Top treasurers win thousands for their organisations

Posted on 14 Sep 2023

By Matthew Schulz, journalist, Institute of Community Directors Australia

CBA exhibitors 202305 CIC8 003 2
The Commonwealth Bank team at the launch of the 2023 Not-for-Profit Treasurers' Awards, Communities in Control, May 2023

The nation’s top community treasurers have boosted the bank balances of their organisations after winning $5,000 each in prize money following a national search.

While their missions vary, the winners all demonstrated a powerful mix of good hearts and great smarts, which are the not-so-secret ingredients that enable community sector organisations to thrive.

The NFP Treasurers’ Awards winners were a highlight of Not-for-profit Finance Week 2023 (September 11–15), an initiative of Our Community and the Commonwealth Bank. This year’s winners are:

Paul Vallance (education)
Winston Hills Preschool, Melbourne

Michele Bennetts (community)
Care in Motion (Community Care and Transport Inc.), Adelaide

Justin Rothwell (sport, art and culture)
NSW Swimming Coaches and Teachers Association

Each treasurer wins $5,000 for their organisation, with another 2000 nominees recognised with certificates of appreciation.

Our best community treasurers say their secrets to success include:

  • a culture of collaboration in their organisations
  • a dedication to improvement and training
  • cultivating multiple funding streams
  • adopting tech that protects their finances, and the privacy of their stakeholders
  • being ready and willing to adapt to inevitable change.

Julienne Price, the Commonwealth Bank’s executive manager for communities, said the awards recognised the valuable efforts of the country’s volunteer treasurers.

“These winners are worth their weight in gold, because they volunteer their time and expertise to help our country’s not-for-profits and charities make a bigger impact. Their passion for their cause means those organisations can remain financially sound.

“We’re proud to present these awards with Our Community because we know that it can be a hard job at times, and we think treasurers don’t always get the recognition they deserve.”

She said the awards were a fitting way to finish Not-for-profit Finance Week, which provided free financial literacy skills training to thousands of treasurers and community directors.

Institute of Community Directors Australia general manager Adele Stowe-Lindner said the contribution of treasurers to Australia’s community and economy was worth millions of dollars.

“Being a treasurer is a pivotal strategic role for any not-for-profit and they deserve a lot more praise than they get. We hope this award helps balance the books in that regard.

“At ICDA, we know community organisations find that recruiting good treasurers can be difficult, because potential candidates are often unsure whether they are up to the task.

“It’s important to know that there is help available, whether it’s through NFP Finance Week or the array of free and affordable resources we provide.”

Treasurer still learning in preschool role

Paul Vallance
Paul Vallance

Winston Hills Preschool treasurer Paul Vallance – recognised for his efforts to improve the organisation’s finance technology and security – says upgrading systems makes sense to prepare the organisation in Melbourne’s leafy north-east for inevitable challenges.

He credits the school’s community, staff and other volunteer parents as reasons for the preschool’s popularity and financial health.

“I did suffer from ‘imposter syndrome’ coming into the role, but once you realise what your responsibilities are, you realise you don’t need to have been the CEO of a bank to do this [role] well. It is one you can do without previous experience if you’re confident handling money.”

“Our committee relies heavily on members supporting each other and filling in knowledge gaps where needed. For anyone thinking about taking on the treasurer’s role, recognise that you’re part of a big committee where everybody's working together to keep the ship afloat.”

The Federal Government’s decision to make all childcare free, while welcome, restricted the preschool’s ability to charge fees, but the organisation had adopted a multi-pronged income strategy comprising fundraising, sponsorships, donations, grants and government funding to retain its modest surplus.

He said the “no strings” $5,000 prize money was welcome and was likely to help with planned upgrades to the preschool.

Transport treasurer has a strong drive to contribute

Michelle Bennetts
Michelle Bennetts

Care in Motion treasurer Michele Bennetts was shocked and delighted to be recognised for her role with the community transport operator, which ferries elderly and vulnerable people across South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula from its base in Minlaton.

As a certified practising accountant with a business consulting to local governments on finance and governance, she was proud to have the knowledge and experience needed to help steer the essential service through a period of growth.

One aspect of Ms Bennetts’ entry that stood out to judges was the organisation’s commitment to protecting clients’ data as part of its commitment to good cybersecurity. This helped Care in Motion to meet its mission of maintaining the independence and the quality of life of its users.

“I think being part of Care in Motion [means] that that you’re helping a part of the community that would be disenfranchised if you didn’t help. As you watch your own parents grow older and lose their ability to get around … you realise how important it is to reconnect them back with the community. I just like the feeling of working in places that are contributing to the community.”

The prize money would cover a much-needed revamp of an amenities block at one of the organisation’s transport hubs, she said.

Swim coach happy to dive in to help the finances

Justin Rothwell
Justin Rothwell

NSW Swimming Coaches and Teachers Association treasurer Justin Rothwell also trained as an accountant, before discovering his passion for the water and for training some of Australia’s best swimmers.

His commitment to the association of more than 20 years has seen him hold the treasurer’s post more than once, and he’s also served as president and vice-president.

Mr Rothwell said he “fell off the couch” on learning he’d been named one of the country’s top community treasurers, partly on the back of a pun-laden entry which highlighted his efforts “paddling away in the sea of cyber threats”.

But seriously, Mr Rothwell said his work as a treasurer was “probably one of the things in my life that I pay utmost attention to, and I don't want to make any mistakes at all. I just want to make sure everything's perfect.”

“It's rewarding and at the end of the year when you work with the auditors, it's quite satisfying to be part of it.”

He said the $5,000 prizemoney was already earmarked for use in promoting more top women coaches in the sport, possibly through the Her Sport Her Way program.

More help for treasurers

The Not-for-Profit Treasurers’ Awards are the culmination of the annual Not-for-profit Finance Week, which also sees the presention of a suite of free webinars hosted by the Institute of Community Directors Australia (ICDA) and supported by the Commonwealth Bank.

For a short time, those free webinars are still available on replay, covering:

  • Questions all boards must ask about the finances
  • Making the most of not-for-profit fundraising
  • Financial ethics, legal obligations and risk management
  • A briefing from CommBank’s chief economist on the economy’s effects on the community sector
  • Cyber safety and security for not-for-profits

Attendees are also directed to more resources online, on-demand training and help sheets.

More information

Past winners: 2022 | 2021 | 2020

Not-for-profit Finance Week information

Tools and resources: Free guidance for community treasurers

Free download: Damn Good Advice for Treasurers

Become a member of ICDA – it's free!