One clever and generous organisation is helping staff in not-for-profits get the professional development they need.
Many not-for-profit organisations struggle to find or justify the funds for professional development. Yet it’s desperately needed in the rapidly growing sector to help keep skills up-to-date, train new staff and to improve employment engagement and retention.
Enter the Australian Scholarships Foundation (ASF), formed seven years ago with the aim of lifting PD investment in the NFP sector. Since then it’s awarded 2000 scholarships worth $4 million to NFP directors and staff.
The Foundation was started by a small group of business people and educators, who were frustrated about the NFP sector’s focus on low overhead costs, especially education, training and development. They decided to stop donating to NFPs and instead start investing in NFP people.
ASF funds its scholarships by grants from private donations and does not receive government funding. It acts mostly as a facilitator negotiating donated places in education,
In-kind and pro bono assistance such as legal services and advice, provision of office space as needed, course development, website support and hosting and hospitality services has been generously donated by a number of ASF Supporters. The ASF business model therefore requires minimal staffing.
“When the Productivity Commission reviewed the NFP sector, it identified the lack of key competencies as a major obstacle to its long-term viability,” says foundation CEO Amy Lyden. “Its seminal report in 2010 recommended increasing the scale and quality of governance, leadership and management capacity of NFPs so they can sustain and maximise their contribution to society.”
No successful for-profit organisation would intentionally underinvest in the very people accountable for delivering results, and NFPs are no different, says Lyden.
However, many NFPs don’t have the capacity to fund the closure of knowledge gaps. Adding to the problem are changes in the regulatory environment, and expectations from funders and the public that they minimise ‘administration costs’.
Furthermore, as with private enterprises, NFPs are operating in an era when being agile and innovative are crucial to achieving goals, and sometimes even to survival.
“With less funding around, and increased demand for their services, operating as an NFP is more challenging than ever before,” says Lyden. “The leadership capacity [of boards and executive staff] is the key to successfully manoeuvring in this difficult environment.”
Other organisations offer NFP training in the form of research and benchmarking, learning through networking, mentor and advisory programs, and formal and informal learning and development training. However, the ASF is the only Australian organisation solely focused on facilitating access to scholarships for NFP boards and managers to undertake education, training and development programs that improve their ability to lead and manage.
The ASF acts as a sort of ‘honest broker’, coordinating training programs for NFPs through the Australian Institute of Company Directors; West Australian Council of Social Service; Harvard Club of Australia; Institute of Community Directors Australia; Melbourne, New South Wales, Queensland, Deakin and Australian Catholic universities; CPA Australia; Institute of Chartered Accountants of Australia; Kaplan Business School; Kaplan Higher Education; Elkiem; Australian-American Fulbright Commission; and Australian Businesswomen’s Network.
NFPs are answerable to their board of directors, so it’s no surprise that governance is one of the most popular ASF training topics for 2015.
“Governance continues to be in demand, as well as senior leadership courses,” says Lyden. “Most of the governance training is aimed at current directors of NFPs, whereas leadership and management course scholarships are targeted at senior managers employed by NFPs.”
As well as accounting for a major chunk of the workforce, Australia’s 600,000 NFPs are by no means bit players in the national economy. The sector injected almost $55 billion into the economy in 2012–13 – a $22 billion increase on 2006–07 – according to Australian Bureau of Statistics figures. At $37 billion, labour costs were far and away the NFPs’ biggest expense in 2012–13.