People with purpose: Leading by example – and why every NFP leader can benefit from peer-to-peer mentoring

Posted on 12 Feb 2024

By Greg Thom, journalist, Institute of Community Directors Australia

CM at Keynote

Investing in the capability of not-for-profit leaders is vital to ensure a more socially aware Australia, says the CEO of the NonProfit Alliance, Carmel Molloy.

Tell us a little bit about your background.

I’m one of five kids (and you guessed it, from a good Catholic family), four of whom were teachers.

My career path has followed an interesting trajectory from teaching to marketing agencies to charities and now running my own social enterprise: the NonProfit Alliance (NPA).

After my early years in teaching, I decided to spread my wings, retrain, and launch myself into a marketing agency career.

By default, I gravitated towards kids’ products and services and soon found myself as the account director for McDonald’s, Nestlé, Disney Channel and a host of other brands for children and families.

I really loved my years in the marketing agency arena…until I didn’t!

I was seeking out the “why” in my work and I was not finding it. Moving to children’s charities was to be a career-defining move for me.

How and why did you become involved in the not-for-profit sector?

I saw a position advertised for a marketing and fundraising director for Kids Helpline and the rest is history, as they say.

I knew I had the marketing and brand component down pat, and I thought fundraising can’t be so hard. Right? Little did I know!

Since those fun and rewarding early years, where I thrived on naivety and adrenalin, I have been blessed with some amazing leadership roles for both national and international NGOs that have exposed me to so many inspiring people, unique destinations and groundbreaking programs – both here in Australia and around the world.

My deep passion for the sector is only growing over time.

"Building leadership capability is imperative. It will directly impact on the social outcomes that your organisation can achieve, as the flow-on effects cascade throughout your organisation and the people and communities it connects with."

How did the NonProfit Alliance come about and what does it hope to achieve?

The NonProfit Alliance launched in 2015 to address a gap in peer2peer programs available exclusively for NFP leaders.

The timing was right to provide structured opportunities for leaders to catalyse the collective wisdom, knowledge, and experience of their for-purpose peers to build sector capability together.

Stronger leaders, more robust organisations, an empowered sector and greater social impact remain the guiding principles behind everything we do at NPA.

Today we have a vibrant network where for-purpose leaders are supported both emotionally and professionally to collaborate, share the load and find real traction towards greater social impact.

All this is achieved through a healthy balance of internal and external focus at our monthly full-day NPA Leadership Hub sessions.

What is the Long Lunch and why is it an important addition to the sector calendar?

The inaugural Long Lunch event was held in December 2023 and to say that it exceeded our expectations would not do it justice.

Holding an end-of-year event per se was nothing new, but an event that brought 100 NFP leaders together at two long tables for a long-awaited and long-deserved celebration and reflection on the year that was – that was something new, and the sector embraced the concept.

In summary it was a progressive lunch where everyone involved – panel and guests – answered five questions:

  • What I loved
  • What I loathed
  • What I longed for
  • What I learned
  • What I laughed at

The energy in the room as our leaders moved along the tables was infectious.

I have reflected on what made the Long Lunch so successful and I think everyone agreed that as sector leaders, we need to celebrate our achievements and reward ourselves for the incredible role we play, collectively, in building stronger communities.

To take the time to stand up (or in this case sit down) and be loud and proud of the exceptional job we do.


What's the number one challenge not-for-profit organisations are facing right now?

I believe that the number one challenge for our sector is the sheer number and scale of challenges that our NFP leaders are facing.

The year 2023 saw yet another significant increase in the demands and complexities faced by many of our leaders and there is no sign of that abating in 2024. We heard far too often the words “something’s gotta give”.

Our NPA Leadership Hubs meet every month (there are multiple hubs of 10–15 leaders), and the “Issues and Opportunities” round table is the most popular item on our agenda.

Our members table issues that range from financial sustainability to the rising incidence of staff mental health and wellbeing problems to the futureproofing of management teams and boards to how to sensitively deal with conflict and how to keep up with the latest technological developments.

There is no doubt that the sharing of challenges – and opportunities – and seeking out questions and advice to challenge your thinking broadens the perspective of the leaders who take part. Peer2peer mentoring makes you a better leader.

My advice to every for-purpose leader is to build a peer support network around you. No matter what that might look like today, keep building on it.

Invest in yourself and make sure that your board or management team are prepared to invest in you. Social sector leadership is far too complex and too lonely to tackle alone. And as the African proverb so eloquently says, “If you want to go far, go together.”

My advice to those making decisions on leadership development at an organisational level is please don’t shortcut on your people.

Building leadership capability is imperative. It will directly impact on the social outcomes that your organisation can achieve, as the flow-on effects cascade throughout your organisation and the people and communities it connects with.

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