Tell me about the Centenary Institute
The Centenary Institute is 200 people doing basic medical research into cancer, cardiovascular and infectious diseases.
How long have you been doing it?
Centenary’s been around for 25 years. Our name, an odd name, actually refers to the centenary of Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, and the Sydney University Medical Faculty.
How long have you been in your position here?
I’ve been here for 2.5 years.
OK, what got you in here?
My friend rang me (laughs), and said “I’ve got a great job you should go to!”. We had a change of leadership, and our new director was previously the chair of an industry body that a friend of mine was involved with. And he asked her about people around the industry, and they headhunted me in.
So your verbal CV. What brought you to the point that you could get this job?
Sure, OK, so my CV. I went to university and did a bachelor of Business with a double major in international trade and marketing. And I went in India to investigate the free world, and all that sort of stuff. But somewhere along the way I decided I wanted to go into events, opened the paper and the only events job in the paper that week was with the Multiple Sclerosis Society. Applied for it, got it. I spent two years running their massive outdoor events, ‘Sydney to the Gong’, that sort of thing. Then I went to another charity, set up a foundation, went to London, traveled the world, did some PR over there. Came back, and I’ve really been in charity fundraising roles ever since.
Out of all the things you’ve done, the Gong Ride, the events, what’s been good about each single position you’ve had? What have you gotten out of each of your positions?
So I guess the great thing about the fundraising sector for me when I was starting out, was the intensity with which the diversity of the roles, and the incredible responsibility I guess, access I got at an early age. So three months into my career, I was managing a finish line with 10,000 cyclists, 50 teams, 10 corporate sponsors and 8 bands, and I was the only staff member on site for the day. So, that’s a pretty remarkable opportunity for someone who is very young and fresh out of uni. That doesn’t happen very often. Then my next role, the role was built around me which again I was very fortunate. And that was very much a start-up. And again, I was working with everything from world-famous musicians, to homeless kids, setting up innovative new programs, all sorts of things like that. That was really exciting, plus I guess, the obvious part, its an incredible industry, you get to go home at night and the world is a slightly better place as a result of you working.
London was just brilliant. I did London fabulous PR, traveling the country, talking to the CEOs of some really interesting companies, doing some great corporate social responsibility stuff, so that gave me huge access in the UK. Talked to some of the top publications. I went and worked with a small international NGO+, that was interesting. That was my second small one, when I was in charge and really building things. I realised I loved it and had a real aptitude for that. Great, I got to take some people over on an East Timor study tour and, you know, a little bit of international travel there. Then I was at the Heart Foundation, set up the ‘Doorknock Appeal’ for their national fundraising team. Fascinating again, huge challenge, $4 million budgets, really exciting national role. Then here, it was really a chance to sit on the executive of the company. Start from scratch really. I had 800 donors, now we got 5500, and the Board has just approved a plan to get to $4 million a year from the half a million they were raising when I got here. It’s really exciting.
Where does Centenary concentrate on getting their money from?
Sure, so we, so I guess there’s two things. Medical research is by and large funded by what they call “peer reviewed funding” which comes from government sources, and people like the Heart Foundation or Cancer Council have a competitive grants program. But for every dollar we get in those competitive research grants, we need to raise another seventy cents. But historically, that was pretty much picked up by the State Government. But, State Government funding has quite significantly declined, the infrastructure in NSW, hence the Foundation. So …
Is that a NSW thing? Or Australia
It is, its State Government infrastructure.
So, it’s very different state by state. So we’re doing lobbying and in the industry body, and getting people looking into those sorts of issues. But the area I really run is the Foundation. So that is, we look at, income from individuals, be they incredibly wealthy individuals to what we call ‘Joe Bloggs Doner’, so $10, $20 donors, we’ve been in the position to get a lot of those. We have a couple of events that are run through our foundation, which is a sub-committee of our Board. Then we also have some corporates, trusts and foundation. But it’s evolving.
So out of the number of different avenues you can get funding from, the Joe Bloggs, State Government, which one brings you the greatest success?
So I guess for our organisation, the biggest success is with peer-reviewed funding. But that’s an industry-wide thing. I guess, for people reading the blog, who are the fundraisers like me, that’s not our area, ours is more the foundation/ fundraising that I was touching on. So, all of the growth and benchmarking, world industry reports, is that growth comes from individuals that are diversified….a holistic individual fundraising approach is the most sustainable and potentially profitable, and particularly the growth model is the best place to invest.
Have you noticed many other State Governments and how they …?
No, I don’t actually work at that level in the organisation, and I haven’t got the comparative figures about State Government funding around the country.
What do you mean by ‘holistic’?
So, holistic is, there’s this fabulous concept called the ‘Donor Life Cycle’ where you pull someone in as a cash-giver, so someone gives you $20, you write them a letter saying “would you give me $20” “yeah sure, here’s $20” (laughs) and then you can leave it at that, right. And you keep writing to them asking for $20. Or you can think about it, the ‘Donor Life Cycle’ might bring them in as a cash donor, then you might look to upgrade them to their maximum cash gift, which for some people might stream them into becoming more, what you might determine as a ‘Major Donor’ . So at Centenary we might call those people who give us over $1000 a ‘Single Gift’ or you might ask them to become ‘Monthly Givers’, so they give to you every month instead of three or four times a year when you write to them. Then you make sure you maximise their gift, and also looking at their networks to make sure you’re activating their networks as well, and ultimately, encouraging them to leave bequests to your organisation.
What networks do they have? I guess you’ve looked at the networks they all have … professional, personal?
‘Network Fundraising’ is very much at the ‘Major Donor’ level, so that’s looking at things like having functions and talking to your key donors and saying “do you know anybody else? Does your company get involved in philanthropy? Is there a way you can support us through your company?”. Doesn’t work for the smaller donor values, but definitely high value its peer to peer fundraising very much.
How has the Financial Crisis, however they choose to call it, how has Centenary been in this financial crisis?
Yeah, I guess, the good thing and the bad thing ..
Ah yeah, good …
(laughs) Centenary doesn’t have a lot of corporate sponsors and it’s in the loss of corporate revenue that most of the charities have suffered the most. So we didn’t have a lot to lose. In a way that’s a good thing, so we weren’t exposed
Was that a deliberate thing?
Well we didn’t focus on it. I haven’t focused on it. It’s not, for a small emerging organisation like ours without a huge brand profile, we don’t have a lot to offer a corporate operation. So we’re more interested in building our Donor profile, all that sort of thing. And then using corporates as an incidental, so for examples, someone comes up through the Boards networks, we’ll see that opportunity.
You say Brand, who would have Brand?
Just close your eyes and think of ‘charity’. Say the word ‘charity’, and who comes to mind. That’s branding.
I guess …
I doubt Centenary would.
How about the networks of Centenary, do you have other bodies that you collaborate with in this arena or rely on, or do you work on your own? You need advice, or you need to get through a problem …?
Are you talking about fundraising or research?
OK, so research is incredibly collaborative, we have 65 different collaborations around Australia and the world from individual projects, so definitely at the research level. From a fundraising point of view, absolutely it’s vital in a small organisation that you maintain your networks. I have friends former colleagues, some fabulous suppliers, some fabulous email news things, fundraising philanthropy magazine is invaluable. I’m constantly checking with the external environment , and catching up on trends and reading the best books. There’s some great international commentators.
How much time of your day do you spend doing research?
OK, well, ideally, I would spend two to three hours a week catching up with industry trends, what is happening on average. That might mean I go out for a training day, and I don’t do anything for a couple of weeks. I try and devote two to three hours a week, and I get my staff to do that as well.
So the state of fundraising and funding overall for the whole medical community. There was an article in the Australian Financial Review (Boss Magazine) talking about networks and how businesspeople are actually going to Boards and using Boards as a way to network amongst themselves. And the people who are involved, on private Company Boards become part of Non-Profit Boards, and bring their expertise. And they said that, near the end of the article, that Arts Boards are losing that type of talent, but medical research Boards are getting a lot of talent, there’s a move towards them. Have you noticed this?
I can’t comment on what happens in the arts community …
No medical …
I’m not privy to all the Boards of all the medical research institutes around, can’t really comment on that. I think sometimes commentators like to pretend there’s a story. But I know, that Centenary, we’ve been incredibly fortunate to have a remarkable Board, and a remarkable fundraising and marketing committee, and we certainly have been really fortunate in attracting great talent to that.
Through the medical community, has there been more support coming through for, fundraising wise
OK, well you see a Board is very different to a fundraising thing, so a Board is around the governance of the organisation. What I do is, I’m not a part of that, but not in my fundraising role, executive of the company. I go to Board meetings.
Funding for medical research as a whole, across the industry, has there been more funding coming in recently? Has there been a change?
OK, at a government level, it’s stable. At a philanthropic level, honestly, people like to draw these conclusions that one sector is easier to fundraise for that the other, or you know, Arts is in vogue at the moment.
People do think that way, or …
No I said, commentators like to think that happens. I think the reality is that, a professional and responsibly approach from an organisation that actually follows through and says, and is doing something reputable and valuable in the eyes of the community, whether that be fluffy puppies, art or cancer research, you get money for that, and if you ask properly and do it right, I think that all the evidence would suggest that it’s not the trend/ industry-type speciality you’re in that impacts your funding, it’s whether or not you are a good fundraiser, and your organisation is actually doing what it says it does.
On the previous question, where does the bulk of work that results comes from, from you or community interest to fund bodies like this? Is the result a lot to do with your teamwork, or other factors?
Which organisations are you referring to?