Executive with a Cause

Episode 01: Carrie Leeson of Lifeline Canberra

In this episode of Executive with a Cause, host Tammy Ven Dange chats with Carrie Leeson, CEO of Lifeline Canberra and The Beacon Group.

How does an established charity experiment with new opportunities, whilst bound by the necessary bureaucracy of the Not for Profit (NFP) sector? And how can an organisation develop resilience at a time when their service demands are at record levels, but with reducing government support?

Carrie Leeson talks us through her creative approach of using one organisation to support another, with her work in ‘the sandpit’ as CEO of The Beacon Group. Here, she identifies and creates new growth and revenue opportunities for Lifeline, without the associated risk.

Carrie also discusses the power of ‘compatibility’ and a shared cause when managing a NFP team, and provides insights into balancing purpose with good governance as the NFP sector continues its rapid growth.

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IT in Plain English

In this week’s segment of ‘IT in Plain English’, what does a suitcase have to do with servers and the cloud? Find out in this episode of ‘Executive with a Cause’!

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Topics from this episode:

  • 0.00 | Intro
  • 0.55 | What is Lifeline Canberra?
  • 2.50 | The Lifeline Book Fair
  • 5.00 | Diversifying the organisation’s income
  • 6.00 | The Beacon Group
  • 9.00 | Deciding to create another organisation
  • 11.30 | The Pandemic
  • 15.30 | Mitigating physical and emotional risks for teams
  • 19.50 | Utilising technology
  • 22.00 | Tools to becoming a better leader
  • 23.55 | Managing teams with volunteers and staff
  • 27.50 | Commitment
  • 29.40 | Identifying cultural fit
  • 33.40 | Emerging themes for Lifeline
  • 36.00 | The difficulty of collaboration for Not for Profits
  • 37.50 | Advice for whether to start an Not for Profits
  • 41.00 | Breaking down the role of a CEO
  • 42.00 | Dealing with change
  • 44.40 | Advice for running a better Not for Profit
  • 47.00 | Where to find out more about Lifeline?

Quotes from Carrie Leeson in this episode:

“Beacon Group allows us to be really agile, to try new things, to take risks and find ways to change the conversation around mental health, and be where we’re needed really quickly.”

“The book fairs are an institution, almost an iconic event in Canberra that we’re slowly growing in other states.”

“Lifeline is a very well-known brand and very trusted in Australia. It is very clear in its mission and what it seeks to achieve for the Australian community, so of course when you try to diversify to respond to community needs, they may well fall out of the scope of that organisation”

“Beacon Group was created for that purpose, to go out and around that (Lifeline Canberra) brand, but always in support of the brand”

“It (The Beacon Group) isn’t bound by licensing and agreements, which allows us to go out and around and respond to the immediate need, without the bureaucracy of a larger organisation”

“Understanding what the organisational priorities are when you come into a well-known, trusted brand, understanding what it is you can do within the confines, and still achieve the outcomes, because things are changing all the time.”

“Understanding compliance and governance as part of the tapestry is so important.”

“What we had to do with Lifeline Canberra was focus on sustainability. The organisation itself was in a precarious position financially, having lost significant funding streams from the government. And so our priority then wasn’t to create, it was to consolidate and try and stop the bleeding. What we had to do was quickly generate revenue streams.”

“There were often multiple attempts to work within the brand without understanding what the consequences, unintended or otherwise would be of going down certain paths. There was a lot of engagement with Lifeline Australia and our networks before we established it (Beacon Group) would be good for everyone if we moved some projects outside of the Lifeline brand.”

“I sought to understand, from the beginning, what the mission was, what the objective was, what was special about it. As someone coming in who was relatively new, on both sides of the organisation, it was really important to understand what I was asking of people.”

“When you create a safe environment, both emotionally and physically for individuals, that’s where they’re able to shine and thrive, and actually contribute back to the culture.”

“We have a really good read on the community that we’re serving. Individual’s preferences and engagement and habits. And that’s been awarded to us through analytics.”

“We now have a series of platforms online that assist us in ensuring that we’re accurate on the compliance side, but also that we’re engaging regularly and getting our message out consistently on the front-end, relationship side.”

“How we essentially manage and engage (volunteers and staff) is very, very similar.”

“With a volunteer…it’s all heart, and they’re coming to you because they’re either passionate about leaving the community or organisation better than they found it, or because they’ve suffered a loss themselves, or they’re coming to you because they’ve experienced something, and they want to prevent someone else going through it.”

“Understanding the very unique drivers, helps you determine what commitment means, and what you’re asking for, and how you facilitate it and grow it.”

“What we’re anticipating is an increase in the number of mental health challenges people will face, for at least the next three years.”

“I came in very green into the charity sector, from the private sector, and thought collaboration was just the way to go. But it’s not, only because of the funding issues that preclude that collaboration, because it can put a risk to funding.”

“My role at this point is to understand, to scout and see what’s left, what’s remaining, what do people need? What’s the sentiment? Where’s the revenue going to come from and how will we sustain ourselves?”

“Whatever we do strategically, whatever strategy the board sets for me, it’s really important that I digest that and set in place operational processes that match the strategy but meet the need that’s out there at the moment.”

“There’s a lot of pressure to make sure what you’re doing is having the most impact on those who need it the most.”

“We’re seeing new challenges. Never in my wildest dreams would I have anticipated, ten, fifteen years ago that a Lifeline Book Fair would need to be shut-down by protests!”

“It’s a very, very different operating environment, and people’s expectations of the organisation have changed, and it’s really important that I understand that”

“There’s new consequences to doing things the same way. The situations have changed. The complexities on the phoneline have changed”

“Unfortunately we’re in a situation where we’re having to triage services and triage individuals. And hopefully we’ll find ourselves in a world where we don’t have to do that. That’s the mission”

 Links & Resources

Coming Soon “Executive with a Cause” podcast

It’s been about 18 months since I released my final episode of the “Plastics Revolution” podcast. While I really loved that format of communications and networking, I did find it incredibly time-consuming. Furthermore, with such a niche topic based in Australia, I was finding it harder to identify good guests to interview.

Since then I have been thinking about a new show with a broader audience, and especially one that I could at least partially connect to my other business, Roundbox Consulting. So, I’m very excited to unveil my new podcast, “Executive with a Cause.” The first episode will be coming out at the end of April.

Tammy Ven Dange

About the Show: Executive with a Cause

We often know the “WHY” of a purpose-driven organisation. However, on this show, I chat with Not for Profit and Social Enterprise leaders as we uncover the “HOW” – the nuts and bolts of what it really takes to run them well.

How do they balance financial sustainability with their mission? What tools do they use to run their operations? What lessons have they learned as people leaders?

In Australia alone, there are an estimated 600,000 Not for Profits. When you add social enterprises and the global scale of purpose-driven organisations in general, there are a lot of people trying to do great things.

My desire is to share stories to help others better run their operations so that their missions can also thrive.

Launch Date:

We’re currently recording shows with CXO-level leaders in Not for Profits or Social Enterprises with the plan to start releasing them at the end of April. Thankfully, I have a full production and editing team helping me out this time. So, we plan to release the shows on a weekly basis without burning me out this time!

Do you know a great “Executive with a Cause?”

I love it when people provide me with guest recommendations. While they may not always be right for this show or at this time, I do maintain a list. In fact, I’m already lining up guests that were identified for my last show and never made it to the interview stage. So, if you know a great “Executive with a Cause,” feel free to drop me a recommendation.