You Don’t Have to Be Big to Be Bold – Lessons from Palmera
4 July 2013 at 10:42 am
This is the time of year that organisations review their plans and embark on new strategies. Westpac Social Sector Banking Senior Manager, Lali Wiratunga met with volunteer organisation Palmera's Investor Relations Manager Shar Kangatharan to discuss how a small Not for Profit undertakes strategic planning to maximise its social impact.
Since launching into tsunami-savaged Sri Lanka as an emergency relief operation, a group of Australian friends travelling through the island nation in 2005 has transformed into a Not for Profit (NFP) organisation creating sustainable livelihood projects in Sri Lanka and Cambodia.
Shar Kangatharan also has a full-time job as a Senior Associate in Derivate Sales at Westpac. Like all his colleagues at Palmera, his role with the NFP is voluntary – there is no payroll. But Palmera takes the business of building livelihoods very seriously. Now with Deductible Gift Recipient status, numerous non-government organisation (NGO) partners across two countries and a steady group of committed volunteers, Palmera is planning for an even bigger future, shared with the communities it serves.
Describing their start-up days as “a period of youthful enthusiasm”, Shar can now outline the organisation’s strategy for planning and growth. “Enthusiasm and passion drives you to a certain extent, but to be sustainable, you need a plan.”
Work out your ‘why factor’
A key activity the group undertook was to ask each volunteer why they wanted to contribute to Palmera. “Then we asked, ‘Why does Palmera exist? Why are we here?’ By exploring our ‘why factor’, we uncovered our shared passion, our values and our purpose,” explained Shar. The process resulted in Palmera refining its mission and targeting its projects and partnerships.
Shar says that it’s important to be reminded of your ‘why factor’ – volunteers can be renewed by it, and the organisation can stay focussed.
Describing partnerships with other charities as necessary in their early stages, Shar and his colleagues at Palmera learned a lot about the operating environment via unofficial mentoring from bigger, established NFPs. Now Palmera uses this knowledge to assess, attain and build partnerships with local NGOs who are trusted within the communities. “The ultimate purpose of having partnerships is to create a better outcome for the beneficiary,” Shar said.
Palmera’s model of working with local partners allows them to develop livelihood ventures that are targeted to local needs and have community engagement, setting the stage for long-term sustainability.
Connect your supporters to your cause
“Building trust with investors is critical,” Shar said. “We had to think creatively about how to connect our investors in Australia to the outcomes in communities in Sri Lanka and Cambodia.”
Palmera’s communications with investors go beyond pictures and progress reports from the field. Visiting staff from partner NGOs meet with investors, share stories and experiences, and answer questions. “Supporters hear how projects are directly benefitting local entrepreneurs,” Shar explained. Donors can track their investment through key staff, and the website details the monitoring activity on each project.
Focus on Productivity
By monitoring and evaluating projects, as well as the model of operations, Shar believes Palmera has become more productive. For example, numerous fundraising events were using a lot of limited volunteer time, forcing Palmera to reconsider its sources of funding.
Now Palmera has a new model of sustainable funding from the projects in the field, as well as a new model for investor funding.
“A few of our volunteers work for Westpac, and as an employer, they have matched all their employees’ donations up to $10,000 per annum. Corporate matching is a strategy that immediately doubles our impact.”
Palmera has a steady on-the-ground presence which Shar says has helped the operation to be productive. Skilled volunteers regularly travel to Sri Lanka and Cambodia to share their knowledge with partner NGOs and establish systems for efficient data collection. Palmera is proud to report that 98 per cent of collected funds go directly to the livelihood projects.
Capitalise on your strengths
Shar’s last piece of advice is that organisations should know their strengths and work to them. Thinking about Palmera, Shar conjured the image of a chameleon as he explained, “Being small is strength for us; it means that we can be flexible and adapt. We can continue to challenge ourselves to be innovative and creative, and return the best outcomes to our local communities and investors.”
For more information on strategic tools and tips for planning for your organisation, visit the www.davidsoninstitute.edu.au for a number of useful articles. Short courses are also available.
About The Davidson Institute:
It is Australia's First School of Money backed by – Westpac Banking Corporation.It provides an extensive range of financial education, from free seminars to facilitated sessions on Cash Flow to Superannuation, and accredited courses in finance.
Westpac Social Sector Banking provides a customised range of banking solutions to suit Not for Profit organisations, charities, associations as well as single-interest and community groups.