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Pro Bono Australia - An Impact Investment

Thursday, 18th December 2014

2014 has been a transformative year for the Not for Profit sector and Pro Bono Australia. In her last blog for the year, Founder Karen Mahlab takes a look at the many highs and some of the “learnings” in the Pro Bono Australia journey.

Two years ago, we made the calculated decision to significantly invest in Pro Bono Australia to take it to the next level believing we could make a go of creating a hub for the community sector and the social economy in Australia. Some would say the investment has been philanthropic, I would say we’ve made an Impact Investment. It’s been risky and not without incident. But, as they say, “it’s all good”.

We’ve been gratified by how many people have commented positively on our growing profile and activities and extra pleased by the number of people who approach us with stories to explore and partnerships.

The past two years have seen enormous growth. In 2014 we’ve had over 780,000 unique users visiting our site. Our subscriber base was up 30 per cent 2013 and has grown another 45 per cent in 2014 taking us to a massive subscriber base of 77,000 across our three weekly News Services plus a social media following of 18,000 on Twitter and over 8,000 on Facebook.

And every week we continue to grow.

We’re especially pleased about these statistics because we’ve been successful in combating what we see as three unique challenges:

1.    We are in large part a media organisation and, as we are all aware, Media organisations are all being challenged to develop revenue streams that make them sustainable in a digital world.

Over time Pro Bono Australia have developed multiple revenue streams that we believe give significant value to the sector we serve.

Specifically, in 2014, we launched The Board Report – a monthly curated publication of top news stories for C-Suite executives and Board members. For an annual fee of $149 subscribers receive a monthly, fully designed PDF that can be distributed to the Board and senior staff to keep them abreast of Sector News, Opinion and new developments. The information contained in The Board report helps people know what’s going on and improves governance. We’re pleased that The Board report has had an excellent take-up.

We also launched twice monthly, hour long Webinars on a wide range of topics which make ongoing education and training accessible to many in the sector who cannot afford large conference attendance fees.  We had 2,300 people attending our seminars this past year.

Our Guide to Giving celebrated its 25th Anniversary this year (it was part of the original Mahlab publishing company) and our Source Guide, Salary Survey, online advertising and Jobs Board all continue to grow.

2.    A further challenge has been to develop not only a sustainable organisation but one that gives voice to a sector which, until recently, has had no overarching, unifying voice and whose speaking voice is challenged by an understandable and real fear of jeopardising Government funding.

We see our ability to survey the sector at a macro level as being extremely important as a community service and goes some way in counterbalancing this issue.

We’re pleased that our survey respondent numbers are now big enough to generate a representative view of the sectors wishes.

In particular, over the last couple of years our Annual Sector Survey has given an evidence base around proposed Federal Government initiatives such as the abolition of the ACNC. This years Annual Sector Survey was done in collaboration with the Community Council of Australia and NetBalance (now Ernst and Young).

The Pro Bono Australia Annual Sector Survey results have been extensively quoted in the general media, at the National Press Club, on the floor of Parliament and by many groups to support a reversal of the Governments position –  giving a voice for what the sector wants for itself.

We also believe one of our core strengths is our openness to collaboration  and in 2014 we collaborated with 25 organisations (and partnered with many more) to deliver important events and developments for the sector – with Pro Bono Australia acting as a focal point and as a “loudspeaker”.

In particular we’d like to thank CPA Australia, GoodPitch and the Community Council for Australia each of whom have been great partners to work with.

Identifying and giving a profile to our sector leaders was the reason behind the launch of the Impact 25 which we announced just last week generating one of our biggest days ever with over 8700 people reading about the winners. Leading up to the announcement over 3000 people voted on the 200 people nominated. We look forward to seeing who emerges in the coming years.

3.    We are a For Profit company operating  in a Not for Profit world.

There are many Not for Profit media companies in the USA and at times we have wished we had used this model as we could have attracted philanthropic funding. But time is bearing out our decision to stick with using our business skills to develop sustainable revenue streams and this year we became a B Corp to lend credence to the type of organisation we are.

We went through an extensive accreditation process that analysed our social, governance and environmental policies to rate us according to the B Corp criteria – and we passed with flying colours!

We are delighted to be part of a 1000 strong network of likeminded B Corp companies around the globe for whom profit is not the end game but only part of building a sustainable future.

None of any of the above would be possible without THE TEAM. Yes, the Pro Bono team is a powerhouse of integrity, creativity, innovation and smarts. They’re a small crew but oh so effective. To you guys – a big thanks for making Pro Bono Australia thrive in 2014.

And now here’s to 2015. Watch this space. There’s much more to come – and hopefully that will involve our new site to showcase our new logo which showcases the vision we want to bring into being.

And I’ll leave you with an end of year quote from Thoreau in his book Walden which I read last summer and has taken me through 2014.

“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?”

Seasons greetings to you – and may many miracles happen for you and yours in 2015.

Karen Mahlab AM is the Founder and CEO of Pro Bono Australia. In 2015 she was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia for her contribution to the Not for Profit sector and philanthropic initiatives.
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