Book Review

Driven by Purpose

Charities that make the difference – Book Review

Published: October 8, 2012

Read Time: 5 minutes

Driven by purpose editorial

Driven by Purpose: Charities that make the difference (2012) is a new book from Stephen Judd, Anne Robinson and Felicity Errington that considers the history of non-profit organisations in Australia and advocates the value of ensuring organisations are purpose-driven.

The book presents an excellent potted history of the charity sector in Australia and considers pertinent questions such as Why have charities? What’s the big issue about legal definitions? and Why does Australia have such a significant charity sector? Driven by Purpos answers these questions and confidently and succinctly describes how the culture of Australian non-profit organisations has developed. The book also highlights the significance that identity and purpose play in the success of these entities and suggests ways in which organisations can explore these to their best advantage.

All three writers have a long history of contribution to Australia’s non-profit sector. Dr Stephen Judd is the CEO of HammondCare, an independent Christian charity and a specialist in dementia-care services. Anne Robinson has more than 25 years experience in charity law and in the governance of a range of non-profit organisation. Felicity Errington works with NGOs in international development and she brings non-profit policy and research expertise to this carefully constructed book. The work of these three writers was aptly supported by Tim Costello in the heartfelt foreword that opens the book.

Judd, Robinson and Errington’s book can be political, at times. This is most notable in the chapters that address the philosophy of the modern charity sector, in which the writers lament the growing secularization of the Australian non-profit sphere. It is evident that the authors’ involvement with Christian charities has informed their defence of the role and prominence of these charities in the Australian non-profit sector. The authors use the term “charity” liberally but in all but a few cases it can be used interchangeably with not-for-profit or non-profit organisation. In addition to this, much of their advice to charities and their emphasis on finding a purpose and clarifying mission statements will be equally valuable for non-profit organisations.

Driven by Purpose has an engaging style and is likely raise a number of new ideas or generate inspiration for readers. The authors approach the subject of charity and the third sector from with a positive attitude and from a refreshing angle. All ideas are expressed clearly and effectively and the book is made suitable for both newcomers to the sector and those with many years of experience via the writers’ inclusive tone.

Driven by Purpose is an opinion driven book. The writers do not hold back in sharing their opinions on the current state of the non-profit sector and their vision for how it could best be improved. They begin the book with a controversial statement “charities are in crisis” and proceeds to examine this crisis and propose solutions.  Although they attempt to be controversial with this statement, the book is not solely an expression of rhetoric and the writers proceed to offer practical advice and solutions in the latter half of the book. Although it is an opinionated text, Driven by Purpose never feels too aggressive or didactic and remains accessible to readers who hold differing views.

There is great value in an exploration of the history of the Australian non-profit sphere. It is important for non-profit organisations to understand how the sector has been shaped and where its philosophical roots lie. Driven by Purpose is divided into two distinct parts_._ The first part gives an overview of the history and attitudes that have shaped the charity sector in Australia. In addition to this it also poses some challenging questions about the role of the non-profit organisations and the value they afford society. This part is quite theoretical and philosophical and will be valuable for board members who wish to really to get to the core of and reassess the value of their organisation. This text is refreshingly Australian. The writers make insightful comments on the current state of the non-profit sphere and the book is littered with references to Australian organisations and the individuals and events that have shaped the sector.

The second part of the book, a good 60 pages longer than the first part, takes a significant shift and addresses real tactics and responsibilities of board members in the governance of their organisation as well as making recommendations of the best approaches for keeping organisations on track and on purpose. In this part, the writers encourage readers to consider the “who” and “why” behind strategic plans, rather than just the “how” and “what”. One of the most successful chapters discusses the role and contribution of a purpose-driven board. It takes the reader back to the basics of governance and reassesses which elements are vital and which can be negotiated or adapted to suit the organisation.

This book is invaluable for its sincere and succinct description of the history of charities and non-profit organisations in Australia. Judd, Robinson and Errington utilise real passion and clarity in their descriptions of the sector and reveal a genuine understanding of the nature of the sector as well as its benefit to society. They also offer considered advice on the governance of organisations in the second half of the book that will be particularly appreciated by directors of organisations that may benefit from reassessing or redefining their purpose.

Driven by Purpose may appeal to board members who are open to questioning or challenging the purpose of their organisations and wish to get their organisations back on track or clarify their mission and purpose. It is also a great introduction to the history and philosophy of the third sector in Australia and would sufficiently demarcate some of the important issues and concerns relating to this sector for newcomers, as well as prepare them for the attitude and driven approach required to govern a successful organisation.

Published by Hammond Press, 2012. 336 pages.


Former Researcher
Better Boards

At the time of writing Julia was a writer and researcher at Better Boards. She has a passionate interest in the non-profit sector, particularly its legal and regulatory complexities and she follows all news and developments in this area keenly. Prior to joining Better Boards, Julia served as an intern at Philanthropy Australia. Julia has a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Melbourne, majoring in Political Science and English Literature.

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