Value Systems : The not-for-profit drivers

Margot’s first degree at the University of Sydney was a Bachelor of Education. She moved to Darwin where she headed up Darwin Family Centers. This organization provided child care and family support for the families across the top end of Australia. It was while studying for her MBA that she started working as a business consultant, at the youthful age of 24.

Margot works with some of the world’s top companies at executive level, helping organizations in times of crisis, such as after mergers and takeovers. She mentors numerous leading international business figures and conducts workshops and conferences.

She is the author of "Approaching the Corporate Heart", ISBN 0-7318-0655-7, Simon & Schuster.

Margot is Chairman of Zaffyre International, and can be reached at See also her websites at  and

"Sometimes the best things in life are free, just ask any non-government organization"

The not-for-profit sector is on the rise, accounting for 29 million full-time equivalent jobs or about one job in every 20 and contributing an estimated global value of US $1.1 trillion.  In 1999, the number of non-government organizations (NGOs) with operations in more than one country was 26,000, up from 6,000 in 1990.

An Edelman Public Relations Worldwide survey of opinion leaders in Australia, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States in 2000 found that NGOs were trusted nearly twice as much to 'do what is right' than government, media or corporations.  More than half the respondents claimed that NGOs 'represent values I believe in'. NGOs ranked much higher as a source of credible information than media outlets or companies on issues including labor and human rights, genetically modified food, environmental and health issues.

At a time when business, government and media are losing people's trust, the NGO sector is growing at about four times the rate of other sectors.

My first job out of university was managing a NGO with about 60 paid staff and several hundred volunteers.  I answered to 11 community-based committees and three levels of government. The politics involved were challenging, yet we managed to achieve so much with few financial resources.  My next job was lecturing at a University where, again, so much was achieved with so little. When I later moved out into the business world, I never forgot the capacity of NGOs to attract goodwill, time and energy for free.  I also never forgot the exhaustion, the politics and the great feeling of satisfaction.

How do NGOs throughout the world get people to work for free or very little, under conditions that are less than fantastic? Here's why:

* NGOs fully realize they are working with volunteers. You can't buy commitment, energy and motivation.

* The push in business to get the employees to own the business is a mainstay principle of NGOs.  As the managing director of a NGO, I was accountable to my public.  People had no difficulty in letting me know, at any hour of the day or night, what they wanted and my job was to respond, ensuring that I stayed on my toes, kept close to my public and realized that my place was to serve my stakeholders and their interests - no distant shareholder annual general meetings for me.   I was accountable to the board members - they were accountable to the people who elected them.

* NGOs work for the common good so people willingly go the extra mile. This breeds a palpable spirit of belonging.

* NGOs promote servant leadership. As managing director I had very little direct power, but a huge amount of influence.  My influence came through supporting my staff and committees to learn and grow so that they could all do their jobs better. Another huge source of influence came via working with the volunteers, training them and ensuring that they felt appreciated and rewarded for their efforts. 

* Everyone is doing the impossible with the invisible; mutual support and encouragement is widespread.

* There is huge satisfaction in providing the community with a greatly needed service.

In summary, the success of NGOs, something that business and government could do well to emulate, lies in their capacity to recognize that their business is people - people in the organization and people in the community.  Plant, equipment and financial resources are there to serve people.  Operating from this stance, it is amazing how much can be achieved inexpensively, ensuring there are a lot more resource to spread around at the end of the day. Is there any business that couldn't learn from this model?

© Margot Cairnes 2002

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