Thursday, September 30th, 2010

Charities and community groups in every state and territory throughout Australia have been given a voice in “The Listening Project”, a study of more than 800 nonprofits.

Commissioned by Connecting Up Australia and conducted by CUA executive Karen Gryst, research for The Listening Project has resulted in dozens of case studies about the struggle for survival for our country’s charities, community services and other nonprofit groups.

Study author Gryst says that one key finding was that the industry itself needs to present a united front, to share information for the benefit of the whole sector.

“We need to work together and have a national focus – to be more visible and valued by government and peak corporate bodies,” Gryst says. “Right now our separate voices aren’t loud enough.”

It comes as no surprise that the social sector is “poorly paid and burned out".

“Some are working in decrepit buildings with next to no resources, where it’s difficult to keep staff motivated and hard to recruit new staff,” says Gryst.

“Often there is no security for staff dealing with high risk clients in areas like mental health, substance abuse, and families in crisis.

“For some services funding is retrospective – services that support refugees, people with a disability seeking employment, rural people who are ill and need a bed while getting health treatment in the city – which means staff can’t plan ahead and are under-funded for present demands.

“Most funding doesn't allow for capital items. One service in Queensland can’t get enough funding to buy new pillowcases.

“There are social workers out there trying to stop suicide rates among our young people – they are working at the front line, with little support."

Yet Gryst says her journey around Australia interviewing hundreds of people who are the backbones of our communities was inspirational.

“I was amazed, considering the pressure these services are under, that people gave so generously of their time for the study. They said time and again, ‘We just have to keep hoping that someone might listen.”

Gryst says there were common issues, from the smallest group right through to the biggest charities.

“They were saying the same things and they echoed the findings of the Productivity Commission: we need more investment in social innovation and support for capacity development and technology infrastructure.

“But there is a need for government to harness the quality of small battlers and adjust the competitive tendering model so they are not disadvantaged by the big, more visibly successful charities.”

What the nonprofit sector told The Listening Project:
please see examples from around Australia below. For a copy of The Listening Project report, or for case studies relevant to your region, please contact: Sioux Christiansen - [email protected]; 08 8212 8555 ext 214.

Contact Profile

The Listening Project Case Studies

Woden, Australian Capital Territory
Carol Mead, Chief Executive Officer of Directions, a holistic drug and alcohol support and rehabilitation service for users and their families, said:

“The grant-seeking process needs an overhaul: it needs to be made simpler with allowance for expressions of interest prior to a full application, reportable outcomes against project plan rather than just facts and figures. Small services can't afford to hire consultants to do applications and reporting for them - they are disadvantaged even though they may have the best relationship with clients and the best expertise.”

Port Augusta, South Australia

Gayle Mather; Project Officer for the Umeewarra Aboriginal Media Association, said:

“We need skills development in sponsorship seeking. As funding decreases for services in the local area, eg, the withdrawal of the CDEP programs, the demands on existing services like ours increase. We are the major communication channel to Aboriginal local communities – we then also support employment, native title, family support, funerals and events, community announcements, reconciliation locally, and youth advocacy.”

Toowoomba, Queensland
Jenny Burling, Resident Manager of Glennon House, which provides temporary accommodation for people and their families from regional areas needing medical treatment in Toowoomba, said:

“We receive funding per head for patients from remote or regional areas accessing medical care at a hospital. With this type of funding it is hard to get capital items such as pillows and bed covers let alone technology.”

Perth, Western Australia

Peter Beaton, Business Development Manager of Intework, which provides job placement service for people with high support level disabilities, said:

For our core business of placing people with disabilities in employment, the funding which is provided by individual job placement does not cover the cost of infrastructure and job readiness preparation work. There is a lack of recognition of the issues and the level of work involved. Our constant challenge is financial management."

Albury/Wodonga/Wangaratta, NSW/VIC
Ray Woodhouse; Director of Business Services, Upper Murray Family Care Inc, which provides complex family support services including Out of Home Care (Foster Care), Post Separation Services, Family Relationship Centre, Community Financial Services, Children’s Services, Family Services, Child First, Community Legal Service, Aged and Disability Services and Family Pathways Network, said:

“A major challenge is the cost and logistics of operating extensive services across large distances, eg, managing multiple branches or staff working across areas, travel, vehicle and phone costs, and costs of finding, purchasing, learning, supporting and introducing new technologies such as video conferencing for some meetings.”

Mandurah, Western Australia

Donna Selby from Peel Community Development Group, which works with local community groups on priorities for development, said:

“Staff in this industry are time poor with limited wages and limited resources. Qualified people are often moving out of the sector. Some people with ‘big hearts’ stay - but then these people are doing excess hours, and they can burn out and leave or they may stay and become unproductive because they are negative about the possibility of change or progress. This resignation to the status quo can be just as damaging to an organisation as staff turnover. “

Glebe, New South Wales
Keiran Kevins, Senior Youth Worker at Glebe Youth Service, a local centre for disadvantaged young people to access support and programs, said:

“We have high expectations but low resources. We simply need more staff...We could work with the families on long term change. Our time to work on grants is so limited. Youth work or community work being recognised as a profession and related pay rates are a major issue. Recruiting and keeping experienced staff is hard - once they have families of their own or want to buy property. This also breaks the continuity of service for young people with staff constantly changing.”

Darwin, Northern Territory
Ruth Leslie-Rose; CEO of Alzheimer, which provides dementia services for the NT, said:

NT’s population is spread across the third largest land mass in Australia but has only 1% of Australia population which makes it hard to service. However, one third of our population in NT is indigenous and although quite young is indicated as developing dementia at a rate four time s higher in indigenous communities than in non-indigenous communities, due to poor education levels and chronic health conditions, eg, diabetes and vascular disease. We have a 1.5 geriatrician to service the whole of NT - there is a shortage of doctors generally let alone specialists.”


Bill Petch, Marketing Manager of Barnardos, which provides services for high risk, marginalised young people including foster care, observed issues in nonprofit governance:

“A good board needs a balance between business/philanthropic types and service/social welfare types. Too many business heads won't scrutinise the service expansion and spending - they just trust that 'it's all good work' and too many service people don't understand or prioritise some of the other sustainability priorities.”

Hobart, Tasmania

Theresa Moore; Executive Officer Youth Network of Tasmania (YNOT ), which is the youth sector peak body for Tasmania, said:

“Technology is a big challenge: CRM, websites, blogs, resources to fund it, what to use, who to use, guidelines, and a way to find suppliers...We need good quality technology systems to facilitate corporate interest in the sector to support funding and partnership opportunities. “

About The Listening Project

Connecting Up Australia commissioned The Listening Project to explore the Australian nonprofit sector’s emerging and persistent priorities in terms of operational and strategic challenges to inform possible responses, programs and services that address the issues that have emerged.

The issues as expressed by research participants can be categorised under the following headings:

A. Structure and resourcing of the sector
B. Government funding
C. Fundraising and alternative income development or social enterprise
D. Human resources volunteers, staff, board
E. Research, capacity development and evaluation

Sioux Christiansen
P: 08 8212 8555 ext 214

Connecting Up Australia

Connecting Up Australia is a community-based nonprofit organisation. It operates the Donortec technology donation program for nonprofits (,which has channelled over $30m in technology donations to nonprofits in the past two years, the annual Connecting Up conference on nonprofit technology issues and the annual Australian Community Technology Awards. In 2008 its CEO, Doug Jacquier, received the Innovator of the Year award in the Equity Trustees Nonprofit CEO Awards.
Doug Jacquier, CEO, Connecting Up Australia
P: +61 8 8212 8555
M: 0414 69 70 71


National Productivity Commission, nfp, nonproft, charities



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