In this episode we explore Stephanie’s experience leading Project Futures, how she came to be working in the social enterprise space and where Project Futures is headed. Stephanie Lorenzo is the founder and chief executive officer of Project Futures. Stephanie is a strong advocate for social responsibility. Project Futures is dedicated to combating human trafficking and sexual exploitation by empowering young professionals to utilise their time, skills and talents to raise awareness and funding for anti-trafficking projects.
Speaker 1: Welcome to SproutCast, where we speak with change makers, socially innovators, and entrepreneurs, about how to make the world a better place. And now, here’s your host, Julia Duffy.
Julia Duffy: Welcome back to SproutCast. My name is Julia Duffy, and today we’re speaking with Steph Lorenzo, founder and CEO of Project Futures, a not-for-profit organization who’s objective is to stop global human trafficking and slavery, and to empower individuals to take action in their own communities. Welcome to SproutCast, Steph.
Steph Lorenzo: Thank you, Julia. Great to be here.
Julia Duffy: Wonderful. I thought I’d start by asking today, Steph, how your relationship with the NFP space arose? Was it something that you’ve always been interested in, or involved with? Kind of, how did this relationship originate?
Steph Lorenzo: Actually, it’s interesting. My background isn’t in the not-for-profit world. I didn’t study international aid and development or anything like that. My trajectory was actually, I wanted to pursue a career in marketing and comms and PR.
I never, as a young person, ever though that I would be working in the not-for-profit space, if I’m going to be completely honest with you, but after reading a story about a woman who was sold into prostitution at such a young age, I was quite compelled to do more, and that sort of started the relationship, I guess, and obviously started me wanting to do something, and Project Futures was that outlet to do something for a great cause in the not-for-profit space and then my world dramatically changed from a marketing, public relations, comms, climbing the corporate ladder in that way, to yeah, working in the not-for-profit sector.
Julia Duffy: I’m kind of interesting perhaps in how it went from you being interested in this particular issue to wanting to become involved in a more formal sense with an organization. Or, in your case, I guess, starting your own organization?
Steph Lorenzo: Yeah, I definitely … I mean, I’m an avid book-reader and book lover, if you like. Reading a book like Somaly Mam when I was 21 definitely helped me in interest, a spark kind of came to life. I’m not sure what it was. I really enjoyed the read.
I literally read it from cover to cover in a night. I’d never read a book like that before, and I think my reaction to it was … I mean, the issue of human trafficking and slavery, and particularly her story with sex trafficking and trafficking with young children for the sex trade, I was really overwhelmed by it.
It was nothing that I’d ever thought about before, and my response was, “Well, what can I do as an individual? Where are my best skills and talents?”, and for me, my best skills and talents were around creating an event, garnering networks to fundraise for services that already were existing on the ground.
I wanted to have fun while doing it. Project Futures, our ethos is all about having fun in every day social interactions, for good. So, I was 21, 22 at the time, organizing parties and big events for a cause outside of my normal everyday full time job was a great way that I was having fun. I would probably do it as an extra curricular activity, anyway, so why not do it for a cause? That was my answer to it, I guess. I wanted to have fun and do something for good, and Project Futures was my outlet to be able to do that.
Julia Duffy: At what stage did you realize that the best way to funnel your idea for fundraising and for holding events and growing awareness, that that could form an organization on its own and you weren’t’ just perhaps contributing to other organizations, but that you were going to make a real organization out of it separately yourself?
Steph Lorenzo: Well, it was intersting. Back to the first … So, back to the very beginning. I read the book and I wanted to do something. My reaction to it was, “I’m going to organize events”. That first event which was not under Project Futures because the organization didn’t exist back then.
It was, “Come and join Steph Lorenzo on a sparkle challenge through Cambodia”. It was a 500k cycle challenge, and I wanted to get interested people. I thought the majority of them were going to be my friends that joined me. We had to fundraise for the organization on the ground in Cambodia, and we would do this amazing holiday through Cambodia cycling around, seeing this beautiful country.
Holidaying for a purpose. After a year of organizing and planning that, we had 21 people that collectively raised 80,000 dollars. Now, this was just individuals raising money for an international organization in Cambodia that was run by Somaly Mam at the time.
Project Futures hadn’t existed, but when I came back from that experience, we did the cycle through Cambodia, we saw the project on the ground where our money was going towards, I couldn’t come back to Australia and just go on with my normal marketing, comms full time life.
I mean, I did do that. I was working full time in marketing and comms still, but I thought I would start Project Futures straight away, as my outlet to raise funds and collect funds to be able to support those services on the ground. We’re a bit different to the normal charity, I think.
We partner with these service providers that provide direct and holistic support for victims of human trafficking and slavery, but we’re kind of their fundraising, marketing, corporate social responsibility, individual fundraiser portal, and we’re very particular with who we partner with, and we’re very particular with who we partner with on a long term basis, because a lot of these services, you’re not going to get results overnight.
You need to really work through some of the endemic and systemic issues around human trafficking and slavery, and why this occurs in countries like Cambodia. In 2011, we partnered with Australian based service providers, as well, and again, these issues are happening here in our own backyard which is just crazy to think about, and they are long term and systemic changes that need to be made, so we want to work with them on that.
Julia Duffy: Yeah, that’s very intersting. It sounds like that’s, I guess, that’s an unusual business model that you have as a charity, really.
Steph Lorenzo: Exactly.
Julia Duffy: That’s something that people might not have considered.
Steph Lorenzo: It’s intersting. A lot of people … Back then, so this was in 2009, I had no concept of what a social enterprise was. I mean, I didn’t really know … I mean, in Australia, it wasn’t really a big thriving or it wasn’t an industry that I knew about.
I just knew about the not-for-profit charity world or the corporate world, or profit-corporate world. For me, because I wasn’t running a service, and in the charity world I see charities, or back then I saw charities as people that provide a service to vulnerable communities or disadvantage communities or provide some sort of education and schooling.
We were a fundraiser, and we’ve always been a fundraiser, but what we realized at that time, particularly because we were being led by 20 year old’s who were working in the PWC’s and CBA’s and the Westpac’s of the world, a lot of my friends were in those sort of industries, but they weren’t to use their business acumen and their skills and talents for a good cause.
They didn’t want to necessarily quit their jobs, but they wanted and they had, this passion and this eagerness and this business savvy to be able to support these services in different ways. 5 years on, we’re seeing government support for charities that kind of, I wouldn’t say going down, but definitely decreasing.
We’re seeing aid budgets being slashed. You’re seeing, after the GFC, a lot of corporations cutting their corporate social responsibility, not focusing as much on that area. This is where I think charities have a really big responsibility, and a big opportunity to really grasp onto these individuals that really want to do something for a cause, but they have really great business skills and so forth and resources at some of these companies to do that, and I found that back then there weren’t many charities that were good at that.
The charities were really good at providing the service. They weren’t necessarily great at communicating their message. The big one’s were, they are a massive businesses, I guess you could say, and they’re doing great things, but the smaller based organizations where we wanted to really drive change and see tangible results from young people, a lot of these charities couldn’t do that, or didn’t have the knowledge to do that.
So, my skills in marketing and comms, I wanted to utilize that to my best advantage for these causes.
Julia Duffy: I was thinking still about the type of business model or structure, perhaps, that your organization is taken, and that you said that there weren’t many organizations like that around the time that you got started. Who then did you take advice from ni this area? Who perhaps inspired you? What other organizations or people?
Steph Lorenzo: We definitely looked … I mean, I remember Googling, “Young youth charities”, or “youth led charities”. 2 popped up. 1, you might have heard of them, is Oaktree. They’re quite a big and particularly focused on young people charity. You have to be 26 and under, I think, to be part of their leadership team, and it’s quite a big voluntary network.
The only other one that I found was an organization called YGap in Melbourne, who is fantastic, who we’ve seen grow alongside us, as well, and the founder or the co-founder’s of YGap and I are great friends and we’ve seen some really great successes throughout the last 5 years, but they were the only 2 I found.
Yes, there were youth programs, and I put that in inverted commas, with big charities, but they weren’t being run by young people. They weren’t being understood. There wasn’t sort of an understanding and again, this is back in 2009. I think there’s a lot more nowadays, 5 and 1/2 years later, but I found that, a lot of the youth programs weren’t being youth led. They weren’t catering to young people.
They were more sort of a tick box, or they were something that traditional charities or big charities felt like they had to do, but when you think about it, many of the traditional and bigger charities in the space, at that time, why would they focus on young people when there was so much flack about Gen Y’s in the media.
That was one of the big reasons why I wanted to do this, as well. Young people don’t have the giving capacity that many charities might think, “Oh, the philanthropist” or people like CEO’s or very rich, Bill Gates/Warren Buffet’s of the world might have, so Gen Y’s just didn’t have that kind of giving power.
But, what they sort of missed, I guess, or what I guess the opportunity that Project Futures and our team saw was the fact that on math, Project Futures, the audience of Project Futures and the young people of Project Futures, on math, can actually give as much as 1 philanthropist might give, or 1 cheque might give, and we were engaging young people.
So, it wasn’t just, “Write a cheque, tick a box from a company, see ya later”. It was like, “We are going to engage this generation. We are going to showcase the social justice issues, and we want these people to grow with that, as they grow”. Because, these guys will be the leaders of tomorrow, and wouldn’t it be great to see CEO’s of big banks 50 years later, turn their bank into a bit more of a social enterprise or focus on CSR when they become the leaders of these organizations in the future.
Julia Duffy: That point you mentioned about engagement with, I guess, your stakeholders or the people who have invested in your organization, investing in the cause, could you maybe explain a little bit about how your organization goes about creating this kind of engagement? I think it’s something that other organizations struggle with, perhaps, and it sounds like it sets you apart, really?
Steph Lorenzo: Yeah, absolutely. Within Project Futures is a business model, charity model, whatever you want to call it, we have 5 revenue streams. The first one is Corporate Partnerships. The second one is Official Project Futures Fundraising Events and Campaigns. The third one is what we call “DIY Fundraising”. The fourth one is Online Donations and the fifth one is Speaking Engagement.
So, let’s go to the first 2 because they’re the really key way … Well, the first 3, I think, are the really key way that we engage both companies, but also individuals to really become part and ambassadors for our cause.
The first one being corporate partnership. We realized … I guess I realized a bit early on that many companies claimed that they do a lot of great CSR activity, however, when you dig deeper, the CSR activities of many companies, not at all, but many companies are ad hoc. They’re run by volunteers who have actual job descriptions in, usually, HR or marketing, so you find that the CSR component sort of falls short because they have all of their other things to do to bring in funding or money or whatever stats it is to generate revenue, depending on their role.
It is sometimes, usually just a tick box exercise around short term, brand engagement. “Yep, we’re going to throw money at this because it’s the flavor of the month at the time”, or whatever it is. There’s no sort of long term strategy for CSR within businesses, and I think this is a real opportunity.
That’s something that I saw consistently when I went to visit businesses, and I used to get into those business through the employees, so I’d get my friend who works at the top 10 banks or the top 10 accounting firms or the top 10 law firms and I’d say, “Can you introduce me to someone who deals with CSR?”.
The first thing that they say to me is, “Oh, I don’t know who that is”, or, “Is there even a role in that?”, and they would have to dig deeper to find that. The second issue that I found is when I asked, “Well, what are the top 3 charities that your business actually supports?”. A lot of employees didn’t know, but they wanted to.
They didn’t know how their company actually engaged with outside philanthropy or outside social impact, and social services. There was a lack of communication internally with that company. I think one way that we’ve tried, obviously we’re not experts at it, but one way that I definitely have seen that we’ve succeeded is, we actually are trying to speak to the corporate on a holistic and long term level.
It’s about understanding what their strategies are and being really open and honest about it, and if they don’t have one, do they want to start? Do they want to start with 1 charity that they can really focus on and see long term impact and sustainability and progress on, or do they want to chop and change and have mixed messages?
Obviously, the company would … You’re not going to change your vision everyday. You’re not changing your accountants every day, you don’t change your lawyers in a business everyday, so why would you change your charities, as well? Because you miss seeing that long term impact that many issues that are long term issues, you kind of miss seeing them if you’re only supporting them on a 6 months or an annual basis.
We engage employees. That’s the big way that we do it. If we can get in there and do lunch and learns, if we can offer great activities for employees to get involved, if we can showcase that it’s actually easy to give back and have fun while doing it through our different programs, then they can do that.
So, that’s kind of on a corporate partnership level. We try and partner with companies long term. Another way, obviously, is called “DIY Fundraising”. We want people to be ambassadors, for us, wherever they are in the world.
Particularly obviously in Australia, because that’s where we are. We have a tool kit that you can download online, and it doesn’t matter if you’re in Sydney or you’re in Perth, or you’re in Alice Springs or Rockhampton, you can do an event for us and be an ambassador for us, and we’ve got all of the tools for you to be able to do that.
We trust you with our brand. Most brands don’t trust other people with their brands. They’re very, have got a strong hold on what they can and can’t do. You usually have to go through processes and they take through all sorts of things.
We are actually the opposite. We created a tool kit which is a real easy step-by-step where people can take that, and go with it. They can be our ambassador wherever they are and giving them the right information about the issue of trafficking and slavery in order to do that in their own community if they’re passionate about it.
There’s actually a big black tie ball event happening in Rockhampton next Saturday, and that was organized by a volunteer up there. She’s got 250 people, all proceeds to us. That’s probably looking to raise us 15 grand, and we haven’t done anything. She’s downloaded the tool kit, she’s followed the steps, and she’s done that on her own. I think that is so phenomenal because there is no way that Project Futures could do an official fundraising event in Rockhampton, just because we don’t have the resources to do that, and we’re based here in Sydney.
That’s, again, one of the other ways, and obviously, our official fundraising events and campaigns is a great way to engage just the wider community. Whoever you are, if we’re in that location, hopefully. Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, we’ve had different events in. We’ve had some in Brisbane, some in Perth, where we can. You can obviously come along, meet like minded people who want to do something, and hopefully get inspired to act on your own, as well.
Julia Duffy: I’m just going to switch gears for a second now, and talk perhaps a little bit about the leadership of your organization, and what that experience has been like. Moving, I guess, you mentioned from a more marketing communications background to being a leader of your organization, being a CEO, what was the experience like, and perhaps what challenges have you faced?
Steph Lorenzo: It’s definitely been a challenge, but it’s been a really exciting one. I always think of the glass half full. So, if we’re having a bad day or something like that, I’ll always look at the glass half full and look at the successes and stuff that we’ve done.
I guess the hardest thing or … I wouldn’t say the hardest. It was kind of one of the best things, and also one of the most challenging things was taking on staff, paid staff. We took on our second employee full time, started in sort of January last year, and the issues around staffing are always really tough.
I was always used to working with volunteers or working myself, and sort of being be able to manage different volunteers, but you’re kind of managing your expectations with that. When you start to get paid staff on board, the game changes, because you’re obviously utilizing funds to be able to pay that staff, and you want to see that progress. You want to see the revenue generation, and you want to see what that person’s bringing in.
That’s tough, because it takes guidance and coaching. I’d always worked in teams, but I’d not necessarily managed them before, to be honest, so this is the first time I’m really a managing staff member, and it’s been amazing. It’s been definitely challenging on my end because she’s a fantastic employee, however, I think when you’re so used to doing everything on your own and used to doing it at a really fast pace, you just have to learn that not everyone’s going to do everything your way, and your way’s never always the best way.
There’s other ways. When you start getting employees involved that they’re thinking of [inaudible 00:19:59]. They want to grow it, as well, in a better way, and you’ve got to take that into consideration.
I definitely think, for me personally, that’s been one of the biggest challenges. Kind of trying to manage staff and that expectation, but it’s a great sign for the business that we’re growing, and taking on more people. I also think it was a challenge in that when you start to pay staff, particularly in a charity, or a social enterprise of that matter, you’re very scrutinized on your financials, and so you should be.
We completely believe in transparency and due diligence. You go on our website and you can download all of our annual reports, ever since I came on board in a full time, paid capacity. It is pressure, though. It’s way more pressure when you take on staff, because if they don’t perform, it will look like you’re paying staff to kind of raise awareness, great, but what’s that bringing to actually the project that you’re meant to be funding and supporting?
I’ve definitely had a lot of challenges around that. I used to be of the notion that any charity that spends more than 10% on their overheads are not doing a great job. Now, having worked in the charity world … I came at that from a very naive place, but having worked so hard in the charity world, spending so much time as a volunteer, you get bang for your buck when you pay people, and sometimes you need to take risks.
You need to be innovative, and that sometimes does take up time, money and resources, but it definitely pays off in the end if you have the right strategy, if you have the right vision, and ultimately if you know what you’re aiming towards. I definitely … To me, that was a really big change from going as a volunteer.
We were marketing ourselves, which we were, as 100% voluntary, so why wouldn’t you join us? We’re a bunch of young people doing great stuff as volunteers, so 100% of your donation is actually going to the project, because we’re not paying staff. So, when you start to pay staff, you can’t use that line anymore, because obviously your costs are going up, but the revenue goes up a lot because obviously the time and so forth.
I’ll give you an example of that. When I was working 3 days a week for Project Futures, versus the year that I jumped to a full time, paid position, we doubled our revenue in a year, and that’s really amazing from a financial, I guess, point of view, and from the fact that it was happening at a time where there was so many charities popping up and human trafficking is an issue, it wasn’t even on the agenda. So, for us, it was a big win, and a worthwhile investment, I guess, to take on a staff member.
Julia Duffy: Perhaps another interesting aspect of leadership which you mentioned just now was the responsibilities for transparency that you have, and the other kind of legal obligations, particularly as a charity. Would you be able to talk, perhaps, about the first time you decided to deal with these sides of running your organization and how, with I guess the key responsibility being towards you, and your board, how you tackled these for the first time?
Steph Lorenzo: Yeah, definitely. I mean, we’ve had a great board since the beginning. We have always had … When I first started Project Futures, I remember contacting the ATO and [inaudible 00:23:42] and kind of going, “Okay, what’s our next step?”, and they were like, “Well, you need a board”, which is sort of like a responsible person that can take on the risk of Project Futures, and obviously so can give you advice.
We got an investment banker, a marketing guru, a head of an accounting firm and a lawyer. Obviously, you need to diversify the skills and in any business or charity you need a finance person, you need a legal person and for the investment banker and marketing were based on networks and also the fact that we were in that marketing comms space.
From the beginning, we’ve had really great advice. We’ve been able to draw that out. I think we’ve always been … I’ve personally, as the leader of the Project Futures, have always been very particular about transparency. I wanted people to know what I was doing 100% of the time, which is why we were so adamant to have our financial records or annual reports online, every year.
We’ve gotten audited every year since the beginning, or since we’ve obviously taken on staff and had to open our own bank accounts and so forth. We’re transparent on that. If anyone asks us for our financial record, we can give it to them, and I think that’s one thing, if you do support an organization, big or small, those things are actually things that you should be entitled to as a donor.
If they don’t have them then there might be reasons, but I would sort of question that. You can download all of our reports online, and you can see who does our audited accounts and so forth. Transparency is a big one for any charity and organization. When it comes to other things like tax deductibility and different things with the ATO and government in just being up to date with them, I’m not a legal brain.
I’m definitely more of a numbers person than I was previously, but I have to be as the CEO. You just have to be up to date with the not-for-profit sector. It changes all the time and laws come in and out. Depending on government’s, as well, who’s in government. You just have to be on the pulse, and that means networking with other [NCO 00:25:52] groups, being up to date with different networks and in the legal realm, in the pro-bono realm.
I’m a big believer in networking. So, I’ll try and be out there as much as possible. One, to get Project Futures out there to different audiences, but two, for myself to be kept up to date with the latest and greatest of what’s happening that charity sector, so you can be accountable for what you’re doing as an organization.
Julia Duffy: So, you mentioned there that fairly early on you asked the ATO about your obligations in setting up a board, and how you found people to … Or, perhaps, the type of people you were looking for to join the board. Could you tell me a little bit more about how you work with your board? What’s that relationship like?
Steph Lorenzo: Yeah, well we’ve had a really interesting time. We had 5, well, technically 6 board members when we first began, and that included me. So, 5 external members. We now have 8. We went through a really amazing board review process last year, last July, which was actually incredible when we felt like our organization was going to the next level.
We felt like we needed more support. We felt like we’d grown so much from the first time we got our first set of board members, but we were really happy that 3 of them decided to stay on. The only reason why 2 resigned voluntarily was because they were moving interstate or overseas.
How I work with my board, we have set meetings. It’s usually 1 and 1/2 months, about every 2 months. So, it’s about 6 times a year, but I also call on them individually for advice, depending on their background.
The board is there to definitely take on the risk of the organization, so they have to be responsible to corporate governance. They have to be responsible for the direction strategy, and I guess for me as CEO, I have to operationalize what our strategy actually is.
The board meetings, I think, since we’ve revamped our board and taken on more members … So we have 8 currently on our board of directors which was quite a hard and a long process, but it was a great value for me to be able to go through that, particularly when you’re dealing with executive level people.
I also wanted more young people on my board, because we were an organization that represented and thrived on young professionals. I wanted to give young people an opportunity. I don’t want people to think that a board of directors has to be grey haired men or women who have now left and retired and are really wealthy or something like that.
Boards have to be driven by passion for the course, the skill set that you’ve got, and it has to also be an opportunity for young people to learn, and I was really passionate about that. Our board is [divvied 00:28:57] between, we call them the “grey hairs”, but then also young professionals which has been great. There’s a lot to learn on both sides.
We meet every 2 months, but individually, I’ll contact them when I need support and advice on certain matters within Project Futures, and they’re always willing and supportive to talk through different matters.
Julia Duffy: You mentioned that board membership is perhaps something that’s less common for younger people or not seen as something that youngest people are likely to be involved in. What would you recommend to someone who was thinking of starting their own organization, wanted to better understand the role of the board, and perhaps what they would do to find out more about that?
Steph Lorenzo: Yep. Well, I definitely think the first thing, and I know this might sound really hypocritical of me, is think really hard of whether you want to actually start an organization. Look for organizations that maybe are already out there that you could help to make better. That’s number 1.
I know that’s really hypocritical of me to say, because I started my own organization, but I think where Project Futures is a bit different is we’re funding a need which is funding for services and not-for-profit services.
You have to think really hard because a board is definitely, I think it’s not easy. I mean, they are people who have had really great … They’re people that definitely carry the risk on the governance level and so forth, and they’ll challenge you.
That’s what they’re meant to do. They’re meant to challenge you with your strategy and your processes, and all of your thoughts. It’s definitely … It can be a struggle, in a good way, because they’ve always got the best intentions at heart, but they might not see something the way that you do.
They’re a bit of a brake pad, I have to say, for someone that has a real vision and has a real passion and a want to make a change, but that can be a good thing. Kind of devil’s advocates, if you’d like. Or, some people with a more played out role and some people play the “Yes, let’s get there” role.
Those personalities is what makes it really interesting, and makes you really think things through before actually doing them, whether it’s a campaign or a new event, or a direction of the organization. My advice would be to choose carefully.
Choose carefully and don’t necessarily choose friends. I had one friend, I would call him a really good friend, on the board when I first started Project Futures, but the rest were actually parents … Not parents friends, friends parents who I’d not even met before, but knew that they ran their own accounting firm, knew that they had worked in a legal firm.
One was my ex boss, and she was like the boss twice up from me. She was the director of the marketing and comms team at Australian Catholic University, and I met with her and had a great chat with her and there was just some sort of synergy there that I felt like, “I’m going to ask her this and she might think I’m crazy because I don’t even know her very well”.
It’s actually good to have people that can really give you sound advice. So, they’re not just necessarily your friends that want to see you succeed. They have to be credible in their own industry, as well. We showcase our board on our website and on our [back collateral 00:32:23] for a reason, and that is people see the managing director of Konica Minolta Business Solutions is on our board.
Or, a senior financial executive from CBA is on our board, and immediately, they’ll feel comfortable, or more comfortable that that governance and that risk is on these type of people’s reputations and feel. So, I think you’ve got to definitely choose your board wisely.
Make sure they’re someone that understands your vision, but is willing to also not just agree with you all of the time. It can be frustrating but it’s a really good thing when you can have those robust conversations. And, I guess try and get a board that thinks a little bit differently or is not afraid in the not-for-profit world, anyway, to take a little bit of risk because it is on their watch at the end of the day.
It is a risk to them, but I don’t think problems of the 21st century will change without innovation and creativity in the not-for-profit world.
Julia Duffy: Wonderful. Yeah, innovation is an interesting subject really, about many not-for-profit organizations are doing a fantastic job of being more innovative, but it often seems to be some of the smaller ones like your own organization. Is that something that you’ve experience, as well?
Steph Lorenzo: Absolutely. It’s really hard in some of the bigger organizations to get [cut to 00:33:50], purely because, well, I think, there’s a lot of red tape involved. There’s a lot of personalities involved.
With the small and nimble and flexible organization like ours that are led by people that are, again, thinking differently, it’s almost a different generation. It is a different generation. I think that there are a lot of wins out there to have, particularly around innovation.
The innovation sector in Sydney, you should see that in the last 3 years that I’ve been and been a part of, the whole idea of social enterprise is ideas and concept and shared values. Looking to be corporate social responsibility citizens, the rise of intrapreneuers as opposed to entrepreneurs. I think that all of this stuff is being led and executed and afforded by the next generation. I think it’s my generation.
I don’t think there’s an age necessarily to it, but it’s people that definitely understand that concept of wanting to shake up the corporate world, shake up the not-for-profit world, bring them together, create real meaning in what you’re trying to achieve, not play it as ego’s necessarily, which sometimes can happen with boards.
I’ve got to be honest. I think that sometimes the biggest challenge that anyone has to report to a board can be ego’s of that board. I know I’ve talked about it with members of my board. I know our board has even brought it up with each other, and I think we can do that because we are such a new and exciting, innovative organization, and the board members have seen that vision. As I said, they are from more different generations which is a really great thing.
Julia Duffy: You mentioned just now intrapreneuers, and their relationship with innovation, and I wondered if that related to something you mentioned earlier about perhaps not necessarily recommending that people start their own organization. Is this something you think there should be more in the not-for-profit space?
Steph Lorenzo: Yeah, definitely. I love the idea of an intrapreneuer. When I first heard that term, and I think it’s probably about 2 years ago now, I use it everywhere, and I love it. We actually are cultivating intrapreneuers within Project Futures. Yes, we meet with a lot of innovative people that have started their own thing, business, social enterprise, not-for-profit, whatever it is, but I think what drives Project Futures or the revenue raisers or Project Futures, is definitely the intrapreneuers.
People that have gotten their workplace involved, people that have gotten their school involved, people that have gotten their workplace or church involved, or community group involved. We wouldn’t be here without those people.
They’re not necessarily wanting to start something, but I guess they like the fact that they’re part of the wider community that are focused on an issue or a cause and for us, the Project Futures people, that’s ending human trafficking and slavery.
So, I think intrapreneuers are gold. More business I would hope will support intrapreneuers who bring in really great ideas for the business, to do different things, to do innovative things in a not-for-profit space. There are some amazing ones happening out there, but hopefully there’ll be more of a push for intrapreneuers to sort of come out of their shell, and really push through the boundaries of bureaucracy and red tape and make things happen, because it happen. I see it happen time and time again, and it’s really inspiring.
Julia Duffy: Did you have any advice, perhaps, for someone who is in this situation? Perhaps they’re working already in a corporate or in a not-for-profit organization but would like to contribute more?
Steph Lorenzo: Yeah, I think find out what you’re passionate about obviously. Find an organization that you relate to and that you feel you identify with, and work with them on how to best support their current strategy, because one thing that I find that can be really frustrating for a lot of people in the not-for-profit world about volunteering, is that volunteers want to do what they want to do.
They don’t want to do what’s in line with the organization strategy, and sometimes that’s why many charities decide not to take on as many volunteers as they might have used to take on, because it takes up a lot of time and a lot of space for not a lot of return.
So, I would say work with that organization whole heartedly to really understand what their strategy is, and what their vision and goals are, and look at how your skills might work in line with that.
Then, ask [forgiveness 00:38:46], not commission. Just do it. Do something. Whether it’s start up a morning tea at your work place, whether it’s try to figure out within the ranks of your business who and where, who runs the corporate social responsibility. “Do we have a corporate social responsibility? Do we have a planned giving model?”.
Ask questions. Just don’t be afraid to do that because you’ll never know the answers you can get, and also, I think that you’ll become, I believe, a really well respected person in your industry who’s not sort of backing down, who wants to work within the system to do something really innovative and fun, and good for whatever cause it is that you’re passionate about.
And, if you’re interested in human trafficking and slavery, contacting Project Futures, because we’ve kind of done the hard work for you, and we want businesses to see that employees and employees have to voice it if they want it. Employees want to work for a purpose, not just for profit. A company, I think, that values that and values their employees will see a benefit in that, in the long term.
Julia Duffy: You mentioned just then that some of the challenges, I guess, of working with volunteers, that you were looking at it from the volunteers perspective then, but I was wondering if you could insight on what it’s like from the organization perspective, perhaps. Someone in your position, how they manage the expectations of volunteers?
Steph Lorenzo: Absolutely. Look, I think everyone that wants to volunteer for a charity or a cause, definitely it comes from a good place. I’m not for one minute denying it. It definitely comes from the best place. They want to support, they want to help, they want to do something.
I would say, to people that are interested to volunteer or to do something, don’t ask what you can do, find a solution based on the information on the website of the charity, based on what they are currently doing, and find a solution and then bring that solution to the charity.
So, for example. Practical example. We have, on our website, an array of upcoming events. We have an area where, if you’re a workplace, we want to get in touch with you to try and see how we could further engage your workplace. We have an array of different campaigns where it actually states like how you can get involved.
I think, if someone comes to me and says, “Well, how can I get involved?”, and I say, “Well, go on our events page, come to an event”, or I give them direct actions and it’s almost like they … Some of them, not all of them, of course. A lot of them kind are like, “Oh, I don’t know if I want to do that”.
So, if you don’t want to do that, find what you want to do. Bring a solution to the charity, don’t just come to them expecting an answer, because the answers are actually there, but it takes up time, effort and resources from someone to answer a question from a volunteer that, and I’m sorry to say, but sometimes 80% of the time, the volunteer doesn’t do anyway, and that’s a shame.
I think … I talk from the point of the view of a smaller organization. I think volunteers are the life blood of a lot of organizations where they rebuild houses and they paint things, and they do all sorts of activities. I guess, because we’re such a small organization because of resources, we can’t spend a majority of our resources telling our volunteers what to do.
That’s why we’ve created a website. It’s interactive. It shows you what you can do. Come up with a solution, don’t ask a question of “What can I do?”. Come up with a solution based on whoever the charity is that you support, and go for it. Ask for [users 00:42:33], not permission. Download that DIY kit and do an event. You don’t need our permission to do it.
Most of the time, you don’t need a charity’s permission to fundraise or to do anything like that. If they’re a legitimate charity and you’re wanting to support them, just like I did that very first bike ride, I didn’t ask that charity if I could fundraise for them. I fund-raised and then said, Hey, we’ve got 80,000 dollars that we want to give to you. How’s that sound?".
What do you think they said? They were stoked. I’m not saying you have to do it that way, but I definitely think more people should ask forgiveness, not permission and give it a go.
Julia Duffy: I just wanted to switch gears again one more time, and ask you about your position or your thoughts, perhaps, on sustainability for your organization and what kind of future strategies you have in place? How do you think about that in your organization?
Steph Lorenzo: Yeah, I think we think about sustainability a lot. Particularly even succession planning around, well, what happens if I decide, or if all of a sudden I decide I want to go into the corporate world or something like that which is possible.
Or, what happens if a really big crisis comes into my personal life and I’m the only one with [one 00:43:40] staff. Creating a succession is going to do it in such a big … It is such a big area or issue for any growing not-for-profit organization, and we don’t take it lightly.
We’ve worked on a strategy with our board of directors guidance on the future. We’ve diversified our revenue streams which is a way that any business or charity needs to look at their revenue, of how they’re sustaining themselves and where they’re bringing in the most funding, and where the trends are, and what you need to do to focus on that.
I think, though, because we’re still small, we’re not massive by any means. We’re not sort of competing with the World Visions of the world, but I think for any growing organization, we just need to focus on our vision. Be very focused on what we do, and work really well with our partners in order to, I guess, at least get that foot hold.
We only diversified our revenue streams about a year and 1/2 ago when we brought in our new strategy, and so we’re already 2 years in of that 3 year strategy, and we’ve decided, as an organization, it’s a really interesting time with Project Futures. We’ve decided as an organization that we are going to be creating a new 5 year plan that will start from January 1st, 2016.
So, we are planning for that because we’ve looked at how we’re going and what the trends are, and where the funds are being raised the most, and where the meat is, in terms of the human trafficking world, and times are changing. Times are changing more than ever before, so we have to be, again, on the pulse with all of that.
Your strategy needs to reflect that if you want to succeed. We’ve identified that. We’ve, I guess, scrapping the 3rd year of the 3 year budget that we presented to our board back in April, 2013, because we’ve seen that change is happening, and we want to be ahead of that, as opposed to running after it.
Julia Duffy: I think, perhaps, this is probably a good place to leave our interview. It was wonderful to speak with you today, Steph. You’ve offered us some really interesting insights which I think our audience will find invaluable. So, thank you again for speaking with us on SproutCast today, Steph.
Steph Lorenzo: Thank you, Julia.