This medium-sized organisation is midway through a 10-year plan to see 30 per cent of its annual income generated through an innovative social enterprise strategy.
Centacare, in the Catholic Diocese of Rockhampton, employs about 200 staff delivering community services over 588,586 square kilometres or 32.7 per cent of the state of Queensland which includes Mackay, Rockhampton, Gladstone, Bundaberg, Blackwater and Emerald. The costs of delivering services, including travel and accommodation, across such a large area that encompasses Queensland's premiere mining territory and the accompanying high living costs, can be far higher than in other parts of the state.
Centacare Rockhampton found that costing models in their government service contracts fell short of the actual costs to deliver services in their catchment area. "We made a conscious decision in 2009 that we needed to look at sources of funding other than government funding," said Director Ricki Jeffery. "It was about how are we able to afford to provide the services that are really needed in our communities. So we decided...by 2017 we would be 10 per cent non-government funded, by 2020, 30 per cent."
Developing a strategy
Such a long term vision required a strong investment in research and development to determine and establish the right strategy to see those goals achieved. The right strategy had to fit Centacare's mission and value set, as well as being financially viable. Several strategies were considered, including fundraising, sponsorship, philanthropic funding, and social enterprise. The organisation's leadership felt fundraising would not yield enough revenue to truly support service delivery. "There's not a critical mass of people in regional areas to support fundraising and fundraising is really hard work for very little return if you don't have professional fundraising people and donor management systems," said Ricki. Instead, Centacare Rockhampton decided upon a social enterprise strategy with two key portfolios: employee assistance and property management.
Social enterprise was a natural choice – the organisation already provided an employee assistance program to businesses such as Catholic Education and Curragh Mine. Centacare Rockhampton realised they had other strengths and organisational assets in delivering backend organisational services that could potentially be delivered to smaller not-for-profits for example, payroll, acquittals, professional supervision and line management, in a fee-for-service contract arrangement. They calculated the unit cost for each service, developed a profit model and began talking to other, smaller community service organisations with whom they had a service delivery relationship. The organisation is steadily building this into a successful business.
Still in the development phase, the property management strategy aims to tackle the high commercial property rental costs in the mining region. Centacare currently owns two of the premises in which they operate, but is paying $200,000 annually for an office building they lease. The organisation aims to purchase a building that will be bigger than their needs so they can save on rental and lease space to other community organisations who are struggling to afford Central Queensland commercial property rates. Residential rentals are also high in some areas of their footprint so Centacare is also exploring the option of purchasing a block of units to lease to its staff who are impacted by increased rental costs.
Investing in time and people
Centacare Rockhampton is carefully and methodically implementing its social enterprise strategy by investing its reserves in the developmental phase. The years 2009 to 2011 was a time of building systems and getting ready to shift towards a new way of doing business. Moving towards a profit model of doing business by providing services to other not-for-profit organisations and commercial businesses, has required a massive cultural shift for staff. From 2011 to the present, Centacare Rockhampton has been building the capacity of staff to undertake this work and gaining their acceptance of the new commercial elements in their organisation, and gearing them towards working to meet the needs of their new customers.
"There's a whole lot of preparation you have to do in the business when you're going to start doing this," said Ricki. "We've had key staff involved in research and training with Social Traders, Social Ventures Australia and Foresters. We've had people trained in social return on investment and we've had a critical mass of our staff, 15 per cent, trained in partnering essentials. We (now) have accredited partnership brokering roles in our organisation." The staff in these roles are usually service delivery staff, who in their everyday work partner and collaborate with other organisations to deliver services or who could use the business services Centacare Rockhampton offer.
"Small organisations don't have that business infrastructure or can't get someone to work just one day per week," said Ricki. By contracting Centacare to deliver their payroll and other such services, their “staff have been able to get on with the business of doing service delivery and not be taken off that to deal with the (backend) of the business. They're happier organisations. It's about efficiency for them...and decreasing indirect costs.”
The impacts to Centacare and its service delivery clients of undertaking the social enterprise strategy have been surprising. Ricki reports that working to meet the needs of commercial clients has changed the way Centacare staff work with the clients of their aged, disability and family support services. It has shifted their thinking to be more focused on what the client needs and working with them to meet those needs.
"It has made our organisation much more ready for client driven services," said Ricki. "We've got some really good rules in place for what is client driven. Because we've had to develop this stuff in a collegial way, our staff are much better at co-enquiry, co-design and collaboration."
Ricki has plenty of sage advice for other organisations looking to do something similar.
"Go slow, (there is) not a quick and easy fix. Go into the establishment phase with eyes wide open. You could do a hundred things, (but) you've got to choose one or two. Because you can't have a hundred great ideas and make them all work. Set some trial spaces, set some goals and be prepared to say, 'we can't fix this' and step back."
Ricki believes being proactive was one of their greatest strengths in building their social enterprise strategy. "We have made this decision before it has been forced on us... (it was) not a reaction."
Being proactive has given Centacare Rockhampton the luxury of time to develop and steadily build their new businesses. But the significant investment of time and training for staff was something their board needed to understand and agree to, and in this regard professional advice helped immensely. They invited Foresters Community Finance to meet with the board. "(It) helped our governance body understand the intricacies, the investment and the time [it was going to take]. We won't get a return on the full investment in under 12 to15 years."
Case study key themes
Social innovation – Centacare Rockhampton has found emerging local markets by being keenly aware of local need. They are driven to serve their community and so, their businesses are seeking to address local problems, such as high rental costs and high operating costs for fellow not-for-profits.
Proactive – Similar to The Spot Community Services, Centacare Rockhampton started on their social enterprise strategy years before the need to do so. This has afforded them the time to invest in research and development, conduct trials and get their strategy right.
Investment – Centacare Rockhampton has poured hundreds of thousands of dollars from their reserves into their strategy, knowing it will take years to see a return on that investment. Without that investment, they would not have been able to progressively implement this business strategy.
Leadership – There are several levels of leadership working throughout the organisation to make the social enterprise strategy viable. Ricki is an enterprising leader who had her staff trained to take on the tasks of seeking out partners and clients. The role of the board in this case is plainly important, and by skilling them up on social enterprise and educating them so they have realistic expectations, they have been willing to invest.
Expert skills and advice – Recognising the need to up skill their board and staff, Centacare Rockhampton engaged organisations that specialise in social enterprise to educate and train staff, as well as provide expert advice.
This case study appears in Rethinking Resources: Case Studies of Financial Resilience from Queensland Community Services.
Listen to this case study as an interview with Ricki Jeffrey on StudioQ: