Date posted: 08/10/2020 4 min read

On board with not-for-profit

Mentor Helen Bathurst CA introduced Joseph Italiano CA to the inner workings of a not-for-profit board through a year-long program sponsored by CA ANZ.

In Brief

  • Helen Bathurst CA facilitated a fly-on-the-wall experience for Joseph Italiano CA to observe the board of a not-for-profit organisation
  • Italiano says he learned how important diversity is to bring different skills to the table
  • Bathurst says younger accountants have a vital role to play to ensure good work continues

Helen Bathurst CA partner PwC and board member, 12 Buckets, Perth, WA

About five years ago, I decided I wanted to take on a not-for-profit role and a colleague introduced me to someone who was involved with 12 Buckets. It's a children's charity that strives to equip at-risk and disadvantaged students with the support and connections to build a strong future.

It provides strength-based mentoring, which means it might encourage a child to cook or garden or take up photography. Developing their strengths builds trust in relationships that can be game-changing for the children.

I've been fortunate to have, and still have, important mentors throughout my career, so I was keen to be involved in the program to show young Chartered Accountants what being on a board is all about.

Most boards have an accountant as a member as good financial governance is important to the success of any organisation. The bonus with a not-for-profit is that you gain the satisfaction of making a difference to people's lives.

Basically, Joey has been sitting in my pocket for a year. I send him the agenda before the meetings and then we debrief afterwards and I answer any questions he might have.

"It's good to have a younger person's perspective on how to deliver information and how to influence."
Helen Bathurst CA, CA, PwC and board member.

It's been interesting hearing his takeaways as I spend a lot of time in boardrooms at work and with 12 Buckets, so it's good to have someone analysing the process more deeply. Rather than doing things automatically, it's beneficial to have to explain your thinking and reassess what the role of a board is.

A board's job is to provide guidance, direction and support, but it's important to let the CEO and the team make their own decisions. Getting that right is a fine balance.

Joey has built good relationships with the board and the organisation and he's been welcomed with open arms. It's really important to encourage younger people to be involved.

It's important to attract not just the next generation of financial supporters, but also the people who give their legal, IT and marketing expertise to the organisation.

We've been lucky through COVID that only two of the board meetings have had to be via Zoom. The board has spent a lot of time this year on strategy and developing more mature governance, so there have been some challenging conversations.

Joe has seen people with different skills come together to achieve common goals. The whole experience has been really great as he has been so enthusiastic. I hope his journey continues in this direction.

Joseph Italiano CA (L) Helen Bathurst CA (R)
Joseph Italiano CA (L) Helen Bathurst CA (R)

Joseph Italiano CA VenuesLive, Perth, WA

I see participating in the not-for-profit board program as a stepping stone to giving back for the opportunities I've had.

I was lucky to be paired with Helen. She is an incredibly busy person, but she's very generous with her time. She's passionate about mentoring and highly invested in guiding people. I attend the six-weekly board meetings and catch-up with Helen in between to debrief on what goes on.

Throughout this experience I've learnt an extraordinary amount about how boards operate and how important diversity is to a board as everyone brings their incredible passion and unique expertise to the table. I've also gained a greater understanding of how important the chair's role is in keeping the meetings on track.

"I now realise my normal upbringing was extraordinary."
Joseph Italiano CA, CA, VenuesLive, Perth, WA

A real small example is at one meeting, the board spent what I might have thought previously an inordinate amount of time discussing 12 Buckets' purpose statement. Before this program I might have said: It's just a sentence. But I now understand how important it is, particularly for a not-for-profit. It's what you take to the stakeholders and if the organisation can't explain what it's trying to achieve, it's defeated before it starts.

The people who deliver 12 Buckets to the schools are incredible. It's just so important to give those kids a sense of belonging and a voice and the knowledge that they do matter and, with the right support, they can grow into confident, contributing adults.

In a meeting recently, the chairman reflected that he wished he'd started being involved in non-for-profits much earlier in his career. Seeing how much fulfilment people get out of working for a not-for-profit has really hit home for me.

I will definitely stay in touch with Helen and continue to support 12 Buckets in some way. I have a job that I love and now I know I need to be apart of a cause that I can bring passion and give back to. It may involve helping kids through sport. Who knows, I may work my way up to board level sometime in the future?

Not-for-profit Board Experience Program

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