Doing the right thing – NFPs

We get asked a lot about governance – and it’s amazing how many organisations don’t have the first clue what governance really is! Some think it is having an executive that controls every aspect of the organisation; some think it is having a board of directors that controls the purse strings via a finance and risk committee.

The Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) believes that “Corporate governance is a broad-ranging term which, amongst other things, encompasses the rules, relationships, policies, systems and processes whereby authority within organisations is exercised and maintained.” True good governance, in our minds, results in you having the right people, with the right amount of authority, doing the right things for the business, achieving outcomes that allows transparency for all involved in the business including key stakeholders (such as funding partners), the employees as well as the directors themselves.

We see a lot of organisations bury their head in the sand in regards to governance. Many not for profit organisations hide behind the great emotional connections that the causes they support create, but poor governance creates such a huge potential for really bad things such as fraud, bullying, theft and poor performance which could put them in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. Directors cannot ignore governance, as it starts at the top.

High performing boards of directors, together with the CEO / Executive need to establish a solid governance framework, lead by example and foster a culture where accountability and responsibility are important, together with an environment where taking measured risks is okay– that’s how we innovate, learn and grow.

We would suggest that a good governance framework should include:

– Board effectiveness (including board performance and the contribution of the directors of the organisation);

– Methods how governance is applied in the organisation (this may be organisation structure, delegations, separation of duties); and

– The strength of the relationships with its stakeholders.

Do this stuff badly, and the consequences can be far reaching. Finding yourself on the front page of news media can impact future funding sources, limit your ability to hire key talent and most importantly dilute the important outcomes that you are working so hard to achieve.

Blogging About Blogging

Steve Jobs believed that marketing is about value, which in a very complicated world, we have to be very clear about what we want people to know and remember about our brand.
Writing a Blog is a very powerful content marketing tool. People seem to be intimidated by the thought of their writing being exposed to the public eye in the form of a blog. The reality is people love to read other people’s writing. In a first year marketing subject, students are assessed on their ability to blog and interact with other students’ blogs through a comment function. This shows how effective a blog can be as a communication tool.
At Solve, we blog in order to get our personality across and therefore like-minded people (our target market) will hopefully be more inclined to do business with us.

The purchase decision of a good or service usually stems from initial problem recognition –this can be an active problem that the customer is aware of or an inactive problem that the customers are unaware of until the marketer creates it for them. The motivation then comes from the customer wish to convert their actual state into the desired state. So as marketers, it is extremely important to understand the customer needs as well as understanding who our customer actually is.

Actual state>Tension>Desired state

After writing a few experimental type blogs on various subjects, you start to gauge what your audience likes (customer needs). Here are some simple steps to blogging success:

1. Identify your target audience; what kind of traffic do you want through your website? What are these desired customers interested in? Base your topics on this market research.

2. Form the consumer’s “Black Box”; the characteristics of your readers, what are they searching? Get into their mind, become the reader.

3. Create a blog calendar; helps you keep on top of the regular blogging updates. Who is writing this week?

4. Promote your blog on Social Media platforms; this is a digital marketing strategy to get your blogging name known in the online world. This includes sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Linked.In etc.

5. Track your analytics; Your success as a blogger can be tracked and analysed using sites such as bitly, GoogleAnalytics and on the various Social Media sites themselves (Twitter, Facebook, Linked.In). Which post has been the most successful? This also helps to narrow and pinpoint your target audience.

Blogging is a fun way to get your own or your business’ personality out there! Whatever you do, don’t rant! Blogs can be educational or just insightful.

Write what you know, you never know who might be interested.



I remember listening to Luke Darcy (ex AFL player) talk about the volume of feedback he used to get from his coach while playing at the elite level in the AFL.  In contrast, once playing had finished and he had taken up a corporate role, he said that he basically got none! He actually recounts that he found this a bit odd, and also that it was hard to know if he was doing the right thing.

Giving and receiving feedback is a hard thing to do.  I know I have received some great feedback over the years – and some of it really hard to stomach. A lot of it boils down to how people perceive you.  Often you think that you are doing the best, achieving great outcomes, but how you are perceived to be doing the things that you do is very often different from your view. I have also found it really hard to give the type of feedback that will be challenging to hear.

Bill Gates is quoted as saying “We all need people who will give us feedback.  That’s how we improve”.  It’s so true! Why don’t we do it more?  We are all happy to “like” a Facebook post, we “retweet” a good twitter comment – all giving the author, immediate feedback!  Yet when it comes to our organisations, we unhappily in most cases, undertake an annual review process, where we give and get feedback, typically well after any of the events that really matter – not much chance of improvement there hey!

I think we should all try to give more feedback – good and challenging – to help us all improve our human capital.  I think that we should also have an open mind when receiving the feedback – it might not always be right, but beware of ignoring it!


CEO for Hire

My current assignment came about from a quick conversation at a community get together one weekend. One minute I was planning my Monday around my son’s swimming class and some grocery shopping and the next I was preparing to step into the CEO’s chair at a local community run family and children’s centre the following morning.

What do you know about running a childcare facility you may well ask? Well other than dropping my son off there 4 times a week – not a lot would have probably been my answer 8 weeks ago.  But in that time I’ve learned a huge amount about leadership in what is a very emotive field. Your key customers are parents who leave their most precious possessions in your care every day and they expect the best in terms of educational service delivery. At the same time it is a field which struggles to retain the funding it needs and where operations are run on margins of as little as 3 – 5%.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how much the role of a leader translates across disciplines and how much I have enjoyed using my skills in a new field. In a short time I’ve had the opportunity to learn about many of the challenges of operating in a sector where the regulatory requirements are high, staff turnover is high and yet the funding is low. It has been really insightful to learn from educators, health workers and other support functions about what a CEO can do to make to their jobs easier, as well as fulfilling and rewarding.

So would I do it all again if another opportunity came along? Absolutely. Taking on this role has really highlighted to me the opportunities that exist out there to support small community focused organisations that do not have the organisational depth to fill such senior roles when they become vacant. Whether your CEO wants to take long service leave, or you just have a gap while you search for the ideal permanent candidate there are alternatives out there for small organisations who need to keep the ship afloat. So don’t always look for obvious and you could be pleasantly surprised at the results.


Ultimately, CSR should be all about the satisfaction of contributing to better another’s life. I can still recall as a child, my parents allowed me to sponsor a child in Thailand through World Vision. This act filled me with such gratitude in my young innocence, as I knew that even a small margin of my pocket money was helping this teenage girl and her family. We wrote to each other for years and she provided me with the details of how my money enriched her standard of living. An important aspect of a healthy soul is self-reassurance; to know how you are helping someone in the best way you can. For an organisation to feel as if their contribution is valid, this reinforces their need to continue this pattern of investment in the future.
If you have the financial resources and are willing to support a cause, where do you turn?  For many companies with the enough means to make a difference to entrepreneurial ventures, there is a difficulty at the point of connection. Direct contact to an organisation can be unsuccessful without the sufficient contacts of the people behind the project.  There are emerging groups that are connecting these causes with some of the funding (like The Funding Network Australia), however, most find it difficult to make the connection.

Also, once you or your organisation has contributed the means, you want to know your impact right? How do you know if the company that your organisation funded is using this money to better their cause?
We think that it really boils down to trust. As you invest, you trust. There is a certain corporate social responsibility that involves ensuring investments are beneficial. To ensure the funding is worth it however, you or your company should maintain communication with the group you have invested in. A healthy relationship between those who invest and those who receive is essential in the network of funding. But how do you do that – and do you have the time?

At Solve, we aim to help these community-oriented groups achieve great things by providing them with business advice.  If you would like to support these groups, but don’t know how, we would be more than happy to discuss CSR relationships with you that can really make a difference.


One thing that never ceases to amaze me – the difficulties that organisations have in setting their annual budgets, or even more amazingly, orgainsations that don’t even set project budgets!  They continue to wonder why they experience cash flow issues throughout the year, and that projects cost them so much more than they expected.  I’m not saying that by just having a budget everything is ok. I mean that but having a well thought through effective budget for normal operating conditions, together with your projects, you are much more likely to achieve your objectives.

I am a big fan of “bottom up” budgets – i.e. they need to be based on assumptions.  I have seen many projects and business units completely miss their forecast expenditure or revenue by not have sound assumptions.
To help you overcome this often-difficult task, here are a few key ways to deliver a pretty accurate budget:

– Start with what is it that you want to achieve – your strategy/implementation plan for the year is the best base.  This will guide your assumptions.  For example, you may have no special projects, and have an ordinary operating year, or you expect to have significant office costs due to a relocation etc.

– Develop your baseline with your chart of accounts – its no good to develop something that you won’t easily be able to report against.  The Chart of accounts doesn’t have to be pages and pages, but it’s a really good idea to allocate costs against these line items.

– Look backwards – as much as possible, get last year’s actual costs and revenue and review the year to see if there were any learning’s / events that will help your assumptions this period.  Try to avoid the “last years budget plus 3%”!

– Develop the assumptions for each account, and write them down – 2 reasons: (i) so that the estimate has some basis, and (ii) so you can revisit, during the year or next year.

– Do the math – check the flow of costs too.  While the budget will most likely be a profit and loss statement, you need to check the timing of the costs.  A cash flow analysis is critical to ensure that you don’t run short of cash.

– Finally, do some analysis.  Check you elements against last year’s budgets, and where you can, get some industry statistics too.  They other thing that is often missed, check to see if things like superannuation amounts are correct (they are going up to 9.5% on 1 July 2014).

By being a bit analytical (that’s what I love), then you can have something that can help you achieve your objectives, and keep your stakeholder’s informed with your progress too.


A lot of people think that writing business cases, plans and funding applications is a complex and drawn out process.  I don’t reckon it needs to be.  Over many years, I believe that the best and most successful submissions are based on a set of sound principles:

1. Start at what’s wrong (or what the opportunity is)…
– What are the current issues?
– What is ‘broken’/ or could be improved?
– Why does it need to be ‘fixed’?
– What evidence is there?

2. Look at what can be done to ‘fix’ the issues…
– What are the options?
– What are the compelling reasons for the reader to buy in to fixing your issue/s?

3. Describe what success looks like…
– What are the benefits that result from the solutions?
– Finally, ensure that you describe all of this in a ‘story’ with your audience in mind.

Often, we focus on the solution to the problem, and not what is broken and what to do to fix it.  I don’t know how many workshops I have facilitated where the attendees already have a solution in mind – and this mindset often misses ‘left of field’ opportunities to resolve the issues more efficiently.

Listening is really important too. I can remember one specific meeting with my CEO, with one of the first Government funding submissions I was involved with (for then named Expenditure Review Committee ‘ERC’, a subcommittee of the Victorian Government Cabinet).  I had drafted a detailed document, and we sat down for a review.  She provided some great comment on the document, and I sat there, getting more and more frustrated, defending the drafting of the document.  What I missed at that meeting, and what I now know is critical for success, is that you are writing for others, not yourself.

Other’s perceptions and opinions are critical.  That’s not to say that every comment or feedback you get is important – it means that for the document to be successful, you need to understand who your audience is, and write a compelling story for them.  If you are able to get feedback directly from who is to provide funding, listen very carefully – tease out what is important for them to buy in to your story.  Doing this is no guarantee of funding, but often gives you a much better chance.


After recently turning 18 I have discovered adult life. Opportunities such as driving, drinking and clubbing presented themselves (not all at the same time). Like many others, I was desperate to get my license, as this was the ultimate step in independence. After one failed attempt, I passed the test and was on the road. I bought my own car a few weeks before my birthday and was keen to drive everywhere and anywhere until the expenses of running a car kicked in. I guess as a kid we never realise what our parents pay for and how expensive it is to live.

I also started uni a week after I turned 18; a transition of which proved to be difficult. Uni is very different to school life and I found that it was in fact quite hard to make friends! I am six weeks in and can’t say that even now I have made many friends. That’s what I loved about being at school, seeing your friends everyday and being there for them. Now it’s everyone for themselves. The lecturers don’t care if you pass or fail; nobody cares which does not provide much incentive to pass. The incentive to pass is the threat of repeating and lengthening your course. I question whether I like the course I am doing because you have to be so self motivated to do your best. This is where my new job at Solve comes in.

In January I started working for Solve and I loved it. I felt I was really contributing by bringing my youthful experience with social media and knowledge of my generation. This job is easy to balance with uni because I am practicing the work I am doing in my course. I learn things in class that I then use a few days later at the office. This industry application definitely makes my course worth it.


For a number of years I’ve had it on my bucket list to do some volunteer work but with a family and a busy travel schedule with work there never seemed to be enough time in the day. Then at the end of last year having been made redundant and finding myself at home with time on my hands I finally found the opportunity to give it a go.

Since January this year I have been helping out at the Alannah & Madeline Foundation (AMF) with their Buddy Bag Program. Buddy Bags contain new and essential items such as toiletries, pyjamas, socks, underwear and a pillowcase, as well as comfort items such as a book, photo frame and teddy bear. They are provided to children who are placed into emergency care as a result of family violence – often leaving behind all of their belongings. Buddy Bags are something children can call their own, no matter where they go, restoring a sense of safety and security into their lives during a traumatic time. Since 2007, AMF have delivered more than 40,000 Buddy Bags to children across Australia.

On a Tuesday I go to AMF to help unpack the many supplies that come in every month to make up all of the different components of the Buddy Bags. The many hundreds of teddies, pyjamas, books and other items need to be unpacked, sorted and grouped into age categories. These are then ready for corporate volunteers to fill into backpacks.

My experience of volunteering with AMF has been an extremely rewarding one. It has allowed me to take part in a more hands on, practical activity, which is pretty novel for me after years in a desk-based role. It has also been nice to undertake a task with such pertinent and tangible outcomes. Every two weeks a large number of bags move out of the packing facility and you know that at the end of the chain there is a child who has been through a terribly traumatic experience who is snuggling into bed with a new teddy! So every time I unpack a teddy from a box and place it on the shelf I sprinkle it with a little bit of love.

Volunteering gives you the opportunity to meet new people from all walks of life. It allows you to utilise your skills in a new environment and also learn some new ones. It also allows you to see and hear first hand some of realities of modern life where not every one is fortunate enough to be surrounded by a loving family and wake up in a warm familiar bed every morning. It’s that kind of experience that gives you context that just dropping a $2 coin in a tin will never do. So give it a go…


In late 2013 I was made redundant from a senior role in a large global pharmaceutical company. Having spent my whole working life in large multinationals, it was bit of a shock to be confronted by the world at large and it was very tempting to jump back into the next senior role that came along. But after taking a break to enjoy some time with the family, I realised that this was in fact a great opportunity to see how NFPs, government organisations and other small to medium sized businesses operate and apply my skills in a different environment.

Having taken the leap into the family business, I have been very pleasantly surprised at the challenge and opportunity this presents without much of the burden of a high pressure senior role. It’s clear there are very talented people out there doing great things without any of the infrastructure or support provided by an MNC. In fact the spirit of innovation and ability to make quick decisions is totally refreshing. I’ve been able to achieve much more balance in life which has been great for my health and for the family too.

Sure there are downsides, such as if your computer conks out there is no IT helpline to call and when stationary cupboard is bare you have to get yourself down to Officeworks to replenish supplies. But overall, it has been a breath of fresh air to see how others do things (in many cases with less funds and resources), yet the quality of the outputs are just as effective – if not more impactful to society in many cases. So it’s goodbye to the corporate world for me… for now at least.