Not for Profit | The Current State of Play

After seven years recruiting in the not for profit sector in the New South Wales market, I relocated to Brisbane at the start of 2018 and have spent the past 5 months navigating the Queensland NFP space. 

The Queensland market has been a welcoming one; the passion, commitment and drive within the sector up here has been inspiring to say the least. Throughout the many conversations and introductions, it has been interesting to learn of some of the key challenges, opportunities and successes. Whilst Queensland has some unique situations to contend with, there are also some consistencies across the board on a national level.


NDIS continues to be the biggest area of both concern and opportunity within the NFP space. As we brace ourselves for the 1st July “go live”, smaller not for profits share a common worry of cost and effectiveness to deliver their services. Amongst frontline practitioners, there is still significant concern mainly around how the pressure of cost efficiency is going to impact the quality of service that is delivered. Whilst some of the larger NFPs eye up merger and acquisition activity throughout the sector, private and commercial organisations circle with interest, waiting to pounce on the opportunities to win their part of the Government funding. 

Two of the main challenges are still unanswered; both mental illness within the NDIS, currently being very ambiguous, and the lack of appetite to support the most complex of disabilities, because with complexity, comes a high cost. Along with these challenges come opportunities; the sector is in desperate need of collaboration, partnerships, and re-branding. Through collaboration comes strength and diversity, and the NDIS is most definitely a driver for this. The sector has historically been very conservative and insular. The NDIS is now a vehicle for organisations to focus on their brand, getting their “story” out to the public, and building trusting and supportive relationships which have been on the decline of late.

Digital Transformation

Whilst the sector has previously lagged in the digital space, the move in the sector from a funding model of wholesale to retail is definitely a contributing factor to a shift in digital marketing and technology being the priority that it needs to be. Investment needs to be in technology which goes beyond just marketing and fundraising. Technology and a solid digital strategy need to be at the centre of all business operations. As Julie Dodd, Director of Digital Transformation and Communication at Parkinsons UK once said, “It’s not just about digital marketing and fundraising – it’s time to start focusing on how digital technology can transform organisations around their core mission”.

Know Your Customer

It has become more prominent than ever, that NFPs need to get to know their customer. Reliance and even a complacency in funding have left the sector a little lost in understanding what their USP is, who their target audience is and what their customers actually want and value from them as a provider. Some of the larger players are heavily investing in analytics, data and insights. Linking in closely with strategy is the need to understand both the customer journey and their experience with their provider. Everyday opportunities in the commercial world like cross and upsell to build and instil loyalty are becoming part of the NFP strategy. Do we know our customer touch points? Do we reach out to our customers to gather feedback? Do we listen to our audience in order to create innovative and market-leading solutions? Do we understand our existing and target segments? 

Fundraising is evolving

The organisations that I speak to that are doing this best are not just those invested in technology, but also those that are very self-aware, innovative and willing to try and test approaches that are outside of the box. Traditional fundraising is dying in the same way as traditional marketing. People are wise to it, have a lot more information at their fingertips, and are generally a lot more aware of sales tactics and approaches. Now is the time of partnerships; adding value and providing people with the vessel to feel like they are giving back and feeling good about it. But giving nowadays is a two-way street. The “what’s in it for me factor” is just as important now in fundraising as in 1980s sales. But going beyond the WIFM factor is identifying and capitalising on add value activity to build loyalty. Rather than direct fundraising to the customer on the street (which I accept does have value in some respects), think about and consider partnerships. Think big, think strategically. How can the fundraising that you do and your “mission” slot into the strategy of the commercial giants around you? How can the partnerships that you are forming become longstanding and two-way? 


I am lucky to work with an organisation that is all about having a curious mind, thinking about “out of the box” solutions, and from a talent perspective, fitting “square pegs into round holes”. It’s great that the sector is evolving with its approach and view of talent too. NFPs are becoming smart at looking outside of the sector and becoming creative in identifying transferable skills that can really be of benefit. Seeing senior hires in the sector from industries such as mining, banking and even FMCG has been interesting to watch. The most difficult and prevalent challenge is not losing site of the cause, and more importantly, peoples passion to want to make a change.  One of the clients I have worked with in the past uses the tag line “commercially minded with social heart”. That tagline beautifully sums up both the challenge and opportunity that the NFP sector is going through; most certainly though a balancing act that is very difficult to get right. 

Wrap up

The sector is quickly evolving. Investment in technology is a key but selling the benefits of this and getting buy-in from the public needs to be done intelligently and sensitively. Collaboration is paramount…thinking big and driving surplus through emerging trends like social impact and an increase in social enterprise is how the sector is evolving. Work in partnership with those that you have previously worked against, particularly if your target audience is the same. Think outside the box when it comes to talent. Whilst there is always value in understanding the mechanics of an NFP, from networks, processes and cultures, there is always value in looking at how other industries are tackling challenges, both on a national and international scale.