Surviving a life-threatening illness led Alison Covington to leave a successful career in the corporate sector and start her own charity. Covington is this week’s Changemaker.
As the founder and Managing Director of Good360 Australia, Covington devotes her time to ensuring that other Not for Profits have the products they need to help as many people as possible.
Covington says that the sense of wanting to give back to the community was instilled in her at an early age by her parents.
In this week’s Changemaker column, she explains how it took a serious illness for her to decide to change career paths and join the Not for Profit sector.
What are you currently working on in your organisation?
A great project we are working on at the moment is the Sponsor A Charity drive. To give this a bit of context, as part of our business model, charities wanting to access our services need to register and pay an annual fee of $250. This small fee is used to cover administration costs and without this we can’t pay our staff or warehousing costs or invest in the great technology and tools that make it simple to connect charities with the products they need.
We acknowledge that, whilst this is a nominal fee, some of the smaller charities working with tight budgets might find it hard to come up with this money. We think that there shouldn’t be any barriers to accessing all of the great free products we have on offer, so we are calling on all corporate partners, philanthropists and anyone wanting to make a donation to their favourite charity go even further to get involved.
By covering the $250 annual registration fee to be part of GivingPlace360 for their favourite charity, people can sit back and watch this small donation grow into thousands of dollars of donated product. Carl Hartmann of Temando kicked off the campaign with a personal donation of $25,000, sponsoring 100 charities – one for each of his employees. One of the charities that he sponsored was immediately able to place an order to the value of $5,000 worth of product – 20 times the initial donation. How great is that?!
What drew you to the Not for Profit sector?
I had a very successful commercial and corporate career, but unexpectedly surviving a life-threatening illness made me stop, step back and reassess my life. Serious illness has a way of making you look really closely at who you are, what you do and your place in the world. After going through such a life changing experience I knew I wanted to do something completely different away from the corporate world. I wasn’t sure what. All I knew is that I wanted to do something good.
After doing some career coaching I came to the conclusion that I wanted to work in the Not for Profit sector. I’ve been a MD for a long time, so I knew I couldn’t come in at an entry level. I knew that I couldn’t deal with any fluffiness and that I needed to do something that was extremely efficient. I knew that I wanted to use my commercial skills for good. The only solution I could come up with was to start my own charity, but where to begin?
Funnily enough a newsletter from Pro Bono Australia News landed in my inbox talking about Good360 America. The Good360 model ticked all the boxes for me. It was innovative, it didn’t replicate anything else in Australia, it fitted my corporate skills, it was incredibly efficient, it was technologically advanced and it was changing the face of charitable giving.
With a background in retail, IT and public transport, the stars seemed aligned for me to get involved in this charity model. All I had to do was convince the US team to let me bring their baby to Australia. My background in mergers and international contracts certainly helped during negotiations. It was hard for them to let go and I had to convince them that I had the business skills to make this work.
Fast forward past a lot of hard work, blood, sweat and tears and we have done it! We are changing the way people think about giving. I have a very collaborative relationship with Good360 in the US. We are working hard in partnership to make this a global good.
What do you like best about working in your current organisation?
The best thing about Good360 is the amazing people I work with. The business we operate is commercial and innovative and the calibre of the staff and volunteers we have attracted is a reflection of that.
The people who I work with here at Good360 are great to be around as they are passionate about the change we are bringing to Australia. Good360 is good for charity, good for business, good for people and good for the environment. These are all pretty special values when you are looking for somewhere great to work.
The most exciting day for me so far, was when we moved into our current office in January. Sydney is a bit of a ghost town at this time of year so I was expecting to head into the office on my own to set things up. I got a surprise when my wonderful and dedicated team turned up to help me out. As the founder of this charity it was so motivating and rewarding to have these amazing people turn up, unpaid because they wanted to be there, because they believe in what we are doing and they were willing to do whatever was needed to get this business up and running.
I consider my greatest achievement to be…
My greatest achievement so far has been ensuring that Good360 collaborates with the sector and does not replicate. From the very beginning we set the DNA of our business in that we are efficient and do not replicate, and we have been true to these values.
We aren’t here to compete or muscle in on any other charities. My aim is to grow the market share, provide more services and make the sector stronger. There are so many great charities out there already providing fantastic services. When I started Good360 here in Australia I reached out to charities like Foodbank, OzHarvest and Connecting Up that were already dealing with food and computers.
We have already collaborated with these guys and have donated product to them that was offered to us. I consider it a real achievement not to replicate these services and instead concentrate on rehoming all the other excess product – the clothing, shoes, linen, toys, household goods, office supplies that so many people desperately need.
Through your work, what is your ultimate dream?
My ultimate dream is that every business in Australia has a workplace policy in place that any excess stock, any returned inventory or any office furniture or equipment that has been updated and is no longer needed is automatically donated to Good360.
Not that long ago businesses and households didn’t recycle, but now we all know that we have to use the yellow bins and recycle our paper and glass products and businesses have recycling policies in place. My dream is that one day it will be a habit and an expectation that businesses automatically know that this is what they need to do with excess and returned inventory.
My ultimate dream is that by the time my kids hit the workplace is that every business will have an attitude that everything gets ‘Good360ed’. Landfill should not be an option. I want to get things to a point that this is something that is just done without even thinking about it and that our children’s generation will know no different.
What does a typical day for you involve?
6am – Get up and clear my emails for an hour
7am – Sort out the kids and get them off to school then head out the door to work
8.30am – Arrive in the office and the madness starts!
As the MD of a small charity there really isn’t a typical day. Put simply I do whatever I need to do to keep the business running and am all things to all people. My day can be filled with meetings with staff, donors and charities or alternatively you might find me in the warehouse packing boxes. Within the blink of an eye I can go from packing boxes to pitching to funders, attending board meetings to answering the phones and doing accounts to vacuuming the office! We aren’t some massive conglomeration and like all small charities in startup mode you have to be willing to pitch in wherever you are needed and get your hands dirty.
6pm – Leave the office
7.30pm – Arrive home, switch back into Mum mode, sorting the kids out and getting them into bed
8pm – Log back on until around midnight to catch up on emails that I haven’t been able to get through during the day
A typical day for me is around 16 hours. Lucky I left the corporate world for a relaxing position in the charitable sector! I have always been a bit of a workaholic so I don’t mind putting in the hours. We are a small team trying our best to help the system and although my days are always manic, they are also really rewarding and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
What, or who, inspires you?
I am inspired every time I personally talk to one of the charities that have used Good360 and hear about the innovative ways they have used products that would have otherwise ended up in landfill. For example, I wondered why a particular organisation had ordered work safety earmuffs, but it turns out they were using them to block out noise for sensitive autistic children. When I hear amazing stories like this about how these goods have been repurposed, no matter how long my day has been or how tired I am, I know we are doing great things.
Many big corporates ask me if we have a use for some of their products. The answer is that there will always be a use for these things and we are constantly amazed how people can repurpose these items. I would never have thought to hunt things like the work safety earmuffs down, but know that I know how they can be used and the money we can save these charities, I will get out there and find more charities that can benefit from these free goods.
It inspires me really helping a charity, especially the ones that aren’t big enough to approach big corporates and who would never normally have access to the products available on our online portal. Through various charities we have provided Ergo Baby Carriers to disadvantaged women. We have supplied shoes and clothes for people attending job interviews. Our product helps to make people stand tall. Things like these are great equalisers allowing them to stand proud at the school gate, to feel properly dressed for an interview – things like these are so important for people’s self esteem and self worth.
Where do you feel your passion for good came from?
My passion for good definitely started at home. From as early as I can remember my house was the halfway house for the whole neighbourhood. I would get home from school and the other kids would already be there. My friends would all come to see my parents rather than me! I didn’t get that sense of knowing to do that, it was just the way we were.
I left home and went off into the world. I focused on my career, got the corporate skills and have now come full circle. It wasn’t until now, later on in my life, that I have come back to the person I was always meant to be. There wasn’t really any escaping as it was in my family DNA. My corporate career gave me the skills to be able to live the life my parents meant for me. They would have been proud that I have done what they would have expected of me after raising me to do the right thing.