Consulting for Social Impact – why Not-for-Profits need business skills

By Melvin Kuang

Where do you start if you're interested in working in the not-for-profit sector? FBE's Global Consulting Group presented an interactive panel session on how to get there, and what to expect.

A passion for philanthropy is an important characteristic of many Business and Economics students. Many students want to give back to society, but before they do, hope to seek greater clarity on what to expect and the what options are available to volunteer their talents. Recognising this, the Global Consulting Group (GCG) hosted an interactive panel session in April 2016: Consulting for Social Impact.

GCG was founded in 2009 by a group of Faculty of Business and Economics students and, with the continued support of the Faculty, has evolved to become a leading pro-bono consulting group that brings together not-for-profits (NFPs), consulting professionals and students to produce real impact on social issues. Each year, GCG estimates they provide up to 21,000 hours in pro-bono consulting for NFPs with their 120 active volunteers.

GCG event Welcoming guests at the event: Jason Kan (GCG Melbourne Head of Events) and Michelle Lu (GCG Melbourne Head of HR)

The Consulting for Social Impact panel included Elaine Montegriffo, CEO of SecondBite, Megan Nutbean of the Community Outreach Team at Lort Smith Animal Hospital, Christine Challis, National Operations Manager at Australian Home Care Services, and Shishir Pandit, Chairman of the GCG Board of Directors. GCG Melbourne President Dhanuka Nanayakkara moderated the panel.

Discussions began with each speaker recounting what drove them to enter the not-for-profit sector in the first place, the obstacles they had to navigate, and their preconceptions that were challenged. Challis told the audience that she was driven by the simple goal of helping those with disabilities, rather than making a conscious choice to join an NFP. Montegriffo, a former Partner at Ernst and Young, said she began her work with NFPs because she was discomfited by societal inequity, and felt it was time to give back.

Initially, Montegriffo found it hard to break into the NFP sector with her corporate business background, but feels the skills that business and economics students possess are vital.

“You need to measure what you are doing, you need to be able to justify your impact, you need to show government and donors (through business data) ‘this is what we are doing’ and why we need your help.”Elaine Montegriffo

The discussion then moved to the state of the sector, its current challenges and surrounding mythology. The continued lack of funding acknowledged by the panel highlights the abiding need for sound business acumen, as does the administration of, in some cases, multi-million dollar budgets.

The panellists agreed that with more stakeholders involved than a profit-driven corporation, managing different objectives can quickly become a complex act for NFPs. Social enterprise was recognised as a way forward for the sector, whereby NFPs receive capital to generate positive impact as well a sustainable income stream to scale their operations. The United States and Europe were noted as stellar examples in this area for having advanced social enterprise models, as well as accommodative legislation supporting their proliferation.

Many of the students in the audience were keen to find out how best to ‘give back’ to the NFP sector as students as well as during their future professional careers. Montegriffo highlighted one way to do this was for businesses to provide volunteers where their specific expertise was needed, such as an IT company working on an IT project for an NFP. She felt that matching your specific skills to a project for an NFP was key. Pro-bono projects of this sort are usually more effective and useful to the NFP than ad hoc, short-term volunteering.

Pandit agrees. He told the audience, "Is it better to contribute your funds or your time? If your skill set aligns with how you could give your time then it can work. So if you’re thinking about planting trees, but you aren’t very strong, maybe it’s better you donate money. But if you have specific skills NFPs need, then long term committed volunteering will usually provide the best possible outcome."

GCG CSI eventPanellists Megan Nutbean, Elaine Montegriffo and Shishir Pandit

Nutbean recommended getting experience within organisations like GCG as a great way to gauge if one is genuinely interested in the sector. She explained that in 2015, a group of GCG consultants evaluated a home-support model pilot program for the Lort Smith Animal Hospital, which helped elderly people and their pets stay together. These student consultants observed the program’s impact, the gaps that were presented, and did further research and analysis to provide a report on the program. Another group is now finding ways for how the Hospital may be able to do more for the home support sector by linking up with other home-support providers. Assistance of this sort is invaluable to an NFP given they aren’t in a position to pay consultancy rates.

This need within the NFP sector provides an opportunity for student consultants to get involved in important, large-scale projects. For example, Challis explained that at Australian Home Care Services, GCG consultants are working on a dynamic financial model to assist with budgeting under the government's National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), which could be a game-changer for the industry. Previously, organisations working in the disability sector directly allocated a set amount of funds to services for their clients. Under the new financial model, people with disabilities would be given a budget, and allowed to allot funds according to the services and organisations they felt they most needed. If successful, Challis is hopeful that this could become a budgeting tool for any NFP working in the disability sector.

In his final remarks, Pandit challenged the audience to consider the concept of sufficiency and society’s drive to consume. “How do you go about having a career that makes you happy? How do you lead a life that has meaning?” he asked of them. Pandit said he always knew he wanted to use his skills to solve issues that were important to him.

“You have one life – find what makes you happy, not what people tell you, and go for it.” Shishir Pandit

Melvin is a graduate of the Bachelor of Commerce (Accounting & Finance) and is now studying the Master of Finance at Melbourne Business School.

For more information about The Global Consulting Group, visit the GCG website.