NFP’s need strategic thinkers to remain sustainable in a demanding environment

Business man standing in front of large window thinking.

There is a popular misconception that things are easier in NFP world than the corporate sector. It’s a positive environment, people are doing “good” things, and there aren’t too many performance pressures. Maybe it’s the “Not for Profit” tag that leads to that position.

After working in senior management and CEO roles in state and national NFP organizations over 12 years, my experience is that the pressures are often greater in NFP’s than in the commercial sector.

NFP’s usually have to meet the same regulatory and reporting standards, but with much smaller budgets and a skinny balance sheet.

This means they are walking a thin line between achieving purpose and insolvency. NFP leadership teams need to be strategic and Boards need to be vigilant to ensure that pursuit of the mission is sustainable. The number of NFP organisations that have closed their doors in the past 12 months indicates how challenging that can be in the current environment.

Having a strategy is critical for achieving purpose and being sustainable. It’s even better if all employees know where the organisation is going and how they are going to get there. The more people in your organisation who support and contribute to the strategy, the more likely they are to be successful. Otherwise, you risk having the leadership team driving towards the goal, with people dozing in the back seat, calling out “are we there yet?”, or worse still, they don’t care ….

Remember the story about the NASA janitor who was asked what he did in the organisation. His response “I’m helping to put a man on the moon”. Does everyone in your organisation know the Mission and properly understand their role in getting there?

QUTeX partnered with the Australian Centre of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies to host “Unlocking the Power of Strategic Thinking in Nonprofit Organisations”. This half-day event examined the role that strategic thinking plays when organisations are faced with a fast changing political and funding environment with a focus on understanding barriers and enablers. It also outlines the principles required to improve strategic thinking and consequently on meeting outcomes.

QUTeX offers a number of professional development courses for the Health and NFP industry: click here.

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Dr Peter Anderson is an Associate Professor of Practice with QUT, and has almost 30 years’ experience as an academic and practitioner in the health sector. He was a researcher and academic at the Cancer Prevention Research Centre and the QUT School of Public Health for over 16 years. His study and research crosses both biological and social sciences. He has presented research papers nationally and internationally and worked with colleagues in Europe and North America. Dr Anderson has also had senior leadership roles in several NFP’s, including Heart Foundation Australia, Cancer Council Queensland and Diabetes Australia. He has been CEO of Asthma Foundation Queensland & NSW and Open Minds Australia during significant transition. Peter has extensive media and communications knowledge and experience as a spokesperson in the NFP sector for many years, translating research evidence into community focussed messages. Dr Anderson has been an active member of the Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA), serving as State President and National Board Member (2006-2008) and is a Fellow of the Association.

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