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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.

Olivia Mitchell