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Collaboration for purpose

25 January 2023 at 12:00 pm
Danielle Kutchel
Since her involvement in one of Australia’s most recognisable campaigns, Vicki Miller has had many leadership roles across the sector. She is this week’s Changemaker.

Danielle Kutchel | 25 January 2023 at 12:00 pm


Collaboration for purpose
25 January 2023 at 12:00 pm

Since her involvement in one of Australia’s most recognisable campaigns, Vicki Miller has had many leadership roles across the sector. She is this week’s Changemaker.

Incoming CEO of Shake It Up Foundation Vicki Miller loves building a team around a shared vision. It’s one of the earliest lessons she learned in her career, and one that she has carried with her through various not for profit roles.

Before working in the not for profit sector, she found her feet in the PR industry, working for Holt PR in the early stages of her career. There she was tasked with the Australian launch of the Courvoisier Book of the Best edited by Lord Litchfield and was fortunate enough to meet the man himself and take him on a publicity tour of the country.

The big names didn’t stop there; in the early 90s Miller launched her own PR firm, Burton-Taylor Communications, specialising in the property industry and attracting clients like Harry Triguboff, Lend Lease, Multiplex. 

But she knew what she really wanted to do was give back to the community. Seeking an opportunity to do just that, she took on the Jeans for Genes account for the Children’s Medical Research Institute (CMRI) on a pro bono basis and launched the fundraiser’s campaign. Jeans for Genes has since become one of the nation’s most iconic campaigns.

Miller managed it for the next three years and was appointed to CMRI’s board for five years too, before selling her business and taking some time off to start a family. When she returned to work, it was to the not for profit sector, working with Father Riley at Youth Off The Streets.

From there, she moved into a Head of Development position at the Black Dog Institute. She worked alongside Professor Gordon Parker, whom she describes as “a most inspirational man and friend”. Four years later and looking for a role a bit closer to home, she became the inaugural general manager for the Barbara May Foundation, where she worked to raise funds to support the work of Valerie Browning AM and her nephew, Dr Andrew Browning AM in maternal healthcare in sub-Saharan Africa. 

Miller’s next role was with Quest for Life Foundation as operations manager, before an opportunity arose at Shake It Up. There was a personal driver here, as Miller had seen the struggle of a loved family member with Parkinson’s Disease. But she adds, “I was ready for a change and was again drawn to the inspirational and entrepreneurial vision of our founder Clyde Campbell and what he had achieved”. At Shake It Up she began in the role of executive general manager, remaining there for nearly six years and growing the foundation’s profile and revenue streams.

Late last year, she was announced as the organisation’s new CEO.

Your career has been full of “firsts”, like launching Jeans for Genes. What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned from these firsts?

I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of building something from a concept/idea into reality. The biggest lesson is understanding as a leader to build a strong team around you and collaborate to achieve a shared vision. That is how I built the Jeans for Genes campaign from the start, by establishing a steering committee of influencers across various areas of business to assist and always focussing on pro bono support. So individually they all became ambassadors for the cause and were invested in the campaign. When I look back at the various organisations and roles I have had it is the ones that focussed on collaboration that have achieved the greatest success.

What first attracted you to Shake It Up?

My grandmother suffered with Parkinson’s for the last decade of her life. She was widowed in her early 60s and was very independent and always volunteering to support her local parish church. She grew her own vegetables and was an amazing cook and I always enjoyed visiting her home. To see such a capable independent woman gradually lose all function, unable to walk or communicate, was heartbreaking, so when the opportunity to join Shake It Up became available there was a strong personal connection for me. Then I met Clyde Campbell, our founder who is such a humble, honest, hard working man with a great vision and entrepreneurial spirit and I just felt the fit was perfect.

What do you hope to achieve in your time as CEO, do you have any particular goals in mind?

During COVID we launched the Catalyst Programme Velocity to accelerate the discovery and implementation of therapies to slow, stop, cure or prevent Parkinson’s. I have been working closely with Clyde to attract new high level donors to support this program and we have just announced $1.7m in funding for a NIX Gene Therapy research project at NeuRA. This revolutionary gene therapy will increase the energy supply to brain cells so they can function for longer which would stop disease progression. So my goal is to continue to grow our revenue streams and profile so that we can fund cutting edge projects like this that have the potential to slow and stop disease progression. I can see light at the end of the tunnel and I am motivated to help accelerate research to help everyone living with Parkinson’s now and in the future.

What does this new role mean to you?

I think it is validation of my commitment to the foundation and what has been achieved over the last six years. We are a very small team, only four of us working behind the scenes, with a new marketing and communications manager joining the team soon. It is all of us working together that have contributed to the success and I am looking forward to leading the team through further growth as we continue to drive and support cutting edge Australian Parkinson’s research and collaborating with our partners at The Michael J. Fox Foundation and Cure Parkinson’s UK.

What does a typical day look like in this role?

I work from a home office and have done for the last six years. So once I’ve had my morning coffee I am straight onto the computer. I travel up and down to Sydney from my office in the Southern Highlands and interstate as required but since COVID most meetings now are conducted by Zoom and we have a lot of early morning and late evening zooms with the US and UK.

What motivates you each day?

My work and my family. I have two adult children whom I adopted from Colombia as newborn babies. I have a 25 year old son, Alex and a 22 year old daughter, Emma and I am going to be a grandmother this year as my son and his partner are expecting their first child in August and I am really looking forward to that experience.

What are the biggest challenges facing your organisation and the NFP/charity sector more generally?

Managing our growth with such a small team. I am fortunate to be a member of the Non Profit Alliance Leadership Hub, a supportive, learning and mentoring network focused on developing the skills and expertise of senior leadership team members of Australia’s non-profit organisations. I’ve met some amazing inspirational leaders from my participation in this group and it is great to have this network to share information and learn from one another. 

I think the greatest challenge to the NFP sector at the moment is funding as more and more charities are competing for donations in an uncertain economy and how we all differentiate ourselves to attract the funding needed to provide vital services to the community. We were fortunate during COVID and saw our income increase but that was not the case for a lot of other charities so it is also how they rebuild now that we are learning to live with COVID.

How do you wind down at the end of a busy week?

I walk! I am fortunate to live in the beautiful Southern Highlands of NSW and we live near the Wingecarribeee walking track. So my husband and I love to go for a late afternoon walk once we are both finished work and then longer walks in our region on the weekends. I also love to cook so I am always happy at the end of the day in the kitchen prepping dinner and enjoying a glass of wine or entertaining friends on the weekend at home.

Danielle Kutchel  |  @ProBonoNews

Danielle is a journalist specialising in disability and CALD issues, and social justice reporting. Reach her on or on Twitter @D_Kutchel.

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