Welcome back students

The semester is now in full swing with assessments due, lectures to attend, and friendly new faces from the mid-year intake.

On Friday 28th June we welcomed our mid-year intake for their Orientation Day where new students took part in team building activities, familiarised themselves with QUT systems and learned more about what to expect from the course.

We loved welcoming this passionate and inspiring group of students and look forward to learning more about their aspirations as the weeks go by.

The new students then joined the rest of our cohort for the intensive weekend where they took part in the first lecture for teaching periods four and five.

Our scholarship and bursary processes are now well underway and we thank those who have contributed to helping us shape these leaders of the sector. Congratulations to all have applied and we will be in contact soon.

Give our new students a wave if you see them around campus!

Congratulations to our 2018 Prize Recipients

On Friday 28th June we celebrated the achievements of our 2018 cohorts of the Master of Business and Graduate Certificate in Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies at our annual Prize Night.

Students, alumni and their families joined faculty and industry to celebrate the achievements of this fantastic group of change-makers and recognise those who achieved exceptional results.

This night would not have been possible without the generous support of our prize sponsors whose contributions we are so grateful for.

The course prizes and their recipients were:

McCullough Robertson Prize for best overall performance in the Master of Business — Rizka Astari

Board Matters Prize for best overall performance in the Graduate Certificate — Leanne Butterworth

Morag Hocknull Inaugural Alumni President’s Perpetual Prize — Catherine Williams

The unit prizes and their recipients were:

Directors Australia Prize for best academic result in GSN481 — Leanne Butterworth

Purpose at Work Prize for best academic result in GSN483— Leanne Butterworth

ACPNS Alumni Chapter Prize for best academic result in GSN484 — Sarah Barrett

Neumann & Turnour Lawyers Prize for best academic result in GSN485 — Leanne Butterworth

BDO Prize for best academic result in GSN486 — Leanne Butterworth

Windsor Group Prize for best academic result in GSN487 — Leanne Butterworth

AskRIGHT Prize for best academic result in GSN488 — Leanne Butterworth

Strategic Grants Prize for best academic result in GSN489 — Leanne Butterworth

Congratulations to all of the prize recipients and thank you again to our prize sponsors.

We are already enormously proud of the achievements of our 2019 cohorts and look forward to celebrating them next year.

DYO – How leaders can help their team become resilient when stress and change are the norm

Thank you to ACPNS Researcher, Dr Ruth Knight for this article.

What is workplace stress?

Most teams experience some stress and change at work. Sometimes a stress response can be an appropriate, even beneficial reaction. Associate Professor Daniela Kaufer suggests short-lived stress can improve alertness and performance and boost memory (Jaret, 2015). However, when stress is excessive, too frequent, or overwhelming it affects a person’s ability to think and perform their job well, because they are in survival mode. Chronic or toxic stress very quickly not only affects a person’s mental health, but their physical health and overall wellbeing.

Stress is a response that occurs in the brain. Whilst our brain has an amazing ability to change and adapt (look up neuroplasticity), leaders need to ensure the right conditions to help team members be less reactive and able to stay calm when faced with stressful or complex challenges. The aim should be to help people be resilient and open to change, because then they are more likely to remain highly engaged and satisfied with their work.

Whilst there are many different factors that can cause a stress response, ‘change’ is a very common trigger. Leaders should be very alert to the signs of people feeling stressed if people are being asked to change what they do or how they work, or if there is a lot of change going on at work.

How big is the issue and what is the cost?

Based on an analysis of Australian workers’ compensation claims considered ‘serious’ and lodged in 2016-2017, Safe Work Australia (Safe Work Australia, 2018) report around over 6,500 claims were linked to work-related stress or mental stress. The cost for individuals and employers is staggering as many people have to take a lengthy time off work to recover, it affects their physical and mental wellbeing and functioning. There is also often a direct cost for those employees that suffer from stress, with the median cost for these compensation claims being $28,400 in 2015-16.

It has been suggested that employee’s self-efficacy, energy, motivation to perform efficiently and work efficiently, decreases with increased levels of stress and they are more likely to leave their job if they do not feel they can manage workplace stress (Colligan & Higgins, 2006). Therefore presenteeism, absenteeism and turnover due to stress is most likely cost the economy billions of dollars a year.

Do leaders have a duty of care?

Yes. ‘Health’ is defined in the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act) as both physical and psychological health. Safeguarding the health, welfare and human rights of employees when we design and manage our workplace is a legal obligation so all leaders have a duty of care to ensure that stress does not harmfully affect employee performance. Like all workplace health and safety risks, leaders of teams have a duty of care to identify the areas within the workplace that are likely to cause stress, assess and control the risks, and also review the controls and their effectiveness.

While we cannot avoid all stress and change, leaders do have a role and responsibility to help their team members prevent and manage work-related mental stress. Getting to know team members well, and staying alert to signs of stress, is critical. However, providing early support for employees and helping them to develop resilience has the best outcomes.

Ways leaders can help their team

While there are many different ways leaders can help and support their team, I want to review three team resilience strategies that neuroscientists and researchers suggest: curate positive experiences; create psychological safety and communicate the value of generosity. 

Curate positive connections and experiences

Research by Ogbonnaya, Tillman and Gonzalez (2018) suggests that when team members feel positive about the team, and feel supported, this improves the quality of employees’ functioning at work. Positive experiences of the team can also improve employees’ sense of attachment towards the organisation, suggesting that even during times of stress, employee turnover can be minimised.

In the book Resilient: how to grow an unshakable core of calm, strength, and happiness (Hanson & Hanson, 2018), Rick Hanson explains that any kind of team work involves an opportunity for your brain to develop its neural structure or function. Experiences processed in the brain and remembered, become ways we interpret and think about future experiences. This can either be a good or bad thing, depending on what our experience was, how often it occurred and what we learnt from it.

An example is how we perceive others we work with in our team. If an experience with a colleague is respectful, kind, encouraging and helpful, this will affect your attitudes and perceptions of that person. The more similar experiences, the more likely your perception of them becomes embedded and you will act respectfully and helpfully towards them. If you have enough of those experiences you begin to internalise that working with this person is safe and satisfying. Imagine working with that person on a tough assignment, or on a complex challenge, or a difficult project? It is highly likely that because of your experience of your colleague being respectful, encouraging and helpful, you will be calmer, listen and share your thoughts more effectively, experience higher morale and learn more during the process.

When a team is going through stress and change Hansen suggests that leaders should help the team become much more conscious of positive experiences within the team, so that these positive memories register in emotional memory. He says that more attention needs to be given to positive expectations about oneself, others, and the future. This is the legitimate basis of “verified optimism”. This results in team members becoming happier through having repeated experiences of positive connection and safety, which gets encoded – installed – into the brain. Hansen reiterates that without installation, there is no learning, no change: in effect, the experience is wasted on the brain. Leaders must bring skilful attention to installing these experiences in the groups’ collective and shared consciousness, so that these experiences have enduring benefit for individuals and the group.

As an example, imagine a team leader who wanted to change the way his/her team members thought about and talked to each other about fundraising. Typically in this team fundraising had been seen as an awkward and uncomfortable topic, and something to be avoided by the team as it was the fundraisers job, not theirs. The team leader decided to start talking to the team about how the funds generated from fundraising were making a difference to their workplace and their clients’ lives. Every time to the team met at team meetings, supervision or other practice meetings, the team leader asked about how the results of fundraising made the team feel. The team leader consistently created a positive narrative for the team members, and eventually the team started to offer stories of how raising funds for the organisation had made a real impact.  Once the team had experienced and heard repeated positive connections between what fundraising was, and what it achieved, the team members felt safer about the idea, that fundraising was something they could all support. Together they discussed some changes that needed to occur to improve their confidence and skills in relation to fundraising and asking people to support the organisation as donors. They decided voluntarily to become donors themselves so they could comfortably share with their friends and family how important donations were, and they started to think about new and innovative services for their clients that needed funding. This consistent narrative transformed the culture within the team, it helped the team embrace, not fear the changes that were needed. In addition, it supported the team to reduce the stress surrounding the challenges of seeking and securing new funders and donors. It helped the team think more creatively about working alongside the fundraising team, and working together to achieve their goals.

Create and foster psychological safety

Given that much of the work at Google is done collaboratively by teams, Google researchers conducted a study to answer the question: “What makes a team effective?” They discovered how teams worked together was the important factor and particularly what stood out was a team culture characterised by psychological safety. This refers to an individual’s perception of the consequences of taking an interpersonal risk. Do they believe it is safe in that team to take risks without being seen as ignorant, incompetent, negative, or disruptive?

It takes many learning experiences for a person to gain psychological safety within a team. They must experience (time and time again) people’s respect and understanding when they work together on a challenge or a stressful experience. Researcher Amy Edmondson, author of the book The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth (Edmondson, 2018), defines psychological safety as a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking. She suggests that once a team feels psychologically safe their brain allows them to engage more easily in behaviours such as seeking feedback, asking for help, speaking up about concerns or mistakes, and sharing ideas. Positive experiences allow the team to feel safe about sharing when they are stressed, feel uncertain about change or feel vulnerable. If the team can share these thoughts and emotions, it leads to a supportive culture and increased team performance.

In her TEDx talk called ‘Building a psychologically safe workplace’, Edmondson offers three simple steps individuals can take to foster team psychological safety:

  • Frame work as a learning problem, not an execution problem.
  • Acknowledge your own fallibility.
  • Model curiosity and ask lots of questions.

Psychological safety involves feeling sure that we will not be punished nor negatively judged for mistakes or failures or for challenging the status quo. But this isn’t easy, we have to feel confident there will be no blame and criticism when sharing ideas or speaking up. Researcher and author of Dare to Lead (Brown, 2018), Brene Brown suggests this blame is often at odds with vulnerability, an attribute that powerfully helps people cope with stress and become resilient. Brown suggests listening, staying curious, being honest, and keeping confidences help build team respect and trust, the attributes of high performing teams.

Research conducted by Ang, Uthaman, Ayre, Lim, & Lopez (2018) confirmed that the degree of resilience can determine job satisfaction and staff retention. They identified that there were found key factors that supported the nurses in their study to be resilient. They identified that religion and faith helps to build resilience; and having the support of others is important in overcoming work‐related stress and being able to perform duties despite adversities. They conclude that building resilience is important to improve and sustain healthy and effective functioning of employees but resilience is a dynamic process that develops over time so psychosocial support from managers may be a crucial protective factor for employees with stressful jobs.

To foster a culture that values psychological safety, The Greater Good Science Centre  suggests that leaders should begin training their team members to gain the skills of non-judgemental talking and accurate non-judgemental listening. At team meetings, in the lunch room and whenever you connect with others during the day, team members need to replace (often unconscious) negativity and blame, with (conscious) curiosity and acceptance. Ask your team to trial this every day for a few weeks then share with each other what they’ve learnt, how they’ve felt and how it has impacted on their team relationships and ability to cope with stress and change.

Communicate the value of generosity

You might not immediately relate the virtue generosity with managing stress and becoming resilient. Yet there is research that has made the link. It appears that people who make generous choices report more self-reported happiness, and Gur (2017) conducted some studies to establish that generosity at work, especially when done genuinely from the heart, could promote a prosocial workplace climate and make the atmosphere more enjoyable and the work less stressful. This means that generosity can reduce the stress people experience, which then supports them to continue helping each other and maintain the prosocial climate of their team.

When stress affects individuals it can lower trust within the team. Stress can trigger fight-or-flight behaviour characterised by increased anxiety, which can ultimately affect social decision-making. Generosity can counteract this, so sharing information, showing emotional and physical support, communicating understanding during meetings, and showing gratitude towards colleagues, might be ways to help people feel calmer during times of change, and make better decisions.

A word of caution – generosity appears to work best before a team experiences toxic stress. If stress is already overwhelming an individual or team and they are unable to benefit from generosity because of poor trust and self-interested group dynamics, a leader may find that generous acts do not have the ability to significantly reduce the stress and additional strategies may be needed.

Most teams however are likely to benefit from generosity. Leaders can start promoting generosity by modelling transparency, communicating frequently, giving timely and constructive feedback, making fair decisions in the best interests of the team, informally and formally helping the team and supporting them to achieve their goals, being generous (in a genuine and fair way) with praise and encouragement, and building trust and respect within the team.

Generosity is a characteristic, not just an action, however your team will notice all the times that you authentically do something in order to help or support the team. The simplest kind and generous gesture might be all your team members need, to help them become more resilient.

Reflection questions for leaders and teams

  1. What are your perceptions of your team? Do you have strong psychological safety?
  2. How can you purposefully create new positive experiences and attitudes about how the team manages stress?
  3. How do you demonstrate and promote generosity within the team?
  4. Is building resilience a top priority for you as a leader? How can you make it a more important conversation and attribute of your team? 


Ang, S., Uthaman, T., Ayre, T., Lim, S., & Lopez, V. (2018). A Photovoice study on nurses’ perceptions and experience of resiliency. Journal of Nursing Management. https://doi.org/10.1111/jonm.12702

Brown, B. (2018). Dare to lead : brave work, tough conversations, whole hearts (First edition.). New York: Random House.

Colligan, T., & Higgins, E. (2006). Workplace Stress: Etiology and Consequences. Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health, 21(2), 89–97.

Edmondson, A. (2018). The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth. New York: Wiley & Sons.

Edmondson, A.C. (1999). “Psychological safety and learning behavior in work teams”, Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol. 44 No. 2, pp. 350-383.

Glanville, J., Paxton, P., & Wang, Y. (2016). Social Capital and Generosity: A Multilevel Analysis. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 45(3), 526–547.

Gur, S. (2017). Generosity at Work: Generous Identity, Organizational Context, and Organizational Citizenship Behaviors. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1927182049/

Hanson, R., & Hanson, F. (2018). Resilient : how to grow an unshakable core of calm, strength, and happiness (First edition.). New York: Harmony Books.

Jaret, P. (2015, October 20). The Surprising Benefits of Stress. Retrieved from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/the_surprising_benefits_of_stress

Kompier, M., & Cooper, C. (1999). Preventing stress, improving productivity : European case studies in the workplace. London; Routledge.

Ogbonnaya, C., Justice Tillman, C., & Gonzalez, K. (2018). Perceived Organizational Support in Health Care: The Importance of Teamwork and Training for Employee Well-Being and Patient Satisfaction. Group & Organization Management, 43(3), 475–503. https://doi.org/10.1177/1059601118767244

Cauwelier, P., Ribière, V. M., Bennet, A. (2016). “Team psychological safety and team learning: a cultural perspective”, The Learning Organization, Vol. 23 Issue: 6, pp.458-468, https://doi.org/10.1108/TLO-05-2016-0029

Safe Work Australia (2018) Australian workers’ compensation statistics 2016-17 Retrieved from: https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/doc/australian-workers-compensation-statistics-2016-17

Van Lange, P., Ouwerkerk, J., & Tazelaar, M. (2002). How to overcome the detrimental effects of noise in social interaction: the benefits of generosity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82(5), 768–780. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.82.5.768

Other Links









[R1]Add link https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuroplasticity

[R2](link https://youtu.be/LhoLuui9gX8 )

[R3]link https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/


Lions Club offers new scholarship for ACPNS students

Pic – Col Lynam and President, Narelle Wyvill-Anstey

Thank you to the Southern Star for publishing this article on 6 June, 2019.

Education and community service are at the heart of a new bursary being offered by the Lions Club of Brisbane MacGregor.

President Narelle Wyvill-Anstey and fellow member and QUT alumnus Colin Lynam will present a $3400 scholarship to a deserving QUT Business School — Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies (ACPNS) student.

Applications for the inaugural Lions Club of Brisbane Macgregor Community Service Scholarship open on June 3 and close a month later.

“Lions clubs have a strong commitment to and a longstanding tradition of using financial resources from funds raised towards community projects and communities in need,” Mrs Wyvill-Anstey said.

“We hope this scholarship will both inspire and support a person wanting to make a difference in the community sector and more broadly encourage volunteer activity.

“As a teacher and a Lion, I was very keen to promote and support this proposal and saw the great benefit to a student who wants to enrol in this course of study, the benefit to the community at large and to our Lions club which would gain a willing volunteer.

“Volunteering is a practical part of the course requirement. It would be a win-win situation.” The $3400 scholarship will be paid progressively after successful completion of each unit of the Graduate Certificate of Business (Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies).

Mrs Wyvill-Anstey said if it proved beneficial to all parties and future funding was available, she hoped the partnership with ACPNS will continue.

Find out more about The Brisbane Macgregor Lions Club Community Service Scholarship.

Scholarships & bursaries for philanthropy, nonprofit and social enterprise students

Students enrolling in mid-2019 and 2020 may be eligible to apply for:


Need more inspiration?

Why study with the Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies (ACPNS)?

We can think of lots of reasons.

If you want to make a positive difference in the world, you’ve come to the right place. At ACPNS we foster community leaders. Our 500+ alumni are highly sought-after in the philanthropy and nonprofit sector and are making a difference in many parts of the world.

You can too.

First rate courses

Globally recognised qualifications: Our courses are internationally recognised and respected and we are one of the pioneering centres for philanthropy, nonprofit and social enterprise studies in Australia.

Flexibility: Study on campus in Brisbane or online from anywhere. Six week teaching periods allow you to get a valuable qualification under your belt in less than a year.

Tailored to you: Our Masters program can be tailored to your desired focus area, whether that’s fundraising, management, HR or other specialized areas. You may even have the option to complete some of your studies overseas.

Smaller class numbers: The average class number for our Graduate Certificate in Business (Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies) is 42. Smaller classes mean you receive more personalised attention and input from your lecturers.


Build your networks

Experienced lecturers: Our lecturers are experts in their fields with high level practical experience, a forefront role in philanthropy, nonprofit and social enterprise research and a passion for teaching. They genuinely care about their students’ success. We hear time and time again that what sets us apart is the personal time and attention our students receive from their lecturers.

Like-minded fellow students: You will be studying with people who are just as passionate about the sector as you are and you will become part of a vibrant network of people who have the skills and know-how to bring about positive change.

Lifelong learning: We offer our alumni access to free resources and annual professional development opportunities, allowing them to stay front-and-centre of what’s happening in the sector, long after they’ve left the classroom.

37% – The percentage of ACPNS students who have an active involvement with the Centre, its lecturers and alumni after graduation – much higher than any other area across the university.


Make a difference

Enhance your nonprofit career or transition into a new one: The sector’s demand for qualified professionals continues to grow. By studying with ACPNS, YOU can make a difference by fortifying your credentials as a specialist in the sector.

Use your newfound skills to change the world: Our alumni are making a difference in many parts of the world, changing the lives of thousands of people for the better every day. You can too.

81% – Percentage of ACPNS alumni working in senior/high level positions in the sector

11% – Percentage of ACPNS alumni working in countries other than Australia

9% – Percentage of ACPNS alumni who have founded their own nonprofit or philanthropic organisation


Don’t believe us?

Hear from our students and alumni on how their studies have helped them.


Book in for a consult

We love to chat! To find out more about our courses, simply call us on + 61 7 3138 1020 or email acpns@qut.edu.au for a free course information pack.

Learnings From May’s Tea & Buns

Tea & Buns, a monthly community of practice facilitated by ACPNS, was held again on Thursday 30th May.

Attendees were fortunate enough to hear from three special guests; Sandy Blackburn-Wright – Managing Director of Social Outcomes, Dr Lyn Alderman – Principal of The Evaluators’ Collective, and Sara Parrott – Head of Corporate Responsibility at Suncorp Group and Chair of SIMNA Qld.

Topics explored in this meeting included measuring social impact, staffing, and SIMNA with questions discussed including:

  • What has led to people talking about outcome and impact measurement?
  • How does outcomes and impact measurement benefit an organisation?
  • Is there a right or wrong way to measure outcomes?
  • Is there a difference between evaluation and measuring outcomes?
  • Do staff need training?
  • What’s the best way to talk to staff about outcomes and impact measurement? How do we lead change?
  • Do we need our Board to understand what is involved?
  • What is SIMNA?

Tea & Buns aims to create an opportunity for those working in nonprofit and social innovation to learn from each other, discuss the latest research and how we can apply research to our work. Learning resources shared at May’s meeting included videos on designing a logic model, measuring your social impact: theory of change, and a TEDx talk on principles of social impact.

Other resources like LBG, the global standard in measuring and managing corporate community investment, and SIMNA membership were also included.

The webinar is online, free and gives you access to a vibrant network of like-minded people, including researchers at QUT. Register for next month’s meeting here.

Upcoming Event: Eidos Seminar – Reshaping Culture, Reclaiming Trust, June 3rd

You’re invited! 


On June 3rd 2019, the Eidos Institute, in partnership with the QUT Business School, is hosting a seminar: “Reshaping Culture, Reclaiming Trust,” and you’re invited! Keynote speakers include Terry Moran AC (Former Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet), who will draw on his career in the public service and his role as Chair of Centre for Policy and Development to speak on the topic of ‘Big Problems and Bold Actions’; and Alison Shaw (co-founder of Tambo Teddies and a Queensland-based entrepeneur), who will draw on her experiences as a regional-based business operator who responded creatively to labour force shortages, a decline in wool prices and the emergence of the digital marketplace, to talk about ‘Diversity and Creativity in Organisations’. This seminar will highlight to attendees what can be done to remedy the trust deficit that so many institutions are experiencing today.

The Eidos Institute is a not-for-profit, and for-purpose, social enterprise, made up of a network of partners dedicated to solving difficult social and economic problems by turning ideas into practical realities. Eidos encourages collaboration to create fresh and unusual ideas for complex social problems, where conventional approaches are unlikely to work. Since 2004, Eidos has worked with universities and senior government departments to inform better public policy making, and has evolved with the growing influence of social media and online platforms.

ACPNS currently hosts Eidos at our offices, and will be supported by us. Attending ACPNS students and alumni will receive a discount – so come along!


Join us in making nonprofits thrive! #QUTGivingDay, 16 May

If you want YOUR giving to pack a punch, join the ACPNS Thriving Nonprofits Campaign as part of this year’s #QUTGivingDay!

#QUTGivingDay is QUT’s celebration of the joy of giving and this year we celebrate 30 years as a university with 30 hours of giving.

On Thursday 16 May 2019, you can support ACPNS research and student scholarships – and be part of fostering the next generation of sector leaders!

QUT has a goal of 2000 donors and ACPNS has set itself a stretch goal to contribute at least 40 of these (OK we’d love 400 🙂 so feel welcome to invite a friend who may have benefited from ACPNS info!).

If you do this from 6pm on Wed 15th of May to midnight on Thurs 16th of May, it will count towards the 40 ACPNS donors for Giving Day.


Your gift will help:

  • Provide at least one more Myles McGregor Lowndes Scholarship ($7,150)
  • Fund crucial research to advance how the sector operates ($3,000 for a project research assistant)
  • Enable our Alumni Chapter to support students through bursaries and support ($500 for a travel or general bursary, $200 for a book bursary).

Or become part of the ACPNS Donor Circle, set up by our alumni to support learning*

The real-world impact of your gift:

By investing in our students and research, you are investing in the future of the community sector that tackles issues from the environment to homelessness to health.

You will also be part of making nonprofits and social enterprises thrive!


Thank you so much for your support.

*Just email Centre Director Wendy Scaife (w.scaife@qut.edu.au) or Nadeyn Barbieri at the Advancement Office (nadeyn.barbieri@qut.edu.au) if you would like to nominate a specific area for your donation or to find out more about our Donor Circle (at $100 a year, payable as a regular monthly gift) or about remembering ACPNS in your Will.

Find out more about #QUTGivingDay and support other QUT initiatives through the #QUTGivingDay site.

DYO – Four ways to promote financial sustainability for your nonprofit

Thank you to ACPNS alumnus, Dr Mike Booth for this article.

Mike is a Sessional Academic in the QUT Business School, a past lecturer at ACPNS and past ACPNS Alumni Chapter member.  His thesis on financial sustainability is available via eprints.

Booth, Michael S. (2017) An accountability framework for the financial sustainability of Australian international development organisations. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.

What keeps you awake at night?

Research in the Australian nonprofit sector has consistently identified the financial sustainability of NPOs as a core source of insomnia!  Directors and NPO staff have described their organisations and others in the sector as operating in a constant state of financial stress with around half in a 2017 AICD survey reporting levels of profit (surplus) less than that required for long term viability.  These concerns are exacerbated as the NPOs which the Directors govern primarily rely on funding from either government or donors in an environment of ongoing uncertainty.  In addition they cannot readily access sources of finance available to other businesses, such as equity markets and financial institutions.

A yet further layer of complexity, and potential sleep deprivation is that directors and others operate with a fear of scrutiny and associated public criticism of the relative costs of overheads and income-raising.  This concern exists even where those costs directly increase financial sustainability such as investments in staff training or information technology support. Directors and others comment that making significant profit or being successful may in fact lead to reductions in donations as a result of not being sufficiently ‘in need’.

The complexities faced by an NPO seeking to ensure its financial sustainability are manyfold.

  1. While the goal to be financially sustainable seems clear, for example to keep operating over time, key characteristics such as the need to hedge uncertainty, consider the time value of money or address questions of ongoing product delivery and quality are often not considered.
  2. While for-profit firms can be criticised for accumulating profits that are not distributed to shareholders (even where surpluses may be needed for sustainability such as the need to reduce divdends to retain a credit rating) NPOs face a parallel reality in that they can be censured for being seen to be hoarding funds which should be spent on their mission.
  3. While arguably the market ensures the efficiency of for-profit organisations, in the absence of market mechanisms, which work through pricing, societal pressures in the NPO sector, operate through the publishing of relative ratings or media ‘exposé’. These regimes and associated societal pressure can be dysfunctional, notwithstanding sector and academic attempts to contextualise them. Indeed this vehicle as a pursuit of financial efficiency may lead to a self-reinforcing loop of cost-cutting (a starvation cycle) resulting in reductions in internal investment, staff burnout and reductions in services potentially jeopardising an organisation’s ability to be financially sustainable over time.

So what is financial sustainability?  How is it described and understood?  How do we know if we are on the correct path to achieve it?

Surprisingly there is no agreed definition of financial sustainability which can be applied to Australian NPOs.  While its meaning may appear obvious; to continue to operate in the long term, how does that help us to inform strategy? We clearly need to maintain a surplus of income over expenditure over time but how do we understand that.  Is the minimum level of surplus the long term inflation rate?  What do we do about asset replacement? Do we need to maintain quality/quantity of services?  Of further interest is that while accountability for the immediate financial health of NPOs is highly formalised by law, there are no similar accountabilities for their longer-term financial sustainability.

So what might we do?   Some thoughts:

  1. Discuss financial sustainability at the Board and CEO level to reach an agreed understanding of its meaning in your organisations’ context, why it is different from solvency and how it can be informed by the planning cycle.
  2. Many consider financial sustainability as simply ensuring sufficient reserves or net assets are held by the organisation.  I contend that it is more than that.  In the event, both overseas (British) and locally, organisations often do not conform to reserves’ disclosure requirements outlined by regulatory bodies.
  3. Financial sustainability is a time bound concept – it needs to be considered over time so it should be reported over time
  4. There are both traditional and NPO specific metrics which may be considered for diagnostic and reporting purposes.  These include measures of efficiency, capacity, stability, and viability/sustainability.  Not all of these will be relevant or useful to your organisation however a subset will be.

There are some excellent resources which provide the financial context for Australian NPOs such as the AICD’s NFP Governance and Performance Study and the ACNC’s Australian Charities Report.

Thanks for reading! Did you know that ACPNS offer courses for staff, board and other volunteer professionals who work, or are entering the philanthropy, nonprofit or social enterprise sectors? In fact one of the units deals specifically with accounting and finance.

Philanthropic and Nonprofit Frameworks of Governance

The unit explores contemporary understandings of philanthropic and nonprofit governance in the context of social, economic and political systems. It locates these understandings in various theoretical and descriptive frameworks providing students with both the knowledge and analytical skills that are necessary to reflect critically on philanthropy and nonprofit governance systems and their environments.

Check out our Study with us page for more info or call to request a free course information pack. +61 7 3138 1020. Please get in touch, this could be your best career move yet!

Read more of the Developing Your Organisation series

Three questions nonprofits should be asking themselves in 2019 by Glenn Poole

Three Ways Nonprofit Boards Can Improve Its Team by Dr Ruth Knight

Three Key Questions to Ask Before Starting a Social Enterprise by Dr Craig Furneaux

Three Great Resources Grantseekers and Fundraisers Should be Tapping Into by Eleni Gill

You can spark social change through Human-Centred Design – Two-day Intensive Course, 30-31 May, 2019

Thank you the QUT Advancement Office for publishing this article.

A new short course being offered for business, government, community and nonprofit leaders at QUT aims to give participants the skills to create profound social change using Human-Centred Design (HCD) principles.

While most people are well-attuned to their own feelings and emotions, sparking social change is only possible through the ability to see the world through others’ eyes. Empathy mapping can lead to powerful social consequences – including the ability to tackle complex problems such as poverty, crime, homelessness, climate change, unemployment and human trafficking.

This two-day practical learning experience held at Gardens Point campus on 30-31 May 2019 introduces participants to the HCD process and principles and is designed for business, government, community and nonprofit leaders and social entrepreneurs. You will learn how to apply the design process to challenges across your organisation, community, industry, sector, and geography to generate breakthrough ideas.

Course facilitator Dr Ruth Knight is an experienced consultant on culture, change, and social impact. “It’s important to think about creative and new ways to get better outcomes for our organisations and communities. Human-Centred Design allows us to think differently about problems, and develop more effective solutions using a collaborative approach,” says Dr Knight.

Outcomes and skills you will gain include:

  • a thorough understanding of the steps of the HCD process to create innovative solutions to real-world challenges
  • strategies for understanding complex social problems
  • rapid prototypes to make ideas come to life
  • ways to implement organisational learning and greater social impact
  • valuable lifelong skills that can be used in many areas of life, both personal and professional.

Registrations are now open and QUT alumni receive a special discounted price.

To find out more about QUT’s Human-Centred Design for Social Innovation and Social Impact course, email QUT’s Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies (ACPNS) at acpns@qut.edu.au or apply online today.