Variety WA has a mission “to empower Western Australian children who are sick, disadvantaged or have special needs to live, laugh and learn”. For CFO Max Meikle it’s less of a job and more of a calling.
Became CFO of Variety WA
: December 2013
: Football West
: 12 full-time employees (plus volunteers)
Turnover 2015-16 financial year
: A$6.8 million
Funds to children
: More than A$36 million given to recipients since 1980, and A$20 million in the past 10 years
: incorporated association (1980); 100 per cent self-funded from events and the Variety of Choice Home Lottery
1. My role: "Hands on"
As CFO, I'm involved with all the reporting, track management and government issues. We’re an incorporated association (since 1980), so I’m reporting to Western Australia’s Department of Commerce and I also report to the ACNC (Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission).
My responsibility covers administration, business management, HR and I’m the bagman for the Bash – Variety’s iconic motoring event we run in all the states.
The role is very hands-on, and that applies for all the employees here. We pretty much help each other out in all the events we run. I have event staff helping me prepare and run the AGM, and the following weekend I might be the bouncer at the kids’ Christmas party, so there’s a lot of variety (no pun intended).
“I enjoy being able to help out ... You tend to tear up a bit when you see what impact we’ve had on their families.”
The Variety Bash is an interesting week; we’re “bashing” around the state in pre-1986 cars raising funds. The Bash was initiated by [businessman/philanthropist] Dick Smith in 1985. We’ll probably have three employees on it and a dozen volunteers driving OVs (official vehicles). Last year’s route was through the Kimberley. It’s on a lot of people’s bucket list, but I’m fortunate I get to do it with my work!
What I get out of Variety is hard to put a finger on, but I certainly enjoy being able to help out. There are many times when we have families in here, telling us how Variety has helped them. You tend to tear up a bit when you see what impact we’ve had on their families.
2. My challenges: "More fundraisers"
We’ve been pushing to not rely on just one or two events to raise money, so we’ve introduced a million-dollar home lottery [the Variety of Choice Home Lottery]. We have a relationship with home builders JWH Group and they underwrite our costs. Last year we sold 33,000 tickets which raised A$3.3 million. It’s one of those events that takes a while to get up and running – you have to learn on your feet.
We have a turnover of more than A$6.8 million, but that’s problematic in a charity: A$3.3 million of that is money we’ve raised selling tickets in the lottery, but we then pay out about A$2.5 million in prizes, so we end up with about A$750,000.
People look at us and say: “They should be giving away 80 per cent.” If you looked at it on that basis, then you’d say it wasn’t worth doing. Yet the fact is we raised A$750,000 with something a bit different from normal fundraising.
There is a lot of pressure on charities to give away 80 cents in the dollar, but that’s really not the focus these days – we’re looking more at the impact on the families and people who benefit.
Thinking like a CFO: provides some basic tips to get you started thinking like a CFO and explains why it's important to have that perspective.
3. Game changers: "Choosing not-for-profit"
I spent the first 25 years of my career in finance in the property development sector. It was a bit of a move from that to the Clontarf Foundation – less financially rewarding, but far more feel-good. Clontarf is an Indigenous foundation that uses AFL and rugby league to attract kids back into the school system. Also, I’d always wanted to be involved in sport. [Former Australian PM] Kevin Rudd was very interested in the program and asked us what we needed.
Clontarf was funded a third each from the state and federal education departments and private enterprise. We had the opportunity to get major funding through the Rudd government, and I was involved with the chairman in preparing a major report that was reviewed by the Wesfarmers business development unit before it went to Canberra. It was a bit nerve-racking, having your work pored over by the company about to take over Coles. Looking back on it, that was a very interesting, challenging and significant part of my career.
Lessons learned and best advice
Very early in the piece I had a board member tell me that boards don’t like surprises; by far, they prefer bad news. They can react to bad news, but with surprises there’s nothing they can do. That was interesting with Variety – one board member said: “We want to know when the cat’s not well – not when it’s dead!” That pretty much flows through to the way we report to the board; we have a dashboard system with green, orange and red lights to alert them how things are going in different areas of the business.
Get your CPA designation
I reckon getting my accounting degree and then doing the CPA Program was a really worthwhile path to take. It has allowed me to work across a number of different industries in jobs I love. It’s probably the most significant thing I’ve done from a study or professional development basis. I would certainly recommend young people stick at it, because that CPA insignia really helps.
Get people involved
Engaging with your managers in preparing budgets, and working with them on their financial reports, is crucial. Everyone in this small organisation, albeit with different degrees of financial literacy, is very involved in the budget process and engaged in getting their finance reports. It makes my job a whole lot easier. I’ve been in a position where the CEO wasn’t interested in the finances at all – basically my job was to keep the board off his back! We’re fortunate at Variety in that we have a decent board and the CEO [Michael Pailthorpe] is very engaged in making sure we’re on top of all the numbers.