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The secret sauce to charity and NGO success (it’s not money)


The secret sauce to charity and NGO success (it’s not money)


For many people, the mention of ‘charity’ is closely associated with the idea that people are trying to convince you to donate. Chris Freel challenges us to change perceptions on charity and think beyond cash contributions.

Pesky tin rattlers outside the train station, the TV ads pulling on your heartstrings and unsolicited phone calls during your dinner can make you feel like all they care about is getting a slice of your hard-earned cash. There’s no denying that money does indeed help the charity world along, but when it comes to making a difference, it’s not the only thing that can create change.

And, in a weird twist, in some instances – especially with some of the smaller grassroots charities with which UnLtd works – an obsession with money can actually get in the way of the impactful work that is being done. Here’s why.

Money can assist with driving behavioural change, but it’s not the only change agent. It’s the behavioural changes themselves that can actually lead to the greatest impact on communities – not money. Take for example one of UnLtd’s charity partners, BackTrack, which operates out of Armidale, New South Wales under the guidance of a remarkable man, Bernie Shakeshaft.

He is living proof that the ability to make a real difference is not ruled by how much funding can be achieved. Shakeshaft started BackTrack in 2006 with nothing more than an old transport yard he had managed to acquire at minimal cost from the local government.

Fast forward 12 years and Shakeshaft and his team have transformed this deserted space into a place where kids – who often have nowhere else to turn and who have fallen foul of the system – come to find support, community and guidance to help them to get their lives back on track.

UnLtd team at BackTrack 2017

He uses unconventional methods and, thanks to a decision to turn it down because of the conditions it comes with (which would not enable BackTrack to operate and drive the results that it does), has little to no government funding. Yet BackTrack’s programs that reintroduce the kids into education and employment have delivered exceptional results – with some 87% of participants now engaged in education and employment.

The BackTrack team is guided by the principles of the ‘Circle of Courage’, which has four areas of focus: generosity, belonging, mastery and accountability. Or as Shakeshaft aptly calls it: “owning your s**t”. (As an aside – this resonates for me in life in general.)

The kids who come to BackTrack often have never had anybody who believes in them, may have been in and out of jail, homeless, victims of serial abuse and violence, and in and out of foster care. One of the first things the BackTrack team does is provide a sense of belonging. No kid is ever turned away from BackTrack and everybody is treated equally. BackTrack spends a lot of time with the kids getting them to understand that they have to be accountable, they have to own their s**t – no matter how bad it may be – as that is the first step on the path forward.

BackTrack spends 80% of its time focusing on the future, 10% on the past and 10% on the present day. It takes accountability for the present and then focuses on where the kids want to be in the future. Its programs bring mastery to life through agricultural training, welding, woodwork and working with dogs.

Generosity and humility is repeatedly on show through all that it does. There’s no doubt that money through donations is an important part of enabling BackTrack to do what it does, but the real secret sauce for success is social responsibility as shown by the local community – from providing job opportunities to the young people in the program, to supporting their social enterprises and the general support of the local community to help these kids get back on track.

It is a real community effort.You may be wondering why, in The Money Issue, I have spent so much time focusing on the work of one charity and how money isn’t the only thing that matters.

Don’t get me wrong. Fundraising, payroll giving and regular donations all do a great deal in helping our charity partners run their programs, so money is hugely important to enable the work. But it’s only one part of the equation. Generosity comes in many different forms and often what is given in time, resources, sharing and action has equal impact.

It is time to change the narrative and stigma around the word ‘charity’ and collectively focus more on ‘social responsibility’. We all have a responsibility to make our country and our world a better place and leave a positive legacy for our children and their children’s children.

As an industry of marketers we have so much collective power to be able to do this, so please think about how you can harness your power for good and get in touch. I challenge you all to think of charity in a different way. Ask yourself if you are currently doing anything that is helping to make Australia a better place? Consider what you can do to create social impact for good, to leave a legacy and make our country better for all, including those less fortunate than ourselves.

Think beyond contributing your cash. What skills and resources do you, or your organisation, have that can make a difference? Are you using them for good or do you have room to? If you are already helping making a difference with your skills and resources and time, then please accept my gratitude and consider encouraging your friends, colleagues and anybody who will listen to do the same. If the answer is ‘no’, then I invite you to consider how you can make a difference.

At UnLtd, we work with organisations and individuals in the media, marketing and advertising industry to use our collective skills and resources for good.

We believe that all young Australians deserve the best opportunity in life and we also believe that if we collectively harness our power and influence for good then we can make a hugely positive difference in our country. Give us a call. We’d love to help you (and your organisation) help others.

Marketing is proud to have UnLtd as its Content Partner. UnLtd brings the Australian media, marketing and advertising industries together to tackle a big issue: undoing youth disadvantage. We urge you to visit unltd.org.au and get involved.


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