Preparing for disability sector reforms

reforms where do you fit


Estimated read time: 8 minutes

Disability organisations have been asking Matrix on Board how to prepare for the impending National Disability Insurance Scheme, the move from recurrent funding for services to package funding for individuals, and the focus on person-centred service delivery. A common question is “Should we develop a marketing plan?” in order to survive in this more competitive environment.


Well, yes and no… While a marketing plan may be a useful tool, we think the best prepared organisations will back up a few steps and start with ensuring that their vision, mission and strategy is clear and relevant to the new world.


We know it can be tough to make the time to plan for the future when you’re so busy with the present demands of running an organisation, so we’ve put together a step-by-step guide to jump start your thinking. The process isn’t rocket science, but it is a thoughtful one – all it takes is some planning and the new world could be your oyster.
Step 1 – Where do you fit in the new world?


With all the changes that are happening in the sector, it is an opportune time to take stock of your organisation’s “offering”. It may be that some of the things you are doing will not be sustainable in the new world, while you could expand other parts of your service. It might be time to do things differently or to partner with others who can complement what you do. However tempting it is to just try and make your current services fit in the new world, it is worth honestly assessing your service and figuring out where it best fits. Some research and a simple SWOT analysis is one way of doing this:


  1. Get informed – Before you decide where you fit in the new world, if you haven’t already, do some research on what the new world will look like – try this NDS paper for an overview. Join your peak body to keep up to date.
  2. Think about your organisation’s Strengths – What is it that your organisation does well? Think about your programs, staff, expertise, organisational systems, relationships with stakeholders, governance structure, reputation in the community, financial position and influence on government.
  3. Think about your Weaknesses – What is it your organisation struggles with? See the list in the point above for issues to think about.
  4. Think about the possible Opportunities for your organisation – What opportunities are presented by the new world or otherwise? Are there new areas (both geographic or work type) that your organisation could move into? Are there partnerships that could be beneficial? Can the organisation position itself as an expert in a particular area? Think as broadly as possible.
  5. Think about the possible Threats to your organisation – What could go wrong? Are you worried about not having enough clients? Are there likely to be lots of organisations competing for the same client group? Or for the same staff?


Figuring out the answers to these questions is best done in consultation with key stakeholders, including people who use the service, staff, the board or management committee, and external stakeholders.


Once you have collated this information, it is time to figure out where your organisation fits in the new world. Taking into consideration your organisation’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, are there areas you should stop working in, or expand into, or partner around? Which opportunities fit with your organisation’s strengths?


The process outlined in this Step 1 usually forms part of a strategic planning process. A good strategic plan will articulate a vision for the future and a clear mission that defines what you do to achieve it. It should be a living document that drives the work of the organisation and inspires your stakeholders. Given that you will be doing a lot of the hard work anyway, it may be that now is a good time to review and update your strategic plan.


Step 2 – Do you have the organisational capacity to get you to where you want to be?


Once you have figured out where your organisation best fits in the new world, it’s time to look at whether the organisation has the capacity to meet these new strategic goals. Make a list of the financial, management, staffing, technological, cultural and administrative needs of these goals. Can the organisation meet those needs with existing resources? Make a list of the gaps in your organisation’s capacity to meet those needs. For example, it may be that your strategic goals will involve expanding to provide services by an occupational therapist, but you do not have an occupational therapist on staff. Or your service may need greater visibility in the community to attract enough clients to be viable, but you do not have an existing marketing plan.


Step 3 – Make your goals a reality!


Once you figure out where you want to be and assess your organisation’s capacity, its time to figure out how to achieve your new goals.


The capacity assessment in Step 2 will have highlighted the needs of the new strategic goals and any gaps in your organisation’s ability to meet those needs. It is likely that you will have to develop or strengthen your organisation’s capacity and/or systems. You might need to develop plans for some or all of the following areas:


A person-centred culture will be both required by funders and fundamental to good service delivery. Think about how to improve the person-centred culture of your staff, management, board or management committee, and systems:


  • Will training improve the person-centred culture?
  • How can you involve people who use the service in improving the person-centred culture?


Staff are a service’s most important resource. A productive and happy workforce is crucial to the effective functioning of the organisation. Think about:


  • How you can work with your staff to ensure that everyone is on the same page? This will be significantly improved if you have already involved staff in the consultations around the new strategic goals.
  • Do your staff have the right expertise? If not, do staff need training or should you employ new staff with the relevant skills?
  • Do you have the right level of staffing? Do you need to employ more people? If so should they be full-time, part-time or casual?
  • Do you need to develop your performance measurement or enhancement procedures to ensure the new strategic goals can be achieved?
  • What are the work health and safety implications of any new services you will be providing and how can these be addressed?


Financial resources and systems – the move towards individualised funding may mean less reliable cashflow and greater record-keeping obligations. Think about:


  • What level of resourcing do you need to provide the service you envisage? How much does it cost you to provide say an hour of a particular service?
  • How will you deal with the wage increases in the award?
  • Do you need to develop or improve your financial systems to meet the challenges of individual funding, including individual accounts, invoicing, receipting and debt recovery?
  • Do you have a reliable means of forecasting and monitoring cashflow?
  • Do you have sufficient “back office” resources to manage any increased demand on your accounts team?


You may need to improve your Information technology infrastructure as a result of changes to service delivery, financial systems, staffing, risk management or complaints handling. Think about:


  • Whether your current IT systems can cope with the changes.
  • Does your client information system integrate with your accounting system?
  • Can you expand your current system, or do you need a new system?
  • Are there off the shelf software packages that could help you?


Marketing and communications are critical in times of change as it’s important to keep your organisation top of mind with your clients, funders and partners. Think about:


  • What is your unique value proposition – what do you offer that’s different to other organisations?
  • Who are your key audiences and stakeholders and what approach should be taken in relation to them?
  • What are the key messages you want to convey about your organisation/service?
  • What are the best communications channels to promote your organisation e.g. website, word of mouth, brochure, social media?


Your board or management committee may need some help to ensure best practice governance in the new world. Think about:


  • Does your board know about the new changes and have they been involved in developing your new strategic goals?
  • Does your board have the right set of skills to oversee the implementation and maintenance of the new strategic goals?
  • Are the board processes robust and transparent?
  • Should you evaluate the board’s processes and/or board member’s skills?
  • Would your board benefit from training, coaching or other board development activities?


Risk management should be part of the culture of the organisation. With every new activity undertaken, your organisation should conduct a risk assessment. Think about:


  • What are the risks that could arise from any change in the services you provide and the changes in the sector?
  • Develop a risk management plan, documenting strategies that will avoid the risks, minimise their impact, or cope with their impact.


Good policies and procedures, which are actually used rather than sitting in a folder gathering dust, underpin the successful operation of all organisations. Think about:


  •   Do your polices and procedures need to be updated to take into account any changes in the service?
  •  Are your human resources, work health & safety, financial and administrative policies appropriate for the new world?
  •   Are your policies and procedures used by staff and if not, how can you improve this?


Effective complaints handling mechanisms are an important part of quality person-centred service provision and assist with continual service improvement. They can result in improved services and improved relationships, which will assist to attract and retain people to your organisation. Think about:


  •  Is your complaints handling system person-centred and accessible?
  •  Does your complaints handling policy needs to be reviewed?
  •  Do you have a system for complaints to feed into continuous service improvement?


External relationships will be crucially important in relation to reputation, referrals and possible partnerships. Think about:


  •  Can some of the gaps in your organisation’s capacity to meet the needs of the new strategic goals, be best met by partnering with another organisation? Think widely about possible collaborations. They can include resource sharing, outsourcing, sub-contracting, forming coalitions or consortiums, joint ventures, and mergers.
  • How can you increase networking opportunities?


When you think through and plan for each of the areas above you can be guided by the planning you did in step 1.  In this way you will get all of the parts of your organisation working together towards the same strategic goals. Alignment across all of the areas of your organisation means you get outcomes greater than the sum of the parts.


We hope our short guide will help you to approach this transition with confidence. Don’t worry if you aren’t feeling confident yet – we think you will when you actually jump in and start doing some of this preparation work. Good luck!


Avatar About Kirsten Forrester

Kirsten has worked with non-profit organisations for more than 20 years, as an employee, volunteer, Board member and consultant. Kirsten leads Matrix on Board's NSW team which has broad experience in building the capacity of non-profits in a range of areas including governance, strategic planning, organisation development and financial management.

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