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Breakthrough Study Shines a Light on NFP Workforce

20 July 2017 at 8:49 am
Wendy Williams
From CEOs to frontline staff, employees and volunteers working in the not-for-profit sector are being encouraged to take part in a national breakthrough study that aims to provide vital insights into the potential of the sector and inform practice, policy and funding.

Wendy Williams | 20 July 2017 at 8:49 am


Breakthrough Study Shines a Light on NFP Workforce
20 July 2017 at 8:49 am

From CEOs to frontline staff, employees and volunteers working in the not-for-profit sector are being encouraged to take part in a national breakthrough study that aims to provide vital insights into the potential of the sector and inform practice, policy and funding.

The Australian Not-for-Profit Workforce Study, the largest piece of research on and for not-for-profit organisations, employees and volunteers, was launched on Tuesday by the Centre for Social Impact, The University of Western Australia.

The survey aims to increase attention and attitudes toward the not-for-profit workforce and inform funders and policy makers who can use the evidence to invest in a successful and sustainable workforce and sector.

Study leader Dr Ramon Wenzel, from CSI, told Pro Bono News the study would bring more scientific rigour and practical evidence to the management of not-for-profit organisations and people.

“There are probably two or three big picture goals,” Wenzel said.

“One is to bring attention and awareness to the workforce, the employees and the volunteers in the not-for-profit sector, and the opportunities and challenges that relate to working in the not-for-profit sector, and to do this systematically in a highly evidence driven way.

“What that means is, not just having anecdotal evidence or always repeating the same ‘underpaid and overworked’ thing but actually understanding what is going on when it comes to employee and volunteer wellbeing.”

Wenzel said there had previously been a “distinct lack of attention and resources” directed to employees and volunteers in the not-for-profit sector.

“I think it has to do with the not-for-profit sector being generally underrated by the wider population, or society,” he said.

“What they don’t understand is that many of the things that build and sustain communities are realised through not-for-profit organisations and without these entities, without the people doing this kind of work having this vision, their time and energy, a lot of this wouldn’t happen.

“It’s probably a truism that you always have to do more with less, but the thing really is Australia probably has surpassed the peak time economically and this is felt by many. There isn’t a discretionary amount flouting around anymore that people can spend as the case was maybe seven or eight years ago. Suddenly all of these organisation have to become much more professional in how they use their resources.

“What often gets left behind is actually what do we need to do with the people and how can we make people and organisations successful and sustainable, and that’s not being addressed because no one has this on their radar.”

This new study, which is predominantly funded by the Australian Research Council, builds on research on the Social Return on Education Training that revealed that not-for-profit organisations that focus on and develop their staff, do better.

In particular the latest research will address the most potent means to make not-for-profit work more developmental, healthy, meaningful, and productive; the needs and barriers for developing critical knowledge, skills, and abilities to succeed in the sector; and what leaders, staff, volunteers and funders can do to address the issues.

Paul Murnane, executive chair of the Australian Scholarships Foundation, said with one million staff employed in the sector and an additional five million volunteers across Australia, their health, engagement, and continuous learning were key for NFP organisations to survive and thrive.

“NFP organisations spend more than half of their expenses on staff, meaning employees and volunteers are simply irreplaceable,” Murnane said.

“Investing in the sector’s people is the single biggest opportunity for greater impact.”

By completing the survey, organisations will also be given the opportunity to take away downloadable insights in the form of a free Workforce Analytics Dashboard which reveals how they fare in key areas such as learning and development, engagement, well-being, leadership, and more.

Participating employees and volunteers will obtain a free Personal Analytics Report with insights and suggestions on their job satisfaction, work autonomy, professional development, well-being, and more.

Wenzel said they built the infrastructure and “dramatically lowered the cost” to ensure the analytics were free.

“Measurement is key to inform practice, policy, and funding so that NFP work can translate to bigger impact,” he said.

“We know a lot of things, but we don’t know the relative importance of things and so, what we want to do… is feed back what seems to be say, this is just an arbitrary number, but the three most important things that you could do as an organisational leader or as a HR person, or as an investor or as a policy maker.

“And it is also doing this in a systematic fashion, which means not believing or assuming one size fits all.

“Whether you work in a small or large not-for-profit organisation, whether this one is very mature or rather has been founded a year ago, whether you are located in an urban environment or maybe you are in remote Australia and especially what sector you operate in, whether it is care, or arts or sports or you name it. This all matters.

“We want to look at these things, so slice and dice the data specifically for each of the subsectors for certain organisational characteristics and then feed this back to say, ‘if you are in this space, or in this pocket then here’s what we find works for others who are like you as an organisation or as an individual’.

“So if you are a CEO or middle manager or a carer at the frontline, here are things that people do, that are like you, that seem to work for them and help them so they are more engaged, less fatigued and so on.”

Wenzel said the survey offered a unique opportunity for the sector.

“This is the first time this is happening, not just in Australian but probably globally in this kind of scale that we envision,” he said.

“This is an opportunity that doesn’t come around every year, if ever.

“The more participate now, the more see value in something like that, then we can ask funders and not-for-profit stakeholders to continue this kind of mutual benefit and provide these kind of analytic tools to the entire sector in the future.”

Participation in the survey is open until 31 October 2017, with initial insights expected to be released before the end of the year.

See the website for more information.

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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