Lobbying for change: How RSPCA Qld and Allevia influence government

Posted on November 27, 2019

Engaging the community and collecting donations is half the battle. Social sector organisations realise long-term impact when they get politicians on side. Here's how two leaders engage in the time-honoured tradition of lobbying both sides of the fence.

Saving animals doesn't come cheap, just ask RSPCA Queensland. Every day it cares for some 3,000 domestic and wild animals, and receives more than 100,000 phone calls. In 20 years, the charity's budget has increased tenfold to $51 million.

Almost all of that funding comes from public donations or sales that support its work. Keeping the funds flowing and animals healthy is a relentless task. Add to that, the number of injured wildlife keeps growing each year.

This fact was a trigger for CEO Mark Townend to step up RSPCA Queensland's efforts to engage state and federal governments in the mission. After all, wildlife is the Crown's responsibility.

"Everyone believes that government departments look after wildlife," Mark said. "Well, that doesn't happen. The government leaves it to charities like the RSPCA. And while it requires significant investment from RSPCA Queensland, we're committed to ensuring the animals are properly cared for and don't suffer."

With two decades at the helm of RSPCA QLD, and prior experience serving in local government and in the corporate sector, Mark already had good connections in government.

Still, it took a deliberate strategy of engagement and "quite heavy lobbying" by the organisation over a number of years - including in the lead up to the federal election - to secure $1 million a year of financial assistance for its wildlife hospitals in Queensland.

His efforts continue to pay off. In July this year, the Queensland Government announced it would increase its financial support by $200,000 towards RSPCA Queensland's call centre costs.

NDIS commitments

Another social sector organisation which understands the power of lobbying is Allevia, a registered service provider under the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) in New South Wales. The organisation provides disability support services to young people and adults, and employs skilled workers who support people with a disability.

Allevia's CEO, Philip Petrie, is passionate about ensuring the Federal Government maintains its commitment to making the NDIS an effective system for supporting people with disabilities.

In fact, he's so passionate about working to secure the long-term success of the NDIS he stepped away from daily operations after the most recent federal election. Philip is on a mission to become a "key person of influence" in the disability sector.

One of his roles is serving on the NSW state committee of National Disability Services, the Australian peak body for non-government disability services. He sees this an opportunity to work more broadly in the sector to draw attention to issues affecting the vulnerability of people with a disability.

"I've embarked on this journey of embedding myself into as many different opportunities as I can, representing the organisation, to try and be part of what the sector's role is in making the NDIS work - and not just standing around waiting for government to fix problems, but being very proactive."

David Jack, CEO at The Social Impact Institute, understands the passion that drives leaders like Mark and Philip. A veteran of the social enterprise sector himself, he understands the value of developing long-term relationships with government.

"RSPCA Queensland and Allevia both illustrate the importance of building strong relationships with government," he explained. "Two key learnings emerge – timing and intentionality. RSPCA Queensland CEO engaged with government in the lead up to an election to ensure that wildlife was on governments agenda and their commitment was on the record. Philip has been intentional about being positioned to be able to influence the conversation about the NDIS and the importance of valuing people who live with a disability."

The key to success for these organisations, and others across the sector, will be a commitment to building strong and open relationships across all levels of government. David says this includes knowing relevant MPs and government departments.

Meanwhile, social sector CEOs can't afford to take their eye off the ball when it comes to running a smart, efficient and capable organisation. The challenge is balancing the role of government engagement and organisational responsibilities.

"This balancing act is best achieved when a CEO has well thought out systems and processes, integrated technology, impact measurement and reporting that combine to give a CEO confidence that service delivery is having an impact," David explained. "And when that's working well, it's a good story to tell government stakeholders who value evidence and fact-based insights."

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