The purpose of purpose

It’s important that not-for-profits retain their independence from for-profit aged care providers, according to ACSA’s new CEO, John Kelly, who spoke at the ACS NSW & ACT State Conference earlier today.

Above: Adjunct Professor, John Kelly, presents at the ACS NSW & ACT State Conference, earlier today.

By Keryn Curtis

The new CEO of Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA), Adjunct Professor John Kelly, has used his inaugural industry conference presentation to reassure ACSA members in New South Wales of the importance of retaining independence from for-profit aged care providers.

Kelly’s targeted words come in the wake of ACSA’s decision in February to reverse plans to proceed with a previously announced merger with Aged Care Association Australia (ACAA) and the subsequent establishment last month of a new industry association, Leading Age Services Australia (LASA), representing both for-profit and not for profit aged care providers.

Speaking at the opening of the ACS NSW & ACT Maintain the Rage’ State Conference this morning, Prof Kelly drew on quotes from the American playwright, Arthur Miller and World Vision leader, Reverend Tim Costello, to argue his case for difference between not-for-profit aged care providers and commercial providers.

Arthur Miller, he told the audience of not for profit aged care providers, once said, “Don’t be seduced into thinking that that which does not make a profit is without value”.

“For our most vital sector, such a statement could not have more resonance,” said Prof Kelly.

“Given the federal government’s intention to establish an Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission, it would have been counter-intuitive to diminish ACSA’s NFP voice at such a critical time for the sector.”

Prof Kelly said the unique requirements of faith based, community and charitable providers in the aged care sector must be articulated precisely and not be overshadowed by matters that concern the industry in its entirety.

He said it was critical that ACSA underlines the distinguishing responsibilities of its members as “custodians of values, leaders of innovation, champions of volunteerism and proponents of wholesale community benefit”. 

“It is essential that our members become more visible not-for-profit leaders in service and activism to merit the public’s confidence in our missions, as expressed by tax exempt status and philanthropic support.

“Those most disadvantaged in our community require extra consideration to enable appropriate care solutions. The charitable and not-for-profit sector, or as I prefer to call it, the mission-based providers, must lead the way here.”

The importance of ‘purpose’ for not for profit organisations was a key theme for Prof Kelly, who quoted Rev Costello recently saying, “Our organisations may not be for profit, but we are for purpose”.

He said purpose was not a nebulous concept without substantive meaning or consequence and that its value should not be underestimated.

“Purpose lies at the very heart of devising organisational strategy, the manner in which our vital work is undertaken, and the way we hold ourselves accountable to our consumers, our patrons and society as a whole. […] Our raison d’être is never purely financial or governance focused.”

He said accountability in the mission based sector was more than just looking after the bottom line.

“That is too simplistic a measure and does not reflect the multi-dimensional complexity and intangible, albeit profound, impact and effectiveness of our programs and initiatives. 

“Being able to manage and govern an organisation to make a profit or surplus is a necessary business imperative, but for us, this is not sufficient for us to achieve our far more complex and valued mission.

“Our member organisations proudly exist to serve all older Australians requiring our services, and our true bottom line rises and falls with that.”

Prof Kelly acknowledged that some ACSA members “struggle to understand why a single national provider organisation in this sector cannot be the way forward”.

“If I should be so bold,” he said, “I would use the example of Queensland and Victoria where merged State Associations have gotten on with business over the past couple of years.

“You should note – and this is the critical point – that services provided at State level are primarily educational and industrial, which do not necessarily differentiate across provider sub-groups.

“At the national level, however, where policy, advocacy and lobbying are the critical deliverables, the message of mission based providers is very different from that of our for profit colleagues. 

“It is essential that we can articulate that message directly to government.”

Tags: acaa, acs, acsa, arthur-miller, kelly, lasa, merger, nfp, nsw, profit, tim-costello, world-vision,

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