Australia’s top community treasurers for 2022 have been revealed following a national search and thousands of entries.
While the missions of their not-for-profits are diverse, the four winners demonstrated perceptive insights into what it takes for a not-for-profit to thrive financially amid a pandemic.
David McIntyre (Education)
One Day Studios, Warrnambool, Victoria
Janelle Kennard (Sports, Arts and Culture)
Gurdjieff Society of Canberra, ACT
Kevin Matthews (Community Service)
Food Plant Solutions, Devonport, Tasmania
Melanie Khoo (Health)
Midlands Women’s Health Care Place, Perth, Western Australia
Each treasurer wins $5,000 for their organisation, while nearly 2000 nominees have been recognised with certificates of appreciation.
Julienne Price, the Commonwealth Bank’s executive manager for education, not-for-profit, professional services and women in focus, said the awards were a rare chance to acknowledge the work of treasurers.
“These awards are our opportunity to say ‘thank you’ to the incredible work that community treasurers do. These are the people who volunteer their hours, their expertise and their passion just to ensure that community groups remain financially sustainable and viable.”
“We know it's a hard job, so we want to make sure that the great work is recognised, and I think recognition goes a long way to helping them keep going.”
Ms Price said the awards also amplified the positive impact of Australia’s top NFP treasurers.
“It's a really powerful way to get the message out to those who might need to hear a little tip at the right time.”
Our Community group managing director Denis Moriarty said the value of treasurers to the community was immense.
“The role of community sector treasurer is extremely difficult, and often receives a fraction of the praise that other roles on a community board do.”
“Over the past few years, this job has become more important than ever, as treasurers battle against diminished funding streams to balance the books and keep their organisations open, and their missions alive.”
“Our Community is proud to acknowledge not just the winners, but all treasurers involved in the awards and the wider sector.”
One of the main aims of the awards is to share the practical lessons to be learned from Australia’s best community treasurers.
What have you learnt from the pandemic?
Nominees were asked: “What lessons has your not-for-profit or community group learnt through COVID-19 that you will take with you into the future?” Here’s what they said.
‘Ask for help’ says philosophy group
Award-winning treasurer Janelle Kennard, who guides the finances for the Canberra branch of practical philosophy group the Gurdjieff Society, said asking for help had ensured the group’s survival.
The small group has followed the teachings of the Armenian philosopher and mystic George Ivanovich Gurdjieff for more than 50 years, and Ms Kennard’s award-winning answer reflected Gurdjieff’s way of thinking.
Ms Kennard said the group was “open to anyone who has big questions about life and wants to explore those questions in a practical way”.
“That sounds a little lofty, but what we try is an inner mindfulness practice while doing things that benefit those around us. For example, we maintain the gardens around our local community hall or the homes of people who need help.
“While the gardens get looked after, it's an opportunity to focus on what is going on inside us: ‘Am I aware of the warmth of the sun on my back and soil between my hands, or am I thinking of what I need to buy on the way home, or remembering something unpleasant that someone said?’
“During the pandemic, our sources of funding dried up and we didn't qualify for government assistance, even though organisations around us did.
“We asked for rent relief from the people we rent our premises from (Scouts ACT), not expecting that they would be able to oblige; in fact, we nearly didn't ask! But they were able to help, and it's meant that we have stayed afloat financially this year.”
“So, we've learnt to ask for help, even if you don't believe it will be granted. Because you'll certainly never know if you don't ask. And not-for-profits have allies where you least expect them.
“Knowing you can ask for help can be the difference between feeling confident in the treasurer’s job or not.”
For most not-for-profits, the treasurer’s position was the hardest to fill, she said, “but if we let people know that help is available, they’re more likely to give it a go.”
That help has come from the previous treasurer, as well as treasurers of nearby and affiliated groups.
“They’ve got the on-the-ground ideas and solutions to help out. And they know how it feels, so are likely to be sympathetic to your needs.”
She also suggested contacting the independent auditor who conducts the annual review of your organisation’s finance as an often-untapped source of help and expertise. Ms Kennard said “conditions” on your audit can be seen as paths to improving bookkeeping and recordkeeping.
Ms Kennard said the prize money “is huge for us”, enabling the organisation to concentrate on the organisation’s main mission and giving members a chance to “think big”.
Forge alliances, but stick with your values
Melanie Khoo, the treasurer for the Midland Women’s Health Care Place (MWHCP) in Perth’s eastern suburbs, said the counselling service for women had learnt “there is great strength when an organisation is operating to its beliefs and values, that will overcome any adversity”.
The organisation provides low-cost counselling services for women dealing with issues such as relationship breakdown, domestic violence, anxiety and depression.
Like many not-for-profits, the organisation suffered significant covid-19 disruptions that prevented in-person counselling and led to the organisation being temporarily shut down, but it was able to rely on a “comfortable cash balance” to tide it over for a time.
While a longer disruption may have caused a greater financial impact, Ms Khoo said the organisation used the time to plan a merger with a women’s refuge. The move would be beneficial for both organisations by enabling the combined entity to provide “end to end services”, including crisis accommodation and counselling.
“During the pandemic we progressed with a strategic merger with a women's refuge of a similar size (Nardine women’s refuge) that will allow the combined organisation to provide even greater services to the most vulnerable in our community. We hope to complete this merger in the coming months.”
Ms Khoo said a crucial aspect of that merger was “cultural alignment for both organisations”, a view consistent with her call for organisations to stick with their values.
“You can plan all you like, but if the staff cultures clash and the two groups don't get along then you will fail. We have been fortunate enough to have had MWHCP and Nardine working together and collaborating leading up to the merger so we know that the two teams will get along.”
“The diverse range of strengths and skillset from each of my fellow board members and our CEO allowed us to navigate the uncertainty and emerge even stronger than before.”
Ms Khoo said the prize money would help with the merger costs, including new branding and a website for the new entity.
Adapt your business model to survive
One Day Studios, a digital media hub helping youth along Victoria’s west coast, has been forced to change in the wake of the pandemic.
The digital arts studio works across many creative disciplines to combine art and technology through cartoons, illustration, animation, sound, 3D design, toymaking, robotics, prop-making, costume, acting, stories, character development, coding and video production to create video, games and entertainment.
Treasurer David McIntyre said the organisation made some tough decisions during the height of the pandemic and advised other organisations to look carefully at where they stand financially.
“Your business model is only as strong as the current conditions. A business must be adaptable and willing to shift quickly to new conditions and adjust the business model accordingly.
“Covid-19 helped us look at our business in a different way, open up new avenues, identify ‘lazy’ assets and brutally assess where things stood. A strong focus on cash flow, and recycling assets where we were able, helped us get through the pandemic, provide new offerings and brought us into the present as a stronger business with better focus of what we need to work on. For all the downside and difficulty, it was an overall positive experience for us, to look at the strengths and weaknesses of our business.”
He said the prize money would help cover studio costs and overheads, especially during summer holidays when revenue is “patchy”.
Food group says organisations must broaden their horizons to grow
A plant food database for global aid groups based in Tasmania believes not-for-profits must expand their network of supporters to create opportunities for growth.
Food Plant Solutions, a project spun out of the work of the Devonport North Rotary Club, has become the biggest edible plants database of its kind. Listing more than 30,000 edible plants, the database builds on the work of scientist Bruce French to provide resources to aid organisations globally to identify, grow and understand nutritious foods in their regions.
The goal is simply to end malnutrition by growing “the right plants in the right places”.
The organisation’s treasurer, Kevin Matthews, said the work of the organisation had never been more important, but the pandemic had created stiff headwinds and had forced the organisation to rethink its strategies.
“Through all the difficulties and challenges presented by covid-19, the main lesson learnt was that to grow our organisation, we had to expand our horizons and not just to rely on our existing networks.
“Covid-19 forced us to look outside our traditional support base and seek new ones, both in other not-for-profit organisations and in the business world. Before covid, raising funds for our organisation was proving difficult as we tended to go to the same sources, but we now have contributors from all over the world. We have expanded our network exponentially [creating] exciting opportunities and collaborations.
“Without the upheavals brought about by the pandemic and the fact that it forced us to rethink our strategies, it is doubtful whether our organisation would have realised its potential.”
The group’s impact has been felt across 46 countries where food security is threatened by war, famine, unrest and, increasingly, climate change. A recent example is Burundi, where Food Plant Solutions resources have been used to train more than 500 farming households in the value of growing and eating indigenous foods.
More help for treasurers is on tap
The Not-for-Profit Treasurers’ Awards are one of the highlights of the annual Not-for-profit Finance Week, comprising a suite of free webinars hosted by Our Community’s Institute of Community Directors Australia (ICDA).
This year featured:
- What NFPs need to know about the environmental, social and governance (ESG) trend, including new resources to help groups tackle climate action
- Brand building and consumer decision-making for the third sector
- Key questions all not-for-profits should be asking about the finances
- An economic update and how the economy will affect community organisations
- Cyber safety and security for not-for-profits
Webinars will remain available on replay for a short time.
The week is part of ICDA’s free and affordable training for community directors, which includes an online library of guidance, on-demand training and help sheets for not-for-profit leaders.