Spotlight on social business: Hearty insights on fundraising trends and mutually beneficial partnerships

One of the best things about working at Spark is the opportunity to collaborate with and learn from an array of for-purpose organisations. Despite marked differences between organisations, industries and sectors, we find that there are numerous similarities and we strongly believe that there is much to gain from sharing.  

Last year, when we sponsored Third Sector Live, we crossed paths with one of Australia’s leading not-for-profits, The Heart Foundation. The Heart Foundation has played a pivotal role in improving the health and wellbeing of Australians for almost 60 years. Their mission is to prevent heart disease and improve the heart health and quality of life of all Australians, through their work in prevention, support and research.

We spoke to their National Campaigns Manager and the Runner-Up for Third Sector’s 2017 Campaign Manager of the Year, Susan Williams, to hear more about trends in fundraising and her views on mutually beneficial partnerships…

Please could you tell us a bit about yourself and your role at the Heart Foundation?

My role is National Campaigns Manager and Community Fundraising Manager for the Heart Foundation. I’m responsible for our national campaigns which includes: Jump Rope for Heart, Australia’s longest running school fundraising and physical activity program; the Big Heart Appeal; and MyMarathon, a peer to peer community fundraising product which we launched in 2017.

The Heart Foundation relies on the generosity of everyday Australians to fund the work we do – around 80% of our annual income arises from the donating public. Community fundraising initiatives are not only an important income stream, they provide a valuable channel for our health messaging and an opportunity for those at risk of heart disease or living with heart disease to speak directly to us. In the case of Jump Rope for Heart, it is a community fundraising and physical activity program that holds enormous brand heritage value for the Heart Foundation. Whenever I talk about that program, I’m almost always met with “Oh I remember doing that at school…” which is just fabulous. 

Can you give us an update on the Heart Foundation?

It’s an exciting time to be at the Heart Foundation as we embark on our 2018-2020 OneHeart Strategy. The three priority areas within the new strategy are Prevention, Support and Care and Research. Our work in prevention will target all Australians with a specific focus on disadvantaged groups. We’ll be concentrating on addressing the risk factors for heart disease – high blood pressure and cholesterol, poor diet, over weight and obesity, diabetes, smoking and physical inactivity.

Our work in support and care will provide targeted information and resources to support people living with heart disease and their families. We will continue to develop and promote evidence-based guidelines and resources for health professionals and patients. We advocate for those living with heart disease to ensure they receive the best practice care.

Funding research has always been and remains central to the work of the Heart Foundation. Since 1959, we’ve invested over half a billion dollars (in today’s dollars) in heart research. I’m a bit of science nut (I have two science degrees, one is in public health) which probably explains why I get a kick out of driving income to fund research. Continuing to fund the highest impact research in heart disease is central to our new strategy.

What is your approach to partnering at the Heart Foundation? 

For successful corporate partnerships, there needs to be shared vision and common goals. The best partnerships are based on identifying a problem and solving it together. I think the days of corporate partners providing a chunk of cash for a few logos here and there have come and gone.

There are a few NFP organisations that do corporate partnerships very effectively. Fred Hollows have a corporate partnership with SpecSavers, which is strongly mission aligned. The Wild Women on Top Coastrek is another great example of a Fred Hollows partnership, again aligned as the man himself, Fred Hollows, was a keen mountaineer.

Not-for-profits really need to do their own homework first about how they might benefit the corporate partner and how the corporate partner can benefit them. It is also important that there is a shared understanding of the roles and responsibilities of both members of the partnership, established at the outset. 

What are the major trends you are witnessing in the funding and fundraising landscape?

In the social impact sector (as I prefer to think of it), fundraising comprises a large share of annual income. We are fast approaching a time where there is an urgent need to reposition fundraising as the key to sustainability. Fundraising is not an expenditure. It is an investment in sustaining the work we do. Dan Pallotta talked about this at the Third Sector conference.

There’s an opportunity to talk to the Australian public about this and suggest other questions to donors that they might use to make their determination about which organisations are making the best use of their generous support. Organisations in the sector that consistently and clearly demonstrate the impact of donor support are going to be well in front of the pack. Donors care most about what their money achieves. It is so important that we don’t lose sight of this.  

If I look at community fundraising, what we are seeing is quite a saturated market. I think we’ll start to see the rise of more specialised events targeting specific markets, quite segmented stuff that has a particular type of participant in mind.  

The Gifts in Wills space has real potential for innovation, of course this requires long term thinking and commitment. There’s quite a lot of opportunity to be had there because there are deep engagement opportunities with donors that are considering leaving a gift in their will to an organisation. Typically, not-for-profits only know about 40% of their bequestors. If not-for-profits can explore ways to harness deeper relationships with their bequestors, that could be extremely beneficial for both parties. The key to this is being data led. Investing in and rigorously managing data is essential here. I’d also acknowledge that not all non-profits will have a mission that aligns well with Gifts in Wills.  

Major gifts and philanthropy are a very interesting space too. Universities are best in class in that space although they have alumni underpinning that. There are however opportunities for those outside of education to leverage their own version of alumni. 

Are there any opportunities you can share for individuals and organisations to get involved with the Heart Foundation? 

I’m always looking for talented fundraisers and am happy to take calls directly! Seriously – I like people being proactive. We advertise vacancies on our website and, as we move into this next exciting strategic stage, I imagine there will be a range of employment opportunities.  

Volunteering is a brilliant resume building opportunity, especially for undergraduates or those looking to change the direction of their career. I can say that from experience as I commenced at the Heart Foundation as a volunteer and have since employed a number of my team after they came on as volunteers. I’m looking forward to having a deeper strategy around volunteers in our business. If you look overseas, the British Heart Foundation do a wonderful job leveraging volunteers as a core pillar of their business.

Is there a not-for-profit or for-impact business that you’d like to shout out to?

The Smith Family – I think they do a fantastic job of communicating impact consistently. And Fred Hollows and the Red Cross for the same reason. UNHCR and Amnesty for powerful storytelling – who can look away from what they do? Not me. Greenpeace as the eternal agitator and powerful advocate for our planet. The list is long!

What makes the Heart Foundation different? 

The Heart Foundation has enormous scope to impact the health of all Australians. It’s quite amazing when you think about it. The work the Heart Foundation does, made possible through the support of the donating public, can change what we eat, how/when and where we play, encourage us to stop smoking, push politicians to improve health policy and influence the treatment we or our loved ones receive when we find ourselves at the GP, pharmacy or hospital. I can’t think of another organisation that has a finger in that many (healthy) pies! 

Doing something unique or innovative in the social sector? Interested to share your insights more broadly? Then please reach out to us by emailing


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