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Posted on May 25, 2023. Interview Series.

Women’s Legal Service Queensland (WLSQ) is Queensland’s only state-wide specialised community legal centre providing free legal and social work help to women and their children impacted by domestic and family violence and sexual assault. Each year WLSQ helps nearly 8,000 women and their Statewide Helpline answers between 60 and 90 calls per day from Queensland women seeking help.

WLSQ’s Donor Relationship Manager Melinda Ledwith was among scholarship recipients at the FIA Conference 2023 sponsored by NGO Recruitment and she kindly agreed to answer our questions about her role at Women’s Legal Service Queensland.

How long have you worked with Women’s Legal Service Qld and what are your major responsibilities?

I started working for Women’s Legal Service Qld (WLSQ) in January 2021 with a small 6-month hiatus mid last year, returning again in November 2022. It’s been such a joy to be back with the WLSQ team and do all that we can to support women impacted by domestic violence.

My role as Donor Relationship Manager involves engaging, nurturing and expanding our wonderful community of supporters to ensure WLSQ can achieve our mission. I am a people-person by heart, so I love building new relationships and managing existing partnerships with like-minded people and organisations who believe in our work. I am also responsible for writing all of our donor communications and donor strategy.

Grants, trusts and foundations management also falls into my portfolio as I love writing a (hopefully!) compelling proposal for funding and establishing connections with these organisations. It’s always great to be able to report back to a funder on how their support has changed the lives of the women and children we support.

Plus, as a small fundraising team of 4 we all just get in and do whatever is needed to make things happen so some days I could be putting up a marquee, selling raffle tickets or trying to figure out how to create Salesforce reports!

What is your professional background and what motivated you to join the NFP sector?

Before joining the NFP sector 8 years ago, I had a long career as a retail buyer mainly in apparel, working firstly for a department store in Houston, Texas and then Australian retailers like David Jones and Rebel Sport.

Then life happens and my son got seriously ill, making me really reassess what I wanted to do with my career once he got better. I was fortunate to see the impact funding makes to research, hospitals and generally the work of NFPs and knew I had to give back some way for saving my son’s life. So I took a bold leap of faith and changed careers!

I will always be so grateful to my first NFP CEO Belinda at Westmead Medical Research Foundation who gave me my first role in the sector, she really believed in me and took the time to mentor me.

You received the NGO Recruitment scholarship to attend the FIA Conference in February 2023. What were some of the highlights of the event for you? What effect did the Conference have on your role and organisation?

Yes, thank you so much to NGO Recruitment and FIA for the fantastic opportunity.

The experience was a valuable opportunity to listen and learn from many knowledgeable speakers, network with industry colleagues and explore new opportunities to expand our fundraising reach at WLSQ.

WLSQ is currently investigating new ways to diversify our fundraising, so the conference was perfectly timed to hear from many varied and experienced fundraisers on what is working, and not working, for their organisations.

I found the Middle, Major and Philanthropy, Individual Giving and Fundraising How To learning pathways particularly relevant to our organisation’s current needs and particularly loved ‘Myth Smashers’ where very brave fundraisers stand on stage sharing interesting points of view.

Both our team and I are benefitting greatly from this opportunity to expand our knowledge, understanding and pursue new ways of connecting with our supporters and generating additional income for our organisation.

What were your major achievement last year? What challenges have you faced?

Last year we won a significant grant to expand our office space at our Annerley office. Our team of solicitors and social workers has grown rapidly as the demand for our free legal and welfare services for women impacted by domestic and family violence has sadly increased across Queensland. This funding has allowed us to build three additional offices to hold private, confidential meetings and phone calls with our clients and re-configure our open plan seating to accommodate more staff. This project was vital for the current and future needs of our organisation and our clients.

Like most NFPs, our challenge is always how do we secure enough funding to help all of the women contacting our service. Our State-wide Helpline answers between 60 and 90 calls per day from Queensland women seeking help, equating to over 13,000 calls answered each year. Sadly, almost 1 in 3 calls currently go unanswered due to increasing demand.

There is so much work to do to achieve our mission of accessible legal and social justice for a safer future for women and children but we are determined to get there.

What are your plans and priorities for the next 12 months?

Specifically for my role in fundraising, we want to grow our donor program. The majority of our fundraising activities and revenue raising have been previously centred around holding amazing events, which we will still continue. However, we are looking to diversify our fundraising activities by expanding into an individual giving program.

The team and I are currently developing the strategy and look forward to rolling it out over the next 3 years. I am currently learning to write and execute appeal campaigns so that’s an exciting (and a little daunting) challenge ahead for me!