Episode 101 – Nigel Harris – CEO of Mater Foundation

Nigel Harris CEO of Mater Foundation

I had a fascinating discussion recently with Nigel Harris, CEO of Mater Foundation, the fundraising and community relations division of Mater Misericordiae, a not-for-profit Catholic health care organisation with interests in hospitals, medical research, health education and laundry services in Brisbane.

When Nigel started with the organisation back in 1996, total revenue was only $2 million. They have since grown to annual revenues of $70 million and with only 85 full-time equivalent staff – an average revenue of over $820,000 per employee.

Most of this income is from fund-raising efforts and is a testament to how strong the 200 year-old brand is in Queensland and Nigel’s mastery of the art of philanthropy, not to mention the business acumen it must take to manage such an organisation.

Nigel’s employment history includes sales in refrigeration and heating and since 1988 he has been in the not-for-profit sector, including stints with organisations such as the Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation and the Arthritis Foundation of South Australia. He has been a fellow of Fundraising Institute Australia since 1984.

Whether you are in a not-for-profit or not, I can promise you there are some valuable lessons to pick up from this discussion. Here’s a little of what we covered:

  • How not-for-profit organisations can remain financially viable
  • How Nigel was headhunted into his current position by a nun and has been there for more than 22 years
  • The 200 year history of the Mater Misericordiae organisation
  • Why the ethos of the organisation has allowed it to flourish since it was first formed
  • Their expansion from health care to health education, medical research and laundry services
  • The history of the Mater Prize Home, which started in 1954 with the first prize of a 34,000 pound home on the Gold Coast and is now the single largest source of revenue for the foundation.
  • Nigel’s first part time job was stuffing chickens believe it or not
  • A look into Nigel’s career path since leaving high school
  • The two catalysts that attracted Nigel to the not-for profit sector
  • The stigma around not-for-profits
  • Nigel describes how daunting and exhilarating it was to be working with the Mater Foundation
  • How fundraising is meant to be the assembly of the parts not a series of disconnected elements
  • The importance of investing in the relationships with people and more importantly getting results
  • The romance of philanthropy
  • The last 20 years and the immersion of research that sits underneath the evolving body of the fundraising practice
  • Servant leadership  
  • How the CEO plays the most pivotal role in fundraising
  • The difficulty of metrics in the fundraising industry
  • The single most important measure of a fundraising outcome is it’s relationships

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