On the plane last month, flying back to the Sunshine Coast from this year’s NFP People Conference in Melbourne, we took the time to digest all of the speakers and learnings from this year’s mega event. We narrowed down to the five people who inspired us the most, which might be of interest if you could not attend, or might serve as fuel if you attended and want to add to our list with the speakers who most inspired you?


1. Jack Manning Bancroft – one of our new heroes

Hands down, the most inspiring speaker of this year’s NFP People conference was Sydney storyteller Jack Manning Bancroft, the founder of AIME (Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience).

Young Australian of the Year (NSW) in 2010, Jack started AIME as a 19-year-old. Now, 11 years later, AIME has 130 paid staff, 2,500 volunteers and has mentored 7,000 Indigenous children across the country.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Jack has just launched a golden-ticket-type program to raise $2 million, to sponsor 20 students in 20 different countries, to replicate his AIME model and spread the love internationally.

Yet he’s not into growth for growth’s sake. He hates when NFPs talk about sustainability. He wants organisations like his to solve a problem and get out, rather than perpetuate ongoing assistance for a need should have been solved.

Jack’s talk focussed a lot on the need to re-think who we portray as heroes to today’s youth. Despite being a long-time cricket fan, Jack warned that it’s not the cricket stars who we should idolise – it’s the students, the educators and the parents who are contributing, learning and shaping the future that we should teach our children to count as heroes.


2. Former VIC Police Commissioner Christine Nixon – a trailblazer for women

Standing at the podium, calm and collected, Christine Nixon didn’t need to walk the stage to hold the audience captivated, as she retold stories of her trailblazing successes (as well as her heartbreaking disappointments) in her 37 year police career.

Best advice given to her on her journey?

  • “You’re no dumber than the blokes. If they can do it, so can you.”

Best advice she gave us?

  • “A belief in what you’re doing is important, so you get out of bed in the morning.”
  • “It’s not about being liked or safe, it’s about stepping out and stepping up.”
  • “Overcome your fears. Lots of people want to make you scared.”
  • “How many managers would you walk over hot coals for? Most of us only have two or three. Be one of those managers.”
  • “If you want people to blossom and bloom, be a good gardener.”


3. Bronwyn Sheehan (pictured above) – who built a volunteer army in her pyjamas

Former nurse and midwife, as well as Australian of the Year Finalist in 2009, Brisbane’s Bronwyn Sheehan was the epitome of an unassuming heroine.

In 2004, alarmed by the fact that 92% of children in foster care have below average reading skills, Bronwyn created the Pyjama Foundation, to make a positive impact on the lives of our community’s most vulnerable children.

From humble beginnings in her pyjamas (and yes, she has been known to wear her pyjamas to work), Bronwyn now oversees 1,500 Pyjama Angels who volunteer one hour a week to read books aloud to 1,400 foster care kids.

“If you were to equate reading hours with typical tutoring costs, our volunteers effectively give $4.5 million each year in free tutoring,” said Bronwyn. A statistic which is downright phenomenal – and maybe similar to many of your own volunteer organisations.

On-stage and off-stage, Bronwyn was the most genuine, beautiful soul and is a walking testimony to the power of persistence.

Over the course of the last 12 years, the Pyjama Foundation has trained 5,000 volunteers and has certainly learnt a thing or two about recruitment and retention.


4. David Arkell – the guy who threw formal performance management out the window

As the Leader of Human Resources for GE Australia, New Zealand and PNG, we confess that before David Arkell spoke, we doubted how a corporate leader could inspire and be relevant to a room full of NFP leaders on shoestring budgets.

Maybe David did too, leveraging early on in his presentation that his dad was a former Managing Director of Save The Children Fund (Australia) and that at GE, David’s budget gets cut every year, regardless of how well the company is doing.

But David surprised us. We really enjoyed his warm and personable manner and we loved hearing how GE Australia got rid of traditional desk spaces and formal performance management systems, in favour of flexible work spaces and real-time “performance insights”.

Most of all, we appreciated his stories. Our favourite was from his time working in Indonesia.

“When I arrived in Indonesia, the employees immediately asked me for a pay rise. I thought I would be clever and give them an option: standard pay rise now or double the pay rise in a few months’ time if performance targets were met. Never for one minute did I expect the workers to take the standard pay rise. That day, my colleague Abdul Rachim taught me a lesson,” said David.

Abdul Rachim: “If you offer a man an apple today, or two apples in a month’s time, a man’s answer will always depend how hungry he is.”

“I learnt that day that I needed to better listen to employee needs and better understand a company’s culture, before making rash decisions,” David reflected.


5. Adele Stowe-Linder – a speaker with contagious passion

We take our hats off to any organisation that can train, motivate and retain 1,500 volunteers. But what we love even more is hearing the story from a passionate leader like Adele Stowe-Linder, Ardoch Youth Foundation’s National Programs Manager, who not only inspired audience members to volunteer themselves, but generously shared tips, lessons and HR and software tools used along the way, so that the audience can walk away with something tangible for their own organisations.

Ardoch Youth Foundation is a charity that provides education support to children and young people in disadvantaged communities. They’ve been doing it for over 25 years and were recognised in 2015 with the Volunteering Victoria Innovation Award. With passionate people like Adele in the team, it’s easy to see why. Congrats team!


Which leaders inspires you in the NFP sector?

There are so many amazing people in the NFP sector, who lead organisations and serve as a huge inspiration to everyone around them.

If you’d like to share a NFP leader who inspires you (whether they were at the NFP People Conference or not), feel free to do so in the comments below.


Feature image credit: NFPpeople.com.au