LV-Greatconnections volunteer John Fischer assists Norparrin Centre
8 November 2012 By Conal Thwaite
LV-Greatconnections volunteer John Fischer has used his background in public sector management to assist the Norparrin Centre for Children with Special Needs.
Norparrin provides early-childhood intervention for children under school age with developmental disabilities such as autism, cerebral palsy, and Down syndrome.
Professionals working at Norparrin range from speech pathologists and physiotherapists to occupational therapists and experts in early childhood education.
Their program is spread across two sister Early Childhood Intervention sites, located in Mill Park and Mernda in Melbourne’s north-east.
Mr Fischer has worked in government departments such as health and education, and more recently as a private consultant utilising his management skills.
He has an understanding of the increasingly rigorous accountability standards imposed by governments and other major funding bodies onto service providers, as well as understanding the management challenges service providers face on the ground.
“I have had the opportunity to look at governance from both sides of the fence,” Mr Fischer said.
He was introduced to Norparrin by LV-Greatconnections client manager Tony Wilkinson.
Mr Fischer met regularly with Georgina Aldersea, a teacher and one of two managers of the program at Norparrin.
Ms Aldersea is a long-term team member at Norparrin who has taken on managerial tasks over the years as the program has grown.
“In 26 years we’ve grown considerably,” she said.
“We needed to put in a stronger governance structure.”
Mr Fischer reviewed the governance structure and day-to-day operational management at Norparrin and reported formally to the Committee of Management.
A proposal to merge with another service provider was being discussed at Norparrin at the time, and a large part of Mr Fischer’s role was to review this proposal.
Mr Fischer assisted the committee by investigating the benefits of merging or remaining independent.
He conducted a literature search of material related to the operations of similar, relevant organisations and delivered documents and findings to the committee.
Group interviews with staff were arranged by Mr Fischer with the assistance of his wife Sandra Fischer who is also an LV-Greatconnections volunteer.
In addition, managers at Norparrin conducted a “diary exercise” to help Mr Fischer ascertain their workloads and daily responsibilities.
Part of his role was to increase the self-confidence of the organisation, regardless of whether they chose to pursue the merger or not. He ensured that the committee and managers had reviewed the most important issues before making the crucial decision.
“He never told us what to do,” Ms Aldersea said.
“It gave me a lot more confidence in what I was doing.”
Mr Fischer built trust with the committee. He showed that he could understand and relate to the individuals in the Norparrin community such as teachers, parents, funding bodies, accountants and many more, according to Ms Aldersea.
“He was very, very professional in how he worked,” she said.
With that trust established, Mr Fischer attended meetings between Norparrin’s Committee of Management and representatives of the merger partner.
“I had so much faith in him to ask the right questions,” Ms Aldersea said.
While some logistical and legal details remain to be worked out, Ms Aldersea believes the merger will be beneficial to both organisations.
“We know we have been welcomed and that they see us as an asset,” she said.
While Norparrin clarified the options open to the organisation at a crucial stage, according to Mr Fischer many not-for-profit groups do not spend enough time thinking strategically about the future.
“Some grow too fast. It’s hard to maintain,” he said.
“These days it’s hard to get volunteers, especially with the right skills mix.”
LV-Greatconnections volunteers assist organisations such as Norparrin by lending their special skills to particular projects.
Other Greatconnections program volunteers to assist Norparrin are David Leach who completed a project in November 2011 reviewing and extending their IT network, and Helen Farrell who has been working with Norparrin for several months on a client satisfaction survey.