7 August 2019
- Related topics
- Not For Profit
A not-for-profit organisation’s ability to “run on the smell of an oily rag”, while providing life-saving services to its clients, is a skill set that many businesses could learn from, Jarrah House chief executive Sandy Kervin says.
For 18 months Ms Kervin has led the Sydney-based women’s drug and alcohol residential treatment facility, Jarrah House – a NFP organisation that assists some of the country’s most vulnerable women – to get their lives back on track.
Jarrah House is currently funded for just 13 of the 24 beds it provides to its clients and their children, which in itself is a financial and management juggling act.
The organisation has provided drug and alcohol services to women for more than three decades and is the only organisation of its kind in Australia where women can stay with their children during a detoxification program. The program provides childcare, counseling and other services to the children of Jarrah House clients.
“To have 24 beds available when we are only funded for 13 is a huge financial strain. To do this, we need to lean on our partnerships and get very creative with limited resources,” Ms Kervin says. “We are stretched [financially] and we use donations wherever possible. We also have partnerships with professional services companies [such as ESV], and rely on the goodwill of people who have been through the program themselves before.”
“That woman who comes to Jarrah House, she goes back home and changes her family’s life too, who in turn, give something back to the community. That’s what we are all about.”
One of the partnerships that Ms Kervin speaks of is with accounting and business advisory services firm, ESV Group. ESV donates 50 per cent of its annual audit fee as a charitable donation to the organisation. The arrangement is a way for ESV to support a cause it strongly believes in, while assisting Jarrah House in its auditing and business needs.
Jarrah House is currently at the end of a three-year cycle of $40,000 a year in philanthropic grant for art therapy and there is uncertainty with the future direction of government funding moving to a purchasing model, and relies on the goodwill of donations from the public and former clients to fund its program. Ms Kervin says as chief executive she often needs to “get creative” when it comes to making the organisation’s limited budget stretch as far as possible.
Applying for government grants and managing budgets is a skill set that Ms Kervin is very familiar with, however the strict compliance laws applying to not-for-profits require expert auditing knowledge and advice. ESV’s expertise in NFP regulation combined with the personable approach of its partners remove much of the complexity of the audit process.
“We don’t have the expertise in-house [in auditing] – so having auditors that have strong skills and experience in that area is important for us. Also, being able to approach the auditors if we have a question around the complexities of the auditing process, or legislation such as the Fundraising Act is crucial.”
ESV has provided guidance to Jarrah House when it became clear that business changes needed to be made. For example, when the organisation wanted to look into new a payroll system, ESV provided them with a list of suggested providers that could be suitable, Ms Kervin says.
Financial accountability has not always been Jarrah House’s strong point, according to Ms Kervin. When she joined as chief executive 18 months ago, Jarrah House used another accountant and its financials were “complex and difficult to audit”. After hiring a new accountant, Ms Kervin says ESV worked closely with Jarrah House to discuss and incorporate widespread changes. At the beginning of the audit process every year, ESV makes a point of discussing audit expectations with the board, including timing and deadlines and how to avoid any organisational interruption or delivery of its life-changing services to clients.
“Essentially, the system is now far more streamlined, which makes the auditing process far less stressful,” Ms Kervin says. “Everybody understands the expectations.”
Improving business practices has real flow-on benefits for Jarrah House clients and their families. During her time at Jarrah House, the organisation has reduced its waiting list to three months, significantly shorter than nine months 18 months ago. It prioritises women at higher risk, including pregnant women and women with children and Aboriginal women.
“There’s a much wider spread than just the women we’re treating here at Jarrah House,” Ms Kervin says. “That woman who comes to Jarrah House, she goes back home and changes her family’s life too, who in turn, give something back to the community. That’s what we are all about.”
For more information on ESV’s work with not-for-profit organisations please call 02-9283 1666.