The ASF Story PDF Print E-mail


People, not Programs...

In September 2007 in Sydney a small group of business people and educators decided to stop donating to not-for-profit (NFP) programs and instead start investing in NFP people, particularly in charities. They were passionate about boosting the NFP sector’s impact in the Australian community. They were frustrated about the sector’s misguided, and ultimately undermining, focus on low overhead costs, especially education, training and development. Drawing on their collective many years of experience in management and NFP leadership, they realised that most funding and donations to the sector focussed on programs instead of peoples’ ability to efficiently and effectively manage and deliver those same programs. 

What if a donated dollar invested in people could multiply the NFP sector’s productivity many times that dollar and really boost much-needed social change?

Few appreciate the potential for bigger impact by charities...

The NFP sector touches virtually everyone in Australia. Millions of Australians donate to charities, are members of, or volunteer with, a community organisation. Yet few comprehend the scale or significance of what the sector does collectively, or that a small improvement in its effectiveness means big gains for the Australian community.

NFPs control significant assets, have a large workforce and are growing in size and importance. 8% of the Australian workforce is employed in the sector and an additional $15 billion of wage equivalent work is contributed by volunteers each year.

There are around 600,000 NFPs in Australia - almost 60,000 are “economically significant”. All contribute to the creation of vital social capital. The sector spends 5% of the Australian GDP, contributing $43 billion annually.

The NFP sector is one of Australia’s two fastest growing economic sectors - almost 8% each year.

The battle for training...

Yet the sector struggles to invest the money and time to attract, develop and retain its people. NFPs typically do not have access to sufficient funding for staff training that would make them more efficient and effective. They are consistently frustrated that they cannot recruit the leadership or invest in the infrastructure resources needed to solve the huge social issues that confront Australia today.

Only a very small percentage of donors’ funding, as well as government funding, is dedicated to general operating support or administrative overhead, while the larger part is directed to specific programs.

In considering where to donate, donors often focus on input measures (e.g. administrative overhead) as a proxy for indicators of NFP impact. The general donor view, changing ever so slowly, is that administrative overhead and infrastructure is bad and the less the better. This misguided approach reinforces the belief by NFPs that money and resources devoted to leadership and management capacity building in NFPs generally should be kept to a minimum.

This is self-defeating – no successful for-profit organisation, including those of many of the donors demanding NFPs reduce overhead, would intentionally under-invest in the very people accountable for delivering results. Leadership capacity at all levels is what counts most in the long-term effectiveness of any organisation. NFPs are no different.

They imagined...

The group considered the various ways it might help improve the effectiveness and capability of Australian NFPs - research and benchmarking, learning through networking, mentor and advisory programs and formal and informal learning and development training. Although a number of organisations provided some of these services, generally attempts to improve the sector’s management and governance had been fragmented.

There was no Australian organisation focused on advocating for and funding/ facilitating access by Australian NFP boards and managers to programs that improved their ability to lead and manage. It estimated less than 1% of the one million NFP workforce had access to education and training courses.

The group imagined changing the NFP sector’s effectiveness “from the inside out”, boosting boards’ and managers’ effectiveness by providing free or low cost access, via a nationwide scholarships program, to education, training and development opportunities. 

These scholarships would range from postgraduate degrees, graduate diplomas and certificates to short term executive management courses, seminars and workshops. Where possible, the emphasis would be on practical teaching and training to maximise the impact within the sector.

At the NFP board level, the group aimed to lift governance standards and performance, especially focussing on strategy and board effectiveness. At the executive level, their aim was to provide access to a wide range of disciplines – leadership and a range of functional management skills.

A new way to find education and training...

And to encourage NFPs, governments, educators and philanthropists to invest in education and training, the group also decided to develop ways to measure and “prove” the long term beneficial impact of sector education and training. Combined with greater advocacy, the group saw robust measures of impact as critical to more leadership and management investment by governments, philanthropists and NFP boards.

A near virtual organisation...

All this would be done by a “near virtual”, lean operating organisation – leveraging the group’s networks and collaborating with corporations, education providers and philanthropists to deliver these scholarships. The business model had to be scalable, sustainable and measurable.

The result - the establishment of the Australian Scholarships Foundation (ASF).

Several years later, over 3,200 scholarships worth $8.1 million have been funded and facilitated by ASF to people in over 2,700 NFPs.


ASF partners with leading education and training providers across Australia (ASF Education Partners) to provide free or substantially discounted executive management, mentoring and training programs in a range of management disciplines to directors and staff of NFPs. These Education Providers include over 15 universities, as well as for-profit colleges, professional services associations and businesses with in-house education and training programs. In many cases the access to such courses is at little or no marginal cost to the Partners and offers them a low cost opportunity for expanding their community involvement.

ASF provides scholarships to directors, employees and to volunteers who play a significant role in their NFP organisations, where the completion of courses would benefit their employing NFP organisation. The Australian Tax Office defines a NFP organisation whose "… profit (surplus) … goes back into the operation of the organisation to carry out its purposes and is not distributed to any of its members."

Scholarship applicants must be from an Australian NFP organisation that, in the opinion of ASF, generally fits one or more of the following criteria:

  • has a charitable, community-public benefit or poverty relief purpose, as indicated by whether the NFP has Australian Tax Office TCC and/or DGR status, or “registered charity” status
  • status is a social enterprise or business (organisations using a business model to provide a social benefit) and which may not have TCC/DGR
  • other organisations with a community or public benefit purpose (generally evidenced by a “formal” governance structure, voluntary participation by members and independence from government) that do not fit the above categories
A wide range of scholarships...

Scholarships are offered in such practical disciplines as finance and accounting, leadership and management, IT, marketing and fundraising, board governance, leadership mentoring, executive coaching, HR and related training. The range and type of course offerings is continually expanding and include full and part time study, online study and participation in in-house programs provided by large corporations and professional services firms. Applicants are usually selected on competitive and merit-based criteria, and must always meet the specific course and training requirements stipulated by ASF’s Education Partners and Supporters. See FAQ, including ASF’s conditions of ineligibility, and the individual scholarships sections on this website for further details.

Through the year ASF, with the assistance of its Marketing Partners, publicises the availability of scholarships via online communications to a growing list of over 120,000 people in a large number of NFP organisations and invites applications. Applications for these scholarships are processed online and, as appropriate, considered by ASF Scholarship Assessment Panels located in capital cities. Successful applications are then recommended by these committees to the Board of ASF for approval.

How philanthropists fund NFPs...

ASF also provides Australian philanthropists with low cost access to the ASF grant and assessment process to help them make their own capacity building grants. Corporations, trusts and foundations, as well as individual philanthropists with PAFs, can provide their own scholarships in cash or kind, using the nation-wide ASF scholarship application and assessment committee network. The publicising, online grants and scholarships application processing and ongoing monitoring of successful applicants are effectively outsourced for a small fee to ASF.

ASF is one of the great NFP organisations that we have been associated with – it brings education and training to the volunteers and professionals working in the NFP sector.

“Perpetual Foundation has supported ASF, both in capacity building to redevelop its website engine, and with hundreds of scholarships for individuals within the sector. It is a rare entity which has truly utilised existing capacity, a little funding, and technology to help others - all of which would have cost substantially many times more to achieve commercially.

Andrew Thomas ~ General Manager - Philanthropy, Perpetual Limited

ASF Structure & Governance

ASF is the DGR fund (an Australian Tax Office status) of AusSchol Inc, an Australian tax exempt charitable organisation registered in New South Wales. Click here to see details on the ABR. ASF is a public gift fund to which donors can make tax-deductible donations under Australian tax laws. The Councillors (ie directors) of AusSchol are also the Directors of ASF.

AusSchol has for ease and convenience adopted ASF as the brand name for the activities of both organisations.

An independent NFP organisation, ASF is not tied to any educational or training institution.


The Directors of ASF are bound by its Constitution. They normally meet six times during the year or whenever necessary to deal with specific matters requiring attention between these meetings.

All Directors of both organisations are non-executive, independent of management and free from any business, interest or other relationship that could materially influence the exercise of their independent judgment. They have a broad mix of skills and experience in education, training and development, NFPs and business relevant to ASF’s activities. No Directors receive remuneration for the exercise of their duties although out of pocket expenses may be reimbursed. Click here for details of the current board and for ASF’s Corporate Governance Charter.

Advisory Panel

A number of distinguished Australians with both an affinity for the NFP sector and skills and experience in a diverse range of  business, educational, philanthropic and NFP sectors across the nation have been appointed for two-year terms to ASF’s Advisory Panel. The Advisory Panel provides the ASF Board with advice, guidance and an independent perspective on activities, projects and initiatives of ASF, assists in the identification of contemporary and relevant needs and priority setting for ASF scholarships, and highlights opportunities for NFP capacity development. No Panel Members receive remuneration from ASF. Click here for details of the Advisory Panel Members.

ASF is very grateful to Panel Members for their continued support and wise counsel.

Executive Committee

A small Executive Committee comprising a number of Directors and the CEO meets regularly to monitor ASF operations. The CEO is not a Director of ASF but attends all meetings of the Board and the Executive Committee.