the privilege of work being more than just paying the bills. 

 

What is the greatest challenge you have experienced as a leader in the NFP? 

I think there are all the usual changes that come with working in the sector.  Most of my time has been in relatively small NFPs, so there has been that challenge of being a jack-of-all-trades (which I love), doing the resourcing equivalent of the loaves and fishes parable by what is generally called “doing more with less” and even having to justify to people why you and your hard-working team deserve to be appropriately remunerated for your efforts.  

The greatest challenge for me personally, as a leader, was probably working through the first 12 months of COVID-19 and the impact it brought to an event-based not for profit, keeping the doors open, planning and reacting whilst making sure staff felt as safe, secure and supported as I could do through a period of significant societal and organisational turmoil.  I think, as with all challenges, I learnt a lot about myself throughout this time and it has definitely made me a better leader. 

 

What do you see as critical to leadership and the future of the sector? 

If we don’t learn from the lessons of the past, then that’s a wasted opportunity.  We’ve got to, as leaders, give ourselves the time to learn, not just encourage those around us to grow and learn. Leadership has to be an evolving skill, as a sector we’ve got to keep developing leadership skills in ourselves and our teams.   

In terms of critical to the future of the sector, it’s hard, we are so broad in terms of what we all do and what we are all trying to achieve, but I think critical to all our success is TRUST.  Without trust we cannot effectively lead, we can’t advocate, we can’t engage supporters, our organisations can’t fulfil their missions – so I’m going with trust – hard to get, easy to lose! 

 

If you could mentor someone starting out in your field, what advice would you give them? 

In accounting?  Run away…do you really want to do this? 

Seriously though, don’t allow yourself to be pigeonholed as the finance person, get involved in the organisation and the cause or the mission, make sure you are connected to what your organisation is doing.  You’ll learn more from getting out from behind the desk than you will in a spreadsheet. 

I’d be endorsing the whole “ship at 80%” philosophy and acknowledging that that is something I am still working on myself. 

Finally, I’d just encourage them to persevere – there will be times where it’s not fun, where it’s hard, where it feels like “just a job” but the longer you stay, the more times it will be fun, you’ll help people achieve great things and it will be so much more than a job .