When Mark Brooke accepted the new national CEO role of HeartKids, an inspiring not-for-profit solely dedicated to improving the lives of children with congenital heart disease, he was ready for a challenge. After 35 years of federation, six state-based organisations were merging into one, with a complete restructure and new leadership team, to help grow and expand HeartKids’ valuable services to families across Australia.
Twelve-months on, we talk to Mark about the challenges he’s faced leading the organisation post-merger, delve into his secrets for leadership success and uncover his vision for one of the nation’s favourite NFPs.
What attracted you to the new CEO role at HeartKids, and why?
The role at HeartKids presented several personal and professional challenges. I wanted to return to an area of personal interest in supporting children and families who were vulnerable, whilst maintaining a focus on advocacy and translational research.
HeartKids’ unification following 35-plus years of federated structure was both appealing and incredibly exciting, providing a professional challenge to develop a new vision and purpose that cherished the past, but was also expansive and focused on greater impact.
You’ve been at HeartKids now for just over a year, so how have your first 12 months been?
A year later and it all seems a blur. The new independent chairperson and board have carefully crafted an exciting new agenda, ensuring greater visibility over the organisation outcomes and how these relate to our supporters and donors.
What challenges have you faced?
Cultural change is never easy on people. Managing expectations post-merger has been the greatest challenge, particularly as some were promised nothing would change. Despite commonality of vision and alleged commonality of purpose under the former federated structure, each state body had a very different way of approaching the same service or task, be it family support or payroll processing.
Harmonising our processes has taken time and there have been numerous frustrations as we seek to align literally thousands of activities under common frameworks, policies and systems. Red tape reduction for the charitable sector clearly is a lofty ambition not yet realised!
What’s your secret for success at CEO level?
Negotiating and embedding a collective vision and purpose is what I enjoy most. Having to stand my ground and be uncompromising when it comes to delivering cultural change does take courage and thick skin. For example, we made a number of long-standing finance positions redundant as a result of unification, from eight to two full time positions.
These staff were great people, many of whom started out as parents and volunteers, but I can’t look a donor in the eye and hand on heart say we’re using your gift to best affect if we have duplication and waste that can be so easily addressed.
What elements do you think you need to have in place to run a successful not-for-profit?
Continuously assessing and measuring organisational impact, even when it’s not what people want to hear, is the key. This, combined with attracting new investment from a diversity of sources, leads to greater success. Outcomes translate to key messaging and brand, which in turn drive our giving programs.
The greater the investment, the more our core business flourishes, and the more we can invest in innovation, our people and services.
What’s your vision for HeartKids?
HeartKids has been defined by the iconic image of the infant or baby with the large vertical scar on their chest, however there are now 36,000 young people and young adults living with childhood heart disease. Whilst we will always deliver support and care for families in hospital, we are expanding our services to be inclusive of all people impacted by childhood heart disease.
Last month we held our inaugural National Childhood Heart Disease Roundtable at Parliament House in Canberra and after several stalled years, HeartKids has secured a commitment and funding for Australia’s first National Childhood Heart Disease Action Plan. This is a game changer for HeartKids and demonstrates the strength of our community when they unite behind a common advocacy platform.
How did you first come across NGO Recruitment?
NGO Recruitment approached me for the HeartKids role, knowing I was instrumental in leading the unification of the Asthma Foundations in my previous role as the Asthma Australia CEO.
Has outsourcing your recruitment processes been a benefit to HeartKids, and why?
As a small organisation, HeartKids doesn’t have dedicated HR resources and so working with NGO Recruitment for our executive appointments has been a wise decision. Richard and the team understand the cultural nuances I’m seeking for the organisation and are across our strategic drivers.
Working with NGO Recruitment has given us a broader and more focused candidate pool but has also saved myself considerable time.
To find out more about HeartKids and how you can get involved with this inspiring NFP, please head to www.heartkids.org.au
And if you were born with a congenital heart condition or care for someone who was born with one, HeartKids would like to encourage you to participate in the current National Congenital Heart Disease Survey: https://www.chaanz.org.au/news/national-chd-survey This invaluable survey is designed to help better understand the experiences and needs of people with this growing medical condition.