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Sue Karzis, the first female Chief Executive Officer of State Schools Relief

“For businesses that do give back, the benefits are huge”; How-to tips from CEO Sue Karzis

Some of the most profitable and ultimately sustainable companies are focused on collaborating for the good of the community, rather than their bottom dollar line. Why? Well, it’s a reflection of society.

The Australia Giving 2019 Report, recently released by Fundraising and Philanthropy in Australia, found that 35% of Australians have volunteered in the preceding 12 months and the 18-24 year old bracket are more likely to volunteer than any other. According to Good2Give CEO, Lisa Grinham, it’s encouraging that the younger generation is coming through. “[The] younger generation really want to feel connected to the companies that they are working with; they want the purpose of the company to go beyond just making money,” she says. This gives those companies who are willing to integrate an area of social impact into their core operations a significant advantage over others who are not.

Millennials in particular are selective about the brands they invest in. They prefer to support those who have a heart and those who can show they are working together with their community to better the world around them.

Quite simply, social impact is the new bottom line. How? Clearly demonstrating the purpose and social impact of the company will translate into the bottom line. We’re currently living in an era where the younger generation are actively questioning how companies conduct their business in terms of sustainability, business ethics and accountability. Transparency has never been so important, particularly alongside the rise of social media.

How business can support communities

There are thousands of ways businesses can support communities. Whether it’s partaking in raffles, helping with donations or providing goods and services, being active within the community is especially important when it comes to giving back. And for businesses that do give back, the benefits are huge – both in terms of reputation and profit.

State Schools’ Relief is one example of how local businesses can support the community around them. We’ve been able to work with our corporate partners to implement initiatives that benefit the mission of our organisation, align with our partners’ CSR strategies and most importantly, ensure no child misses out on their right to an education.

A good example is the initiative of providing STEM calculators to students who would not normally be able to afford to buy them. We partnered with Bank Australia to make this happen. The strategy helped students continue with STEM subjects, aligning with the banks CSR framework.

Another project that comes to mind is providing iPads to non-verbal children, launched in 2018. We sought funding for the program by speaking to corporate partners and finding the right one where both our missions aligned. Bank First came out on top. The program resonated with their CSR strategy as their customer base is predominantly in schools, including specialist schools.

Finally, our partnerships with Schoolfurn is another excellent example of how assisting the community can actually help a business’s reputation and bottom line. Schoolfurn, which manufactures school furniture, were keen to help disadvantaged young people in some way. However, they didn’t have a clear idea of how to do this. Following discussions, it became clear that it was their own products which would have the biggest impact to students. Rather than donating a sum of money, Schoolfurn donated 150 study packages, which included a study desk and chair. The project was extremely successful – it was an original idea that had never been offered before and it addressed a very real need. Teachers and schools were very supportive, and the program attracted media attention, which in turn created great PR opportunities for both parties.

Finding the right cause

There are a number of considerations to take into account before jumping into a partnership.

  • Be flexible – you may want to provide a monetary donation, but the NFP or charity may prefer real-world experiences or in-kind donations. Listen to them and then figure out a plan together.
  • Stay local – people love to see that you are supporting the local. For many businesses, particularly SMEs, the main customer base is local. Show you’re supporting their community and they’ll support you.
  • Make sure beliefs align – there’s no point partnering with another party if your beliefs don’t align. A partnership is designed to be mutually-beneficial and if conflict may arise because of the way business is conducted, it’s not going to work.

Make people care

Key to any business’ success is making people care about what you do. Whether you offer a product or service, or you’re a not-for-profit, you need to remember people won’t buy things or pay you for a service because you tell them to, they’ll do it because they care about the product or service in some way. They believe they’ll benefit from the money spent. Supporting local charities and collaborating with others for the good of the community shows you care.

Sue Karzis is the first female Chief Executive Officer of State Schools Relief, a Victorian based not for profit organisation that supports the needs of financially disadvantaged school students by providing them with new school uniforms, footwear and educational resources during times of vulnerability. Since her appointment, Sue has propelled the charity to record numbers of impact, assisting over 56,000 financially disadvantaged Victorian school children in 2018 alone and has set the goal of positively impacting 70,000 underprivileged Victorian school children in 2019.

Under her leadership the not-for-profit has distributed items exceeding $5M, widely promoted SSR’s own independent uniform label, Students Choice, established the SSR Ambassador Program, worked with 180 schools who have donated approximately $124,000 through a range of school based fundraising activities during the 2017/18 financial year and collaborated with a range of corporate sponsors including Bank of Australia and Bank First, which has enabled SSR to impact 83% of all Victorian state schools during 2018.

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Sue Karzis

Sue Karzis

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