Finding new ways to fund big change
1 March 2022 at 8:12 am
Julie McDonald is the CEO of The Funding Network, an organisation connecting grassroots not for profits with people who can fund them. She’s this week’s Changemaker.
Hailing from Dublin, Ireland, Julie McDonald spent the first portion of her career as a communications and PR professional.
But after moving to Australia she embarked on a career with more purpose, she transitioned into the charity sector, taking a job with the St Vincent de Paul Society where she was the driving force behind the Vinnies CEO Sleepout.
In the years following her stint at Vinnies, she held leadership positions at the Kolling Foundation and the Philanthropic Foundation of the Northern Sydney Local Health District.
In 2018 she took the helm of The Funding Network (TFN), an intermediary organisation that connects grassroots NFPs with philanthropic funders.
As well as equipping charities with pitching skills, and professional and leadership opportunities, TFN has transformed the way people connect and give to causes, through TFN Live, its flagship live crowdfunding events for grassroots charities, and TFN Learn, workshops and white label crowdfunding events for the broader philanthropic sector.
During COVID, McDonald led the transition of these events from in-person to completely virtual, still managing to generate nearly $6 million for grassroots charities over the past two years.
For her work and contribution to the social change sector, McDonald was recognised as one of Pro Bono Australia’s 2021 Impact 25 Award winners.
In this week’s Changemaker, she discusses her journey to TFN, how she manages the challenges of her job, and how to make a change in the world.
What drew you to TFN?
The Funding Network was like coming home to me. With over 15 years in leadership roles in the for-purpose sector, I had seen a lot of interesting and often very expensive ways to raise funds for charitable programs. TFN offered something fresh and new that was uplifting and very effective. As well as equipping the charities with pitching skills, professional and leadership opportunities, TFN has imaginatively transformed how people connect and give to causes. TFN makes organisations’ stories the centrepiece and makes giving accessible and joyful for all. I was immediately attracted to the organisation and wanted to be part of it.
What are some of the things that inspire your leadership?
The people around me have always inspired me and that has never been truer than at TFN. I lead an incredible team who are true pros in every sense of the word. They bring unparalleled passion and energy to the organisation every single day.
For an organisation that is all about the power of the collective, the collective power of the TFN team is very motivating. At the beginning of the pandemic, the team pulled together and in a matter of weeks had developed a new virtual live crowdfunding model to keep the wheels turning. Since then, we’ve delivered 39 virtual events raising over $5.8 million. It’s this kind of “can do” mindset that gets me jumping out of bed every day.
How do you manage the challenges of your job and keep yourself grounded in hard times?
Stories, stories, stories… In all the roles I’ve had, it has been people’s stories that have kept me focused and moving forward in challenging times. At TFN, we all love to hear from the charities and social enterprises we support – how the access to new networks, skills and funds has been transformational to their work helping so many people in need. As a team, we celebrate these stories when we hear them and regularly invite our alumni back to share their work. Hearing from them keeps us razor-focused on our mission of building the capacity of grassroots for-purpose organisations.
What advice do you have for someone wanting to make a difference in the world?
There are lots of ways to make a difference. It might be committing to an hour a week volunteering, donating 5 per cent of your annual salary or bringing your experience and skills to a paid role at a charity. I started my career in corporate communications but as I never felt completely fulfilled, I did a lot of volunteering and pro-bono work in my own time. It was a move to Australia that gave me the opportunity to reflect and consider how I could incorporate my passion for social justice and systemic change into my professional life. And I’ve never looked back.
How has working at TFN changed the way you see the world?
Honestly, I used to be part of the “there are too many charities” brigade. And while that may be true to some extent, I have been blown away at some of the entrepreneurial ways small, grassroots charities have approached issues impacting their own communities. They live and work locally, so they are often uniquely placed to respond and address local problems effectively. I believe that is very valuable and critical to the social fabric of Australia.