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BLOG: Strategies to Stop NFPs Being ‘Hollowed Out’ by Government - Part 2

18 June 2015 at 11:56 am
Xavier Smerdon
Answer the Why. Not For Profits need to be absolutely clear on why they exist, writes Doug Taylor Director for Strategic Engagement at UnitingCare NSW & ACT in his series on how NFPs can stop being ‘hollowed out’ by Government.

Xavier Smerdon | 18 June 2015 at 11:56 am


BLOG: Strategies to Stop NFPs Being ‘Hollowed Out’ by Government - Part 2
18 June 2015 at 11:56 am

Answer the Why. Not For Profits need to be absolutely clear on why they exist, writes Doug Taylor Director for Strategic Engagement at UnitingCare NSW & ACT in his series on how NFPs can stop being ‘hollowed out’ by Government.

In my opening Blog I drew on the work of Doug Hynd, a PhD candidate at ACU, who identifies the potential ‘hollowing out’ of a Not For Profit’s mission and the risk of becoming ‘funder determined’ through being significantly government funded.

I suggested that the great loss this potentially creates for the Australian community is the role Not For Profits have traditionally played in advocacy, identifying emerging community needs and addressing them with new initiatives that mobilise community resources.

In my second blog on strategies to stop your Not For Profit from being hollowed out by Government I suggest Not For Profits begin by ‘Answering the Why’, that is be absolutely clear on why you exist.

There’s a Ted Talk for everything, there’s even one on delivering a good Ted Talk! One of the most popular talks is Simon Sinek’s one on ‘Start with Why’ [1]. In this talk he presents the Golden Circle and explains why too many organisations can explain what they do and how they do it but few can really articulate why they exist. This is not just about having a Mission Statement; instead it’s really about having clarity on your differentiator and having it framed for your customer and community.

To ‘know thyself’ is a good risk mitigation strategy in protecting your organisation to falling into the ‘funder determined’ trap. But organisations often fail to do this effectively because they allow other influences to drive their funding plans and don’t stick to the ‘know thyself rule.’ There are many organisations who are driven by Boards and CEOs who pursue growth as an end and not a means. We’ve all seen the Strategic Plans that have metrics for growth which results in their staff robotically applying for funding in all sorts of random areas with no critical thinking applied that asks about the alignment to an organisation’s mission and values.   

I recall speaking at a Conference a few years back on the importance of Not For Profits collaborating more to address increasingly complex societal issues. Towards the end of the presentation someone from the audience exclaimed that they are not funded to do this work in the community but instead provide the services for the Government!

I think it summarises the subtle ‘mission drift’ that’s occurred for many Not For Profits to the point where their mission is defined by the sum total of their Government contracts and there’s no place for working collaboratively with the community. As an aside one measure of the degree to which an organisation is not subsumed by Government funding is the degree to which they can put aside the drivers to compete and instead be a good ‘system citizen’ and work collaboratively with other organisations on issues of sector reform and advocacy with the community we serve. Some of the best examples of this are emerging in the Collective Impact networks where you can find local Not For Profits who can compete in winning contracts but put that aside when working towards a common goal in a local community.

A symptom of this disease is the way in which many organisations conduct their strategic planning. I’ve been in organisations who plan on the basis of where they can get their next Government contract instead of looking at the community and discerning opportunities to meet unmet needs in line with their inherent mission and capability.

All Not For Profits need to have an eye to market opportunities for growth but I fear that this has become something of a default position. Rich Harwood puts the key question clearly when he says ‘for people and organisations to be effective at addressing complex community challenges, they must have an orientation of being turned outward. This means using the community, not your conference room, as the main reference point for both your strategic and day-to-day decisions – from the strategies you and your partners pursue, the partners you choose, how you start and then grow your efforts over time, and even how you structure and run your internal organization’[2]

About the author: Doug Taylor is the Director for Strategic Engagement at UnitingCare NSW & ACT. He has spent more than 20 years working in the social sector and is also a Board member of the School for Social Entrepreneurs, the Australian Centre for Social Innovation and the Centre for Social Impact. He tweets at @dougtayloruw and writes a blog at

Xavier Smerdon  |  Journalist  |  @XavierSmerdon

Xavier Smerdon is a journalist specialising in the Not for Profit sector. He writes breaking and investigative news articles.

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