If there’s one thing that not-for-profits should learn, according to Community Vision CEO Michelle Jenkins, it’s how to be bold and take more risks.
The Perth-based graduate of the Institute of Community Directors governance diploma should know. She’s seen how organisations run from both the not-for-profit and corporate sides of the fence, and experience has shown her that not-for-profits are often afraid to change what they do and how they do it.
Ms Jenkins was the first female head of commercial banking for Westpac in Australia, before moving into corporate and government relations, then community development and aged care.
As well as heading up aged care and disability services provider Community Vision in the outer-northern Perth suburb of Joondalup, Ms Jenkins also sits on the boards of Leading Aged Services Australia (LASA), disability employment service provider Bizlink and the Joondalup Business Association. And she’s acted as a Justice of the Peace for nearly 15 years.
She’s had no shortage of experience of not-for-profits from different perspectives, and that has highlighted for her a key weak point of many of them.
“I think as not-for-profits we think risk is a dirty word, and we are not as bold as we should be.”
She told Our Community that too many organisations “allow inertia to settle in and we become very complacent … thinking that our world is not going to change, the money will always be there and we’re all going to be secure because we’re not-for-profit, but actually the reverse is true.”
“Organisations need to be bold in their thinking to ensure their business remains sustainable. Putting your head in the sand and hoping that things won’t impact you is a risk you should not be prepared to take.”
“The covid-19 environment has changed things and means we’ve got the ongoing challenge of balancing business with the needs of consumers and our mission. We’ve got to look forward.”
Aged care sector faces further turbulence
Ms Jenkins said that in the aged care sector, for instance, the Royal Commission’s 2021 recommendations had triggered a string of significant reforms which were beginning to bite even as the sector braces for an “exponential” rise in demand on the back of the ageing baby boomer generation.
These include changes such as funding in arrears, new governance obligations and increased compliance oversight for the sector, she said.
“If businesses have not boldly addressed how they are structured and understand the cost of delivering their services down to the individual line items, they will struggle in the new environment to be financially sustainable to deliver what the customer wants and needs to remain living well.”
She said prioritising "cash and the customer” was an inescapable issue for aged care and disability services organisations, which were balancing the need to remain profitable and deliver high quality services with the reality of reduced funding.
She said like other organisations, Community Vision had switched to more innovative ways of delivering support, including providing more online services. Among its covid-safe initiatives were the use of “smiley face” cards which allowed clients to communicate their status, “so we knew they were okay without a carer having to enter their homes”.
“Our customers gave us a 99% positive feedback rating for our support during covid lockdowns and knew they could count on us for support. My staff rated our leadership 99% also, which was a really great result in trying times.”
Grad’s passion for study prompts constant learning
Ms Jenkins said graduating from the diploma course in 2017 had helped her steer a course through constant change – before, during and after the pandemic – and had complemented her previous study, which included:
- a masters degree and other qualifications in business leadership
- financial planning qualifications in two countries
- qualifications in home and community care.
But Ms Jenkins has not rested on her existing qualifications and continues to add new skills and knowledge to better support her sector.
The former marriage celebrant is now studying to be a counsellor as a way of better supporting staff.
“Our staff need our support. It’s been hard for them and being there for them is part of being a good leader. Counselling seems like an appropriate route to better understand what we have all been through and will be going through for years to come.”
Ms Jenkins also recently undertook a Standford University leadership course and is now a “resilience practitioner”, having studied the “HeartMath” method for making decisions calmly in a crisis.
ICDA diploma helping lift leadership skills ‘to the next level’
Ms Jenkins said her “passion for study” comes from a belief that good leaders should always seek to improve, which is what prompted her to take on the ICDA Diploma of Governance in the first place.
“Leadership is not just about the role you hold and how you account for what you do, but it’s also about having a passion for learning and about being better than you were last year.
“You need to challenge your thinking and take your strategy and operational processes to another level.”
She said the diploma had helped her better understand how to negotiate change, a skill that was proving essential in the current environment.
“The diploma challenged my thinking on how I work with my board. In my case, with so much change happening in the sector, I really need to focus my board more on the strategic initiatives and allow time for strategy-focused discussions. During the covid lockdowns in 2020–21, we added some extra meetings to do just that.”
She said three key things she’d introduced in her organisation as a result of the diploma were:
- an annual review across all governance areas of the business to ensure the organisation had addressed risks, checked its insurance, understood tenders, updated policies and reviewed processes and procedures across the organisation
- a day-long board strategy session held at least annually
- ensuring a strong audit process was in place to ensure compliance.
She urged other managers and leaders to consider the qualification.
“I recommend it to all managers and leaders who want to be aware of their compliance obligations, which extend well beyond the boardroom and into business operations. The course provides a platform to address governance and enables challenging conversations about change to ensure your organisation remains viable.”
Ms Jenkins said the many case examples in the course helped cement what she’d learnt.
“Having tools to help you focus and embed changes is always easier than starting with a blank canvas. The combination of different ways of learning – having a tutor who was able to bring case examples to the table – worked for me.
“I met some great fellow students. What is interesting is how similar we all are and how we all face the same issues, just dressed differently!”
Ms Jenkins’ desire to improve on her not-for-profit leadership comes in every part of her life, even extending to her love of her “fur babies”.
The owner of French bulldog Ella Bella, miniature poodle Dougal, and cat Charlie says: “Being a responsible parent ... it’s important that I teach them manners and values.”
“In the same way, not-for-profit leaders need to lead by example, which is no different to the animal kingdom.
“Leadership is about setting examples which others can follow, as well as upholding the values of the pack – to protect and ensure that everyone is secure in their surroundings and knows what they have to do.”