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Connecting ambition with purpose


13 April 2020 at 8:00 am
Maggie Coggan
As the CEO of People for Purpose, Rachael McLennan is helping to build a strong for-purpose sector by matching great leaders with great organisations. She’s this week’s Changemaker. 


Maggie Coggan | 13 April 2020 at 8:00 am


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Connecting ambition with purpose
13 April 2020 at 8:00 am

As the CEO of People for Purpose, Rachael McLennan is helping to build a strong for-purpose sector by matching great leaders with great organisations. She’s this week’s Changemaker. 

Working across both the corporate and social sectors for many years, McLennan founded People for Purpose to bridge the gap for people wanting to do good, who were not quite sure how to go about it. 

She describes witnessing a “tsunami” of highly qualified people wanting to contribute to a good cause, and at the same time, many for-purpose organisations in desperate need of good leaders. 

Founded in 2014, People for Purpose is trying to create a social sector that is as diverse as the people it represents, that attracts top quality talent who are inspired to make a difference, and is governed by boards who live the principles of effective governance. 

By doing this, McLennan believes that social outcomes can be achieved much more effectively. 

In this week’s Changemaker, she discusses the beginnings of People for Purpose, how to lead through a crisis, and why she loves her job.  

What made you decide to start People for Purpose?

There were a few things. One was an observation I had made around this tsunami of people wanting to make some kind of contribution, and wanting to sit on a board or help out a not for profit. But without context of the sector, they were sometimes not sticking. 

I had also been a not-for-profit CEO and non-executive director and knew how complex it can be to lead and govern and manage organisations in the space. And so [I thought] if we could find ways to tap into that talent, that would be great. That would really help us deliver our social impact. 

My mum was also given up to the Salvation Army and Department of Children’s Services when she was one year old by her parents. So for me there had always been an appreciation of community service through my mum’s experience, and after working in the corporate sector for many years, I really wanted to find a way to jump ship really meaningfully, and I saw this as a way to do it and actually help people. 

What would you say that you’re trying to achieve through People with Purpose and more broadly in your career?

At People for Purpose we are trying to ensure that great leadership talent is matched well to organisations to ensure we’re delivering social impact as a sector, not just doing stuff, but actually delivering impact. I feel like we’re educating and servicing a market at the same time, because for-purpose organisations often don’t apply process when they’re trying to find great people either to lead the business or to govern the business at a board level. There’s still a big chunk of them that either wait for someone to appear, or don’t commit a proper process and then wonder why they are left with people that aren’t actually supporting their impact piece. 

For me personally, I couldn’t choose one charity to work with. They’re all so amazing. But if through People for Purpose I can help support them all to lead and govern well, so they can deliver their impact, I will leave the world a happy place.

What is some advice you would give to charities and their leaders on how to handle this incredibly challenging time we are going through at the moment?

I think the first thing to do always, regardless of whether times are good or bad, is understand what or who your beneficiaries are and respond to what they need. It’s really interesting how many organisations we work with who have lost sight of the people their entire organisation is set up to help. They might be running programs and raising money to do great stuff, but they haven’t actually asked the people they are meant to be helping what they actually want. 

Times like these also enable us to think creatively, and I think now is the time to be doing that. So looking at organisations that work in the same space as you, and working out how to solve complex social problems together, or differently. Carefully communicating is also critical at this time. Don’t over-communicate, but do it carefully, so that all your stakeholders and funders know exactly where you are at. 

What would you say you love most about your job?

Every single day I have the absolute privilege of working with people who are really genuinely motivated to make a difference. I hear stories from individuals and organisations daily on the incredible work that they’re doing to try and solve some of these complex problems. It’s an absolute privilege.


Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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