Image: Fulbright Australia Gala Presentation Dinner July 2022. Louisa Graham (left) with Rachel Coghlan (right), who received the 2022 Fulbright Professional Scholarship in Non-Profit Leadership

To deliver on their mission, purpose-driven organisations rely ultimately on their ethically motivated and highly dedicated staff, yet they often struggle to provide the professional development opportunities that will attract and retain the right people.

The importance of this “human factor” was highlighted during the COVID-19 crisis, when not-for-profits delivered measurable value, mobilising rapidly to lessen the pandemic’s financial and social costs and to support people in need.

Despite huge demand, however, there are very few training opportunities specifically designed for the sector. Recent landscape analysis by the Australian Scholarships Foundation identified that well-regarded education programs, degrees and postgraduate courses, along with governance training, are so costly that they are beyond the reach of many not-for-profit organisations and their staff.

Our recent research collaboration with McKinsey & Company, Building from purpose: Unlocking the power of Australia’s not-for-profit sector, found the sector has always struggled with limited resources, particularly in relation to investing in organisational capabilities.

The research unearthed three capabilities requiring investment:

  • growing talent – creating the performance culture for people to grow
  • executing with excellence – establishing operational discipline to enable mission execution
  • system shaping – shaping society through community connection and innovation.

It is no surprise that the private sector prioritises professional development for high-performing staff. They know that well-skilled leaders can better serve their organisations. At the Australian Scholarships Foundation, we aim to ensure that not-for-profit leaders have access to the same professional development opportunities their private-sector counterparts enjoy.

We have been working closely with the tertiary sector and education providers to facilitate fee-free and partially subsidised scholarships for not-for-profit staff. While COVID increased the demand for learning, it also triggered a collapse in international student enrolments, threatening the tertiary sector’s business model. There are many challenges for delivery, and the importance of philanthropy cannot be overstated. Foundations and philanthropists who support free scholarships are showing their belief in the power of education to build the capabilities of not-for-profits.

The Australian Scholarships Foundation is on track this year to offer 526 scholarships valued at $3.2 million. We work with trusted education providers and institutions, including Fulbright, Harvard, Stanford and the Australian Institute of Company Directors. Scholarships are available for short courses, training and development programs, certificate and degree courses, postgraduate diplomas, governance training and mentoring services. Disciplines covered include leadership, finance, accounting and risk management, strategic planning, project management, marketing and board governance.

Our alumni scholar Deborah Attard Portughes, Chief Executive Officer of the Women and Infants Research Foundation (WIRF), recipient of the Harvard Club of Australia Ferris Family Fellowship, notes that, without a scholarship, “small organisations like ours, the Women and Infants Research Foundation, would not have been able to afford this very beneficial and important training”.

Louisa Graham will co-moderate a break-out session – Driving leadership development for the Australian Not-For-Profit sector – at the Philanthropy Australia National Conference 2022. Join us on Day 1 of the conference, Wednesday 7 September. Our panel includes Louise Baxter, CEO, Starlight Children’s Foundation AustraliaJono Peatfield, CEO, Life Education NSW/ACT and Dr Ricki Smith, CEO, Access Care Network Australia. Moderated by Roland Dillon, Partner, McKinsey & Company, and Louisa Graham.

This article was first published in Philanthropy Australia newsletter in July 2022.