Above: Gerard Menses addresses the Better Boards Australasia 6th Annual Conference in Melbourne last Saturday.

By Keryn Curtis

Chair of the National Round Table of Non Profit Organisations, Gerard Menses, has urged charities and not for profit organisations to get past rusted-on resistance and “cooperate as hard as you can” to ensure the current opportunity for true reform of their sector is not lost. 

Addressing a 600 strong audience of ‘third sector’ CEOs, senior managers and board members at the start of the 6th Better Boards Australasia national conference at the Melbourne Convention Centre on the weekend, Mr Menses delivered an impassioned warning that the enormous benefits of reform were at risk because organisations could not get beyond entrenched positions and find solutions.

Mr Menses began with a rousing tribute to the incredible contribution of the not for profit sector in Australia.

“We build social capital, we ensure the productivity of the country, we entertain, we educate, we improve lives, deliver care and improve health, we support those who need support….We’re bloody amazing!” he said.

“So why do we f*** up our own reforms so badly?”

Mr Menses said that, while people in the not for profit sector are deeply passionate about their beliefs, these very traits were paralysing progress and risking the future and viability of the sector.

“We have silly philosophical differences; deeply important points we feel we need to fight over,” he said.   “But we are passionate glaciers.  We are so steeped in our own values and steeped in resistance that we can’t move forward.”

“We don’t have to be united but we do have to be organised.  And we need to celebrate the death of resistance.”

Mr Menses said that, while there was an unprecedented set of long-awaited reform processes underway in Australia in areas including aged care, disability, mental health and education which affected a large number of not for profit organisations, the establishment of the new Australian Charities and Not for profit Commission (ACNC) was a reform designed to streamline reporting and regulatory compliance across the whole non-profit sector.

“We need regulation, we need compliance, we need checks and balances on our passion,” said Mr Menses. “We need to organise ourselves and the ACNC gives us that chance; but we’re on the verge of stuffing up this wonderful opportunity for reform.”

“It’s time to put on a tailored hair shirt,” he said.  “It’s not perfect, it could be more comfortable, it’s a bit clunky….but if we put it on and keep working on it, in time we will be able to make it better.”

He urged organisations to work together to celebrate their differences and embrace the change in order to grow.

“Ask the questions, listen to the answers. What is it you are afraid of?  Why do you believe that?  Drawing on the family therapy paradigm, you need to cooperate as hard as you can to find the solution and get past resistance and you can’t do that without listening.  

“We’ve got to embrace the differences and bring them in, so we can build a better and stronger Australia,” Mr Menses said.

This year’s Better Boards conference featured a challenging program that was both practical and educational, highly interactive and filled with compelling and frequently confronting messages.  Details from the conference and copies of the presentations are available for free download at the Better Boards website.

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  1. Gerard Menses is so right on this. The history of reform of the regulation of the nfp sector over the past ten year is a history of failure. The Howard Govt had two attempts at it but implemented almost nothing after strong vested interests in the charitable sector got into his ear – wonder who?

    I see, hear and read the same going on now as the big end of the charitable town seeks to protect its interests at the expense of the whole sector.

  2. The challenge for the nonprofit sector, regardless of service delivery is their ability and desire to take responsibility for their own outcomes. The sector has a choice. It can choose to become transparent and accountable or it can choose to wait until legislators force transparency and accountability upon the sector. The first choice provides the sector with an opportunity to shape its own destiny. The second choice means we have to take what we get.

  3. Until the preferential tax treatment of NFP aged care providers is addressed private sector will always have a different agenda. The playing field is not level for recruiting key personnel for starters.

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