Nathan Stirling is the chief executive of Open Family Australia, the high- profile welfare and outreach agency for street kids. In addition to his qualifications in teaching and educational studies (Asian studies) he has a certificate in association management from Mount Eliza Business School, is a graduate of the leadership course conducted by the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and is participating in the Australian Institute of Management’s Masters of Management Program. In 1999, he was made a Member of the Order of Australia for service to disadvantaged youth. Nathan Stirling is an Associate Fellow of AIM.
AIM: What are the management challenges in running a not-for-profit organisation?
Stirling: I imagine they are similar to the management challenges of any enterprise. Non-profits are in the invidious position of having to ask for funds to sustain services. We have to be shopping for support from the community all the time. That is one difference. But a lot of the same drivers that operate in every company operate in non-profits: working in a competitive environment, trying to get goods results, and having good procedures and policies and human resources management.
AIM: Can the management techniques applied to running a business work the same way in a not-for-profit organisation?
Stirling: The non-profits around the world that are meeting their objectives of providing services to their targeted clientele seem to be increasingly adopting businesslike approaches.
AIM: How can businesses work closely with not-for-profits?
Stirling: Business is an important player in providing a cohesive society. Historically that role has been provided by the extended family, church and state. But increasingly business is playing an important role. It is done through simple philanthropy and what is commonly referred to as cause-related marketing and sponsorship. Today, unlike the 1970s when Open Family started, when every street kid could be found in St Kilda or Kings Cross, they are now spread through the whole community, for example, in shopping centres. We do a lot of work with shopping centres around the country, putting to them that there is a real cost saving for them in investing in a worker. They can see a financial result because they have to spend less on security, graffiti removal and shoplifting. There are also good arguments about why they might do it because it is good public relations and being a “corporate citizen”.
AIM: What do you think of the recent warning by the Co-operative Insurance Society in the United Kingdom that the concept of corporate social responsibility is being hijacked by cynical companies wanting to use it purely for public relations purposes?
Stirling: If companies are using it for public relations exercises and the charities are benefiting from it, I don’t see what the problem is. Where companies are getting involved with non-profits because they want to be socially responsible, of course, they would expect to get positive PR out of it and I don’t think anyone should deny them that. In fact, it should be encouraged.
AIM: What can businesses learn from not-for-profits?
Stirling: Non-profits as a general rule are more passionate about what they are doing. People are motivated by the cause or by their career. The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but a lot more people are in non-profits because they believe in the cause, rather than to advance their careers.