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A Solid Foundation

31 August 2015 at 11:50 am
Xavier Smerdon
Petra Buchanan is the woman tasked with leading the McGrath Foundation into its second decade, and she is more than prepared for the challenges. Buchanan is this week’s Changemaker. She spoke with Xavier Smerdon.

Xavier Smerdon | 31 August 2015 at 11:50 am


A Solid Foundation
31 August 2015 at 11:50 am

Petra Buchanan is the woman tasked with leading the McGrath Foundation into its second decade, and she is more than prepared for the challenges. Buchanan is this week’s Changemaker. She spoke with Xavier Smerdon.

Just over one year ago Buchanan left the private sector to take up her first role in the Not for Profit world as CEO of the McGrath Foundation.

In the week’s Changemaker column she talks about the differences in leading an organisation in the social economy to leading one in the private sector.

She also shares how the McGrath Foundation is tackling the challenge of evolving while still staying true to the founding goals set out by it’s namesake, Jane McGrath.

Explain a bit about what you’re organisation is doing at the moment. I understand that it is it the 10th anniversary of the McGrath Foundation and you’ve recently delivered your 105th breast cancer nurse, is that correct?

In September we’re celebrating the McGrath Foundation’s 10th anniversary, so for us it really is celebrating a decade of amazing opportunities and the support we’ve been able to provide to the community.

As you mentioned we have 105 McGrath Breast Care Nurses in communities now, and they’re based around Australia, and that means that we’ve been able to support 36,000 families going through breast cancer.

Obviously for us as an organisation, our main goal is to ensure that we are able to raise money and place breast care nurses in those communities and to do that on an increasing basis as it relates to increasing numbers of women and families being impacted by breast cancer. So we also in addition have a breast awareness program that we started a few years ago, and that’s about really trying to change the impressions of a generation in terms of their awareness of their own bodies, their ability to self-detect and to present to a GP and to engage at an earlier stage in diagnosis.

How long have you been CEO of the Foundation?

I joined the organisation in July 2014, so it’s just over a year for me now and in that time we’ve taken a pretty good look at ourselves and developed a strategy for ensuring that we are moving forward and progressing the organisation in terms of the care that we can provide to the community.

It’s obviously an important step to make sure that the organisation is continually growing. You mentioned that you had an indepth look at the organisation, when you did that did you find that it was travelling the way that you wanted it to or were there some significant changes that needed to be made?

I think any organisation grows and evolves over time and especially when you’re looking in the Not for Profit space I think many organisations start across the kitchen table, much like the McGrath Foundation did.

Jane and her best friend Tracy Bevan literally hand wrote thank you notes to people. We still happen to do that at the Foundation but we do it in a more strategic way now and just over time we’ve evolved and grown.

For us what’s really important is that we keep the concentration very centred on our mission and what we’re here to do, but we’re also evolving in a way that allows us to serve more people, scale differently, and that means embracing more business practices, technology and things like that which allow us to be a bit more nimble and able to best utilise the resources that we do have.

When is the busiest time of year for your organisation? Is it around the time of the pink test at the SCG?

I guess we’ve got a few different spikes but for me a busy business 12 months a year is a good organisation so our goal is to make sure that we’re touching and engaging with people right throughout the year but as you mentioned the pink test is obviously a very important visible time for us in terms of engaging with people through that medium of sport and TV, which can get you a lot of reach. So we’re very fortunate to have that opportunity and to also bring it back to the origins of the Foundation with Jane McGrath Day that happens on the third day of the pink test in Sydney.

That for us is a very important time and a time for reflection as well as engagement. We also have activities that run throughout the year and various campaigns. As I mentioned, with our 10th anniversary we’re now finalising our first media and advertising campaign, so that will be going out in September and it’s a pretty exciting thing for us to have the ability to communicate more widely with the community.

Did you know Jane McGrath personally?

I didn’t ever have the benefit of meeting Jane. I, like many people around the country, had heard her story and I was very impressed with the way that she and Glenn communicated that and brought us on her journey so when I was approached about the position it was something that I was instantly attracted to in so far as the great work the Foundation had done up until now.

So do you think the fact that people who weren't around at the initial stages of the Foundation are now key parts of it show that it has grown beyond its early structure?

I guess it’s a continuing journey, because Glenn is still very much involved in the organisation. He’s on the Board and he also participates in various events and helps us shine a light on the Foundation. Tracy Bevan who was Jane’s best friend is our ambassador and works at the Foundation every day of the week. We also have a number of our Board members who were around that very first board meeting table.

So in some ways there is a lot of consistency in terms of the intention and the early stages of creating the Foundation but in many ways we’ve also evolved. We’ve gone through a period in the last 12 months where we’re looking to bring in more diversity of skill and capabilities to the organisation and we have board members who have joined over time who have brought additional skill and knowledge. So I consider it a very organic process but one that definitely needs some consistency in terms of the people that have been involved.

Is this your first role in the Not for Profit sector?

For me it’s my first official Not for Profit role. I’ve obviously participated in giving my time to various causes in the past but in terms of a nine-to-five full-time role, if you can say that any job is nine-to-five these days, I think it’s almost a misnomer, but my background is quite diverse I guess.

I worked in the States for many years working initially in journalism and then in documentary television. I then moved on to work in the IT space and then most recently here in Australia I worked in government and regulatory advocacy role. It’s really the confluence of all of those skills that I feel led me to be in the position I am in now.

How does the position compare to the private sector? Are you finding it more challenging or are there just different challenges?

I think it’s just different challenges. I look at running a Not for Profit as like running a business. In that same regard you’ve got influences externally and internally that you need to manage but I don’t think there’s a big fundamental difference. You’re leading a team of people, you’ve got clear objectives you need to deliver against, you’ve got finite resources, and you need to make all of that work. So I think my business and commercial background is something that I reflect on each day and is a vital contributor to the decisions that I make in running the McGrath Foundation but I think that ultimately they’re one in the same.

What’s your favourite part of working with the McGrath Foundation?

I guess for me it’s the nimble nature of working with such a community-based organisation where we’re dealing with people so in terms of building those relationships and in terms of being able to make change happen. For me that’s one of the things that I find much more rewarding than working in larger corporates where change takes much longer to come to fruition.  

What is it that inspires you to do the work that you do?

I guess for me it’s about being able to grow and ensure that the next decade of the McGrath Foundation is as strong as the previous one. For me that means we have different needs, we have different opportunities now, but it’s making sure that the values the foundation was built on in terms of our commitment to the community, our commitment to helping people, remain but ensuring that we do that in a way that embraces fun and friendship and encourages people to live in the moment. So for me I find that very inspiring.

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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