Tell us a little bit about yourself and your current job
I’m originally from Minnesota and I’ve lived in Australia for about 20 years. I’m currently the Chief Executive of Fundraising Institute Australia (FIA). Now in its 50thyear, FIA is the peak body for professional fundraisers in this country.
As CEO, I manage a staff of 15 and oversee membership activity, a comprehensive education program and an annual conference which connects fundraisers across the country. I also undertake advocacy work; for example, talking to state and federal government representatives about issues that affect fundraisers, mainly legislative requirements. This work also involves promoting our self-regulatory code of conduct to fundraisers and regulators. It’s a big job and an important one for the sector.
Overall, my role is to retain the vibrancy and sustainability of fundraising, a sector which has a huge impact on Australia and the world.
You’re also on the Board of Directors for Girl Guides Australia – how did you end up with that job?
I was looking at a website that helps women land director roles and discovered Girl Guides Australia were advertising for a new Board member. Girl Scouts, the equivalent of Girl Guides in the US, are very iconic in the States. I was a Girl Scout growing up in Minnesota and a Brownie before that. My mother was also a Scout Leader. Over the last few years, women’s issues have been top of mind for me, so I thought this would be a perfect volunteer role.
The Board wanted someone who had marketing and brand experience, so it was a good fit. My initial conversation with the Board selection committee was supposed to go for 45 minutes, but it went to an hour and a half. They were also looking at another person, a management consultant, for this role. In the end, they took both of us on as we had different skills that were relevant for what Girl Guides Australia wants to achieve. There’s a lot of potential for this organisation.
Is Girl Guides still relevant for kids today and how has it changed since we were sewing on patches?
Girl Guides is more relevant than ever. Australian research has shown girls who are educated in a female-only environment have better success rates in life. I know it’s true from my own experience attending an all-women’s university in the United States. There, all the leadership positions were taken by girls and you could just be yourself. There were none of the constraints that you sometimes get with being around boys. Girls need to be empowered in their own way, with their own voice, and that’s what Girl Guides can help them to achieve.
How big is Girl Guides in Australia? Is it growing or shrinking?
Girl Guides membership has stayed roughly steady since 2014, rising and falling by about 1,000 members over these years. In 2017, there were about 22,000 members.
Member organisations find it tough nowadays to retain members; there are so many demands on people’s time and girls are no exception. The organisation is continually looking at strategies to engage a new generation of girls in relevant and meaningful ways, which may be different from how I was engaged.
What’s your favourite Girl Scouts memory?
When mom was a Girl Scout Leader in Minnesota, I loved it when the weekly meetings were at our house. We would bake a few things together and organise the tea, which always included Kool-Aid, a powdered drink you mix up with water. All the girls would come to my house in their uniforms and we’d have the meeting. It was fun, and I have many happy memories of being around my mom and this strong community of girls.
Another favourite memory was going door to door selling Girl Scout cookies, which are hugely popular in America. Selling them was a delight because people were excited when cookie time rolled around, and they would always buy lots of boxes.
Even now, my sister buys five or six boxes and puts them in the freezer for me. When I go back home to Minnesota for a visit, we get them out and eat them over the course of several days. They may be six months old by then, but they still taste delicious!
What are you passionate about?
I’m passionate about good parenting and I adore my only son, Joshua, who has just finished his final year of high school. It’s an exciting time for both of us. We’re very close. I love that he’s emotionally intelligent, incredibly smart and empathetic. I enjoy hanging out with him
I’m also passionate about my career. I’ve always wanted to work with good brands that make an impact on people’s lives. I’ve been able to do that by working for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and SBS amongst other roles. It’s important for me to make a difference through my work and FIA is helping me to do that as well.
I’m very focused on education and have continually invested in professional development to learn, grow and be challenged in my career. Except for a brief period after having my son, I have always worked full time and have derived great satisfaction from my work.
I believe strongly in giving back to my community and have held several volunteer roles throughout my life. Women’s issues are particularly important to me. It’s crucial that girls are empowered to achieve all they want to do in their lives.
Finally, I love reading. I read everything: newspapers, magazines, fiction, non-fiction and always the Harvard Business Review. My passion for my career even shows in my reading choices!
What are the most challenging things about your life
Prioritising is a huge challenge for me. I have a busy job at FIA and my son is going through big changes as he prepares to take the HSC exams. It’s not intensive like when he was little, but I do feel I need to be around to offer guidance, help problem-solve or just be an ear to listen. It’s also important for me to connect with friends here because I don’t have family in Australia. So, I want to ensure that I also prioritise time with them.
“Don’t sweat the small stuff. As women, we tend to get caught up in the “we should do this or that” syndrome. We miss what’s in front of us.”
I sometimes struggle trying to do everything I want to do. The first thing that usually gets cut is exercise, whether it’s going to the gym, cycling or playing tennis. Sometimes, time with my friends gets dropped when I really only have enough time left for the job and my son. But I do know this is an issue and I try to commit by taking time for myself. It might mean leaving work a bit early to get to Pilates or have a coffee with an important friend, and then doing some work later from home. I’m also learning it’s okay to say: “I can’t get that done today.”
I’m a single mum and I don’t have high expectations when it comes to a clean house. The house generally stays clean and if stuff doesn’t get done, I don’t care. I’d rather have a meaningful dinner with Joshua than worry about if the dishwasher is unpacked!
What are the most rewarding things and what goals are you most proud of achieving to date?
I’m most proud of how my son has turned out. No matter what parenting style you have or how good you are as a person, there’s always the risk a child will lose their way or go down the wrong path. I’m so pleased Joshua is a good person and a hard worker. I can see he’s going to be a wonderful man. I’m thrilled that I got him this far!
I’m also proud of my resilience. My parents died when I was a young woman and I miss them dearly. I came to Australia 20 years ago for my Australian husband and sadly, it didn’t work out. But I’ve been able to respond to situations like these and maintain a positive and happy nature. I’ve instilled that positivity in my son and I’m proud of weathering all storms to date.
From a career perspective, I’m most proud of my work on the SBS rebrand. I helped to take the network from a stodgy channel that was known as “sex before soccer” to a modern multicultural broadcaster that people still think is incredible today. I worked with the team that was responsible for the tagline: “Six Billion Stories and Counting” (now Seven Billion Stories and Counting) including my director who was, and still is, an inspiration to me. SBS is now known for great content and the way the channel interacts with Australian society is fantastic.
I’m also delighted to have landed the CEO role at FIA. It’s the right role at the right time for me and it’s also right for FIA as we embark on the Institute’s next stage of growth.
How do you find balance?
I think it’s important to look at the big picture and not worry about the day-to-day stuff. I can have a bad day where I worked very hard, ate poorly and didn’t exercise. But if I look over the week, I will see that I carved time out on Thursday where I went to work a bit later and had a good breakfast with my son. I can also see that I made it to Pilates class a couple of times.
You could stress every day and think that you’re not getting enough balance. That’s when the stress just snowballs. I try to stop and think: what are the two or three things I can do this week to be healthy in mind, body and spirit? Then I try to achieve those. That’s a better approach.
I like a hot bubble bath a few times a week, particularly on Sunday night. This is my reflection time. I reflect on what went well during the week and what I need to work on. These things include my job, my son, eating well (did that kale and spinach shake happen?), my physical health, etc. I unpack all that in the bubbles and then I feel peaceful and ready to face the next week.
Do you have any mentors or people who inspired you to follow your dream?
I don’t have a mentor and I think it’s an important thing for women both personally and professionally. But I do have close-knit relationships with my two former managers from SBS and the Association for Data-Driven Marketing and Advertising (ADMA). I seek them out regularly for advice and direction. They can offer me a perspective about myself which I value. When I was interviewing for my current role at FIA, both coached me which was so helpful. They talked to me about my strengths and how to capitalise on those, as well as the areas that I needed to work on. They’re both very inspiring women. It’s important for me to keep in touch with inspiring work colleagues like these who have also become good friends.
It was my parents who inspired me to follow my dreams. I was the fourth of their five children and the only one to go to university. I was a high achiever and they loved that. They never said: “you should do this or that” when it came to my education choices or my career. They said I could do anything I wanted. When I was little, I’m sure I said some preposterous things like I wanted to be an astronaut. But they would say: “you go after it then.” They were always supportive.
What is inspiring you now (reading/ watching/learning)?
I always get inspired reading the Harvard Business Review. People might think this publication would be dry and boring, but it isn’t. I love reading about innovation and I pick up good ideas about how to do things differently, like advice on how to manage teams better.
I also read the Booker Prize nominees every year because it’s a great way to get exposed to a wonderful array of writers and writing styles. As I’m now sitting on the Board of Girl Guides Australia, I’m reading about the history of this incredible organisation. This history also contains information about membership which is relevant to my work at FIA.
Even though I worked at SBS and liked their programming very much, I’m not a big TV watcher. I still watch the SBS news at 6.30pm if I’m home; but otherwise, I have a short attention span for TV and I’m not a binge watcher. The bulk of my television watching happens while I’m ironing! I hate ironing, but some US late night talk shows help me get through it.
Do you have a message for women over 40?
Don’t sweat the small stuff. As women, we tend to get caught up in the “we should do this or that” syndrome. We miss what’s in front of us.
There were times in my career when I’d come home and be too tired to talk to my son. I was worried because the dishwasher needed to be unloaded and there were tons of things to do. Well, he’s 17, so where did the time go? Now I always make sure that I’m in the present and the moment for him. My advice? Don’t worry about small things. They don’t matter.
Giving thanks every day is also important so that you can recognise all the good that is in your life.