Targeting a niche has been one of the key elements of CARE Australia’s success in an increasingly crowded not-for-profit sector.
The humanitarian aid organisation’s Australian arm manages programs in 24 countries and clarity of vision has been crucial to its success since former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser formed the organisation in 1987, says CARE’s Andrew Buchanan.
"What’s been really important for us is to carve out a niche," he says. The organisation has a special focus on empowering women and girls to bring lasting change to their communities.
Balancing today and tomorrow
Buchanan concedes that balancing short and long-term goals is difficult for CARE Australia.
While many donors want to see quick evidence that their cash is making a difference, the aid group’s experience is that sustainable development programs typically take 10 to 15 years to achieve their goals.
What helps, says Buchanan, is setting "mini milestones" along the way to ensure that programs are on track.
These milestones are underpinned by clear objectives. The organisation’s overarching aim to deliver quality programs that reduce poverty is supported by three enabling goals: to develop effective leadership, significant income growth and strong partnerships.
Partnerships are crucial
Deriving significant funding from institutional partners such as the Australian Government, the European Union and the United Nations, CARE Australia has also benefited from the support of long-term partners such as Qantas.
It means that, unlike some smaller not-for-profit groups, it is not always sweating on the next membership drive or donor campaign.
"Retaining those partnerships has been the key," Buchanan says.
Through programs that assist diverse areas such as Myanmar and Malawi, CARE Australia seeks to run holistic programs that equip people with the skills and resources to create a better future, rather than backing one-off initiatives. It also implements robust systems to evaluate and improve any program that it rolls out.
"We have to deliver impact, but it has to be quality and we’ve got to be able to measure it," Buchanan says.
Innovation for long-term success
The growing competition in the not-for-profit sector has led to donors and supporters "trusting brands they know" and those that have transparent governance systems in place.
There is justifiable and ongoing scrutiny of the administration costs of not-for-profit groups, says Buchanan, because the public rightly want to know that the organisation they’ve put their trust in is spending their dollars appropriately.
He says it’s also important for aid organisations such as CARE Australia to think outside the square if they hope to make a long-lasting impact.
"We live in a world where innovation is everything and sometimes, just like any organisation, groups in the not-for-profit space have to trial and fail in order to succeed in the long-term," Buchanan says.
In other words…
- Long-term goals and projects can be kept on track by setting milestones.
- Institutional partnerships help to support a longer focus.
- Innovation is important for a lasting effect.
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