EMBA students bring head and heart to fundraising project
All charities face the continual challenge of maintaining and expanding their fundraising, with so many causes competing for the financial support of the Australian community.
For the Westmead Medical Research Foundation, the task is to raise money for Westmead Hospital and for the Westmead Millennium Institute for Medical Research, which sit proudly within western Sydney and service a diverse and rapidly expanding population.
In 2014, students from the UTS Business School Executive MBA (EMBA) program became part of these efforts, undertaking a project to help develop a 21st century fundraising strategy for Westmead.
“We looked at what the Foundation and other medical charities were doing and undertook research into the not-for-profit environment in Australia, and competition for the charity dollar,” says Clare Ferguson, who was part of the EMBA group that worked on the project. “We then looked at the target market of Western Sydney, which is very multicultural, with many first-generation immigrants.
“With the support of UTS, we interviewed people, did our own research, analysed the information and turned it into conclusions, recommendations, and strategies.”
After three months’ work, the students presented a 70-page report to the Foundation board for consideration.
One recommendation was for the Foundation to consider integrating multiple brands – Westmead Hospital, Westmead Children’s Hospital and the Medical Research Institute – into one campus-wide Westmead brand, to avoid duplication and “donor cannibalism”.
Another recommendation was to delve into the possibilities for digital campaigning, something the Foundation already had in development with its new “Share Some Love” program. For a small donation, participants can send a digital “heart” and a personal message to a loved one, via the sharesomelove.org.au campaign page – perhaps to the parents of a new baby, or to someone undergoing treatment in the hospital or even to show their gratitude to a doctor or a nurse for the care they or a loved one received. The students suggested creating an app for visitors to the hospital that could tie in with this program.
They also canvassed the potential for non-fundraising revenue streams by providing health-related services to the small-medium enterprise sector.
'It was a great feeling to know that the work
I was doing was helping this organisation
continue the amazing work that they do'
“The EMBA students were very professional, very engaged, and put in a lot of hours in rapidly developing their knowledge of the not-for-profit sector – which was foreign to all of them,” says Eric d’Indy, who was Foundation CEO at the time of the project. “They were well supported by UTS and came up with well-tested, full financial analysis and well-researched ideas.”
Ferguson says: “It was a great feeling to know that the work I was doing was helping this organisation continue the amazing work that they do.”
EMBA candidates are mid-stage career executives ready to make the move from a tactical to a strategic role. At UTS Business School they are assigned what Program Director Jim Hutchin calls “real, meaty business problems” to fix.
Students work in teams, engaging in intensive, live consulting projects with clients such as Westmead. Each team is supervised by a Project Executive who is either a Business School academic with industry experience or a senior business executive from industry.
Paul Thambar of UTS Business School, who has academic and industry experience in strategy and accounting, was the Project Executive for the Westmead project. “The role of Project Executive is a key differentiator in our program, because they help students to apply prior learning and to obtain professional, consulting grade outcomes for clients,” he says.
The program also has an Advisory Council made up of C-suite executives who volunteer their time to review the work done by the students before it goes to the client. One of the Big Four accounting firms, PricewaterhouseCoopers, provides senior staff to serve on this Advisory Council.
Ferguson came to the EMBA program after working in operations roles for 15 years across industries as diverse as cargo shipping, tax consultancy, software, and now legal services. She had found that not having an undergraduate degree was holding her back. “I wanted to get a broader business understanding of the industries I was working in, and to move myself up the ladder,” she says.
She was attracted to the EMBA course mainly because of its cohort model, with students being formed into groups with whom they complete the entire course. “Despite being from Sydney, I worked overseas for most of my 20s, so the course also allowed me to develop a network of local business contacts,” Ferguson says.
'The focus is on practical,
experientially based learning
– what we call reality-driven rigour'
At EMBA gatherings, “war stories” are told of teams collaborating not only on project work but supporting each other during the intensive program by chipping in with household chores and child care as deadlines loom.
For another member of the Westmead group, Parambir Sandhu, the EMBA program was the stepping stone into a career in consulting with PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of UTS Business School’s partners in its MBA and EMBA programs. “I enjoyed the EMBA so much I began questioning what I was doing in HR,” Sandhu says.
Lynette Nixon, Director, Deals Innovation, PwC Australia, says: “Because Parambs is able to combine the content she has learned via the EMBA with the practical experience of working on the client projects during the course, she begins her consulting career a step up from other graduates in terms of strategic knowledge, knowing the right questions to ask and the overall quality of her thinking.
“It is always grounded in outcomes for the client versus the ‘theory’ of how something is done – these are terrific attributes for consultants to have.”
Associate Professor Hutchin says the value of real-world engagements with clients like Westmead is immense.
“What we’re trying to achieve with this program is very different from a conventional MBA,” he says. “The focus is on practical, experientially based learning – what we call reality-driven rigour.”
Rather than poring over case studies from textbooks, the EMBA candidates work with “live” subjects. “From our perspective, case studies are to business schools what cadavers are to medical schools,” Assoc Prof Hutchin says. “They provide for wonderful learning, but the learning is incomplete because you know the outcome before you start – and you don’t get any live feedback.”