“If you don’t have oversight of your numbers, you don’t know where you’re going and you don’t know where you’ve come from.” ~ Mary Kay Walker, Chief Operating Officer, Parkinson’s NSW.
When Parkinson’s NSW engaged our NFP accounting services, there was a lot of work to do in order to modernise the financial aspects of the organisation. The not for profit’s accounting systems needed a complete overhaul in order to create a strong foundation for continued growth and to be prepared for the future.
We spoke with Mary Kay Walker about organisational challenges as well as the successful implementation of new structures and strategic planning.
Parkinson’s NSW history
The history of Parkinson’s NSW dates back to 1979. The organisation was founded by Don Gration and his wife Joan. When Don was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, he was unable to find any information apart from what his doctor provided him… and there were no support services or groups where he could connect with other people with Parkinson’s.
Don and Joan recognised that there was a critical need for a peer support group and they set out to find like-minded individuals to start a new organisation. In July 1979, they drafted a constitution and held a public meeting to officially establish The Parkinson’s Syndrome Society of Australia. Mary Kay explains:
“Support groups and information were fundamental to the growth of the organisation. From the early years with that constitution through until now… our focus hasn’t really changed.
The original objectives were to help and encourage patients and relatives with the problems arising from Parkinson’s… and we still attend to that today. To collect and disseminate information on Parkinson’s, to share knowledge of the organisation with the public and raise funds for research into the causes and prevention of Parkinson’s. These are all still part of what we do. We are about looking after people with Parkinson’s… it’s about quality of life.
Today, we have a new vision and purpose, but it draws on our origins. Our vision is ‘A Parkinson’s Community supported every step of the way’ and our purpose is ‘We support, enable and advocate for people and with people living with Parkinson’s and their community.’”
Three pillars central the organisation
In 2017 Jo-Anne Reeves took the reins of the organisation as the new CEO and sought to formalise the structure and bring Parkinson’s NSW to the forefront of the NFP sector. Mary Kay continues:
“Up until the time that Jo-Anne came on board, the organisation was run more like a small association… but we really should have been far greater than we were. The number of people with Parkinson’s is more than prostate and breast cancer combined… but people just don’t know about us. With Jo-Anne joining, it really turned everything around!
Advocacy has been a huge part of the work we’ve been doing and is central to our five year strategic plan. Right now, we are in about year four of the five year plan.
We now have three pillars that are central to the organisation and that resonate with our vision and purpose. They are information and education, service delivery, and advocacy and collaboration.
With regard to education, we are investing a lot of resources into that at the moment. We are getting a state-of-the-art learning management system up and running so that any allied health professional who has an interest in learning more about Parkinson’s for their patients can access that and do some of our courses.
Our services include an infoline staffed by allied health professionals. Anyone who is newly diagnosed or wants more information about their condition can ring the infoline and chat to a nurse. Plus, we have community-based specialist Parkinson’s nurses who are in the community at the moment. We are focused on getting more nurses into regional and remote areas of NSW.
We also help with counselling and personal trainers. We know that exercise and taking meds on time every time are the two biggest things about quality of life for people with Parkinson’s. You have to keep moving – we can’t bang on about that enough!”
Most common challenge
Like any not for profit organisation, Parkinson’s NSW faces many challenges, but the most pressing is always financial sustainability.
“For any ‘for purpose’ organisation that receives less than 10% of its funding from government grants, funding is a perennial challenge. Managing efficient and effective fundraising campaigns is key to our ongoing success.
We have had four years of intensive advocacy at the State Government level and they recently announced an $8.6 million package to support people living with movement disorders, including Parkinson’s. So, at the moment this is our biggest challenge – advocating and the negotiation of that funding.”
Fundraising activities have also been difficult to manage over the last two years. But Mary Kay tells us that they are still finding ways to host some campaigns.
“Many of our regular fundraising events have been put on hold because of COVID-19… so we’ve been running a variety of raffles… currently we have the Pitch in for Parkinson’s Winter Raffle underway. You can purchase tickets on our website and the major prize is a new Suzuki Swift.
We hope that we will be able to hold our usual annual Unity Walk in April 2022, which is World Parkinson’s Awareness month. The last time we held the walk was in 2019, so we are hopeful next year can go ahead.”
Working with True Accounting
Parkinson’s NSW engaged True Accounting’s services towards the end of 2017. Mary Kay explains that Jo-Anne knew that they required significant modernisation of their accounting processes:
“It’s been monumental… we had to bring all our support groups into line with our accounting systems so that we could have complete oversight of the finances. It was crucial that our governance and compliance met the regulatory requirements and True Accounting was able to really help us month on month to account for all the money going through the support groups.
Not long after we first started working with AFG we realised we needed them to help with bookkeeping as well… they helped us set up a new chart of accounts that started July 2018 and it took all of FY18/19 to really wash out any legacy issues. Then FY19/20 was all about getting the house in order.
AFG went through everything over the first two years and cleaned it all up to make sure we future-proofed the organisation. Their templates for our budgeting process are well embedded now and their reporting is great. They also helped us find a new auditor who works very well with us and them. They have been pivotal in really setting everything up to work smoothly now.”