Making your donation count
Monday, 8th July 2019 at 8:34 am
As the newly-appointed CEO of GIVIT, Sarah Tennant is looking to take the online platform that connects those who have with those in need, to the next level. She’s this week’s Changemaker.
A scientist by trade, Tennant first entered the sector in search of a job that made a difference to the lives of vulnerable people.
Joining GIVIT’s founder Juliette Wright OAM as the organisation’s first full-time employee, she was tasked with coordinating the organisation’s response to the 2011 Queensland floods, a natural disaster that devastated the state for many years.
It was during this crisis that GIVIT really broke through as an organisation. The website received nearly 2 million hits in 10 days, and within three weeks more than 33,500 donated goods were matched to the specific needs of charities affected by the flood.
The organisation has since supported communities through natural disasters, has fundraised for appeals, and has partnered with over 2,500 charities to help them receive the goods their clients actually need.
As the new CEO, Tennant is now focused on increasing the organisation’s impact and reach and achieving the financial sustainability that will enable GIVIT to continue its work around the country.
In this week’s Changemaker, Tennant discusses why she swapped from scientist to social sector CEO, what she wants to achieve in her career and why she loves her job.
What drew you to the social sector and GIVIT specifically?
It was about finding a job that makes a difference. I was actually a scientist by trade, but I was returning to work after the birth of my first daughter and I just wanted something that utilised my skills to really make a difference. And I just loved the model of GIVIT. The ability for everyday people to re-purpose pre-loved items and know that it’s going directly to help someone more vulnerable than themselves, I thought was fantastic. Juliette Wright OAM, the founder, was at the time looking for someone to come on board to help her grow the organisation and so I was the first full-time staff member to join GIVIT. It is amazing because it’s obviously grown from strength to strength and has now got a truly national presence.
You were in charge of coordinating GIVIT’s response to several natural disasters across Australia. How did you stay calm during that stressful time and lead a team?
Every disaster is different. There is that element of thinking on your feet, there is excitement and there is an adrenaline rush. The biggest thing is that everyone works so hard at that time, but you’ve got to remember that it is a long-term response. We’re still working really hard for people affected by the Queensland floods eight years on. The biggest thing is protecting the team and letting them know that this is a long-term response.
I feel very humbled because people trust the organisation with either the item or their money knowing that we’ll identify those true needs of the community. It’s lovely to be able to report back to individuals and corporates with where their money has gone and the impact that they’ve made, whether that’s buying a bunk bed for kids who were sleeping on the floor or helping a student return to school with a school uniform and basic essentials.
What are you trying to achieve in your career?
I really want GIVIT to become a household name. I want people to think of us when they see something in their house that they haven’t got a need for and want to give it a new life. We are a small organisation that’s still growing and it’s word of mouth and more donors, so raising our profile is really important. The sustainability of GIVIT is another big target. We’ve already got some fantastic partners, but we need to grow those partnerships.
From a personal perspective, I’ve always loved working with people so this is a role where I will really be able to expand my personal and professional skills. I’ve got a great team to lead so I’m very excited by that but obviously stepping up to this new role will definitely have its new challenges and new things for me to learn.
How are you planning to make the organisation financially sustainable?
Currently, GIVIT is a completely free service for everyone who uses our service, and we’d like to maintain that. Because of our disaster relief work, we’ve partnered with the Queensland government on a lot of projects and have really shown them the value of GIVIT, because otherwise, local councils get stuck with very well-meaning donations that are not needed.
After the big fires in Victoria, councils had tons and tons and tons of warehouse goods and services donated, and they are still trying to find homes for those items. We’re a service that’s really valuable for governments across the country, and we’d love to partner more with the government.
We’ll always have support from corporates because they want to do the right thing and I think there is a real push for them to look at how they get rid of stock that they don’t sell. We’ve got a fantastic partnership with Hanes Australasia, and we’ll be looking to do more.
How have your past jobs in different sectors informed your work in the sector?
It’s funny, my seven-year-old daughter once asked me what qualifications I needed to work at GIVIT, and I had a bit of a laugh because it’s a sector that I think uses so many different skills. I was a scientist by trade but I’ve always enjoyed the communication side of it and not so much the bench work. So working in the NFP sector is about people, it’s about relationships and I think that’s been where I bring those skills. Whether that came from science I don’t know. I was also a teacher for many years and I think teaching gives you an incredibly broad range of skills, of organising and getting things done, working with a range of different personalities and people, so I think in that way it put me in good stead for more of a management role.
What would you say you enjoy most about your job?
I love working with our fantastic team of staff and volunteers who are attracted to this role because they too want to make a difference. More generally, I love the fact that we have the ability to help people in need, get what they need. The stories and thank you’s are incredible. Getting a letter from someone saying a food voucher meant that they could put a beautiful meal on the table for Christmas, or a Christmas present for their child meant the world. It’s pretty powerful that we can make such a difference.
I remember being at a fete and meeting a group of women who had made jars of beautiful homemade jam to sell to raise money for paper and pens to use in an adult literacy program they were running. We were able to match them with a big printing company who had a whole lot of stuff that was pre-printed incorrectly that would normally go to landfill. They made that donation straight to the group and it meant they had everything they needed.
How would you say that your experience of working in this organisation has changed your perspective of the world?
I think I realise how the gift of giving is not just the item, it’s the fact that someone cares. I love the fact that it’s anonymous, because it’s not about you feeling good about it, it’s about you actually making a difference. I think it’s really exciting that our donors can have that wonderful feeling of making a difference and I know from talking with our charities and the organisations we work for that active giving can just turn someone’s life around. It might be the beds, or the washing machine, or the laptop for them to get a job, but it’s the fact that someone cared enough to give it to them, which is the most important thing.