Nonprofits and particularly community service organisations provide vital services that markedly contribute to the health and wellbeing of our communities.

Yet the health and wellbeing of the organisations and people who work in them are often a cause for concern.

Questions around financial sustainability, temporary positions, funder demands, public accountability, shifting regulations and employee burnout are just some of the challenges that put tremendous pressure on the sector. 

In the beginning

I first became aware of these challenges through conversations at the age of twelve at our family’s dinner table in India.

My mum ran a social service nonprofit and often shared her worries; my dad, who came from a management background and was managing a publication house at the time, helped her brainstorm solutions.

Since then, I have seen their discussions being mirrored, albeit with increased urgency and complexity, in organisations of all structures and sizes.

When I started on this journey, in my heart was simply a desire to help ease my mum’s worries.

In the last 15 years, the heart has been combined with the head and the hand (one of my favourite tenets of community services!).

The head includes a Master of Human Services with a specialisation in management and leadership and a PhD in Management.

The hand includes work experience with organisations in areas of youth awareness, substance abuse, HIV/AIDS, refugee-support; rehabilitation programs, fair-trade organisations, social enterprises, management consulting and academia.

My experiences have given me an invaluable look into the functioning of nonprofits and how they work together to form a continuum of care.

More importantly, they have helped me develop an in-depth understanding of how people in this space cope with the demands of fulfilling social objectives, scarce resources, retaining employees and remaining commercially sustainable in today’s environment.

The end-result, in the words of one of the CEOs (participant in my PhD research), “requires a constant balancing act”!

Introducing the Unpacking Priorities and Practices Framework

It is this very ‘balancing act’ that the Unpacking Priorities and Practices Framework aims to help with.

Building on an evolutionary review of nonprofit management (titled, Three Schools of Thought), that bring order to the often competing demands faced by organisations; the framework positions these demands as three ‘pulls’—effectiveness, efficiency and sustainability.

The ‘pulls’ or priorities shape organisational practices and have intended and unintended consequences which can be beneficial or detrimental in nature.

The UPP process does not advocate for adherence to any one ‘priority’.

For instance, it would be very difficult; if not impossible for an organisation to say ‘I am not going to attract donors or submit reports’, they would end up closing their doors soon enough.  

Instead, it reflects the complexity facing people – helping them to ‘make sense out of their worlds’ and assess their choices against a shared understanding.

It posits that examining and embracing contradictions is key to better organisational functioning, informed decision-making and strategic foresight, hence the title Unpacking Priorities and Practices.

To end, I would like to quote Danny Miller (one of the most cited management researchers in the world and a person who I’d very much like to meet) who wrote, “Managers must avoid the blandness or chaos of too little […] while skirting the obsessionality of too much. Excellent wines have complexity and nuance, blending together different tastes into a harmonious balance”.

I truly believe that nonprofit organisations, as they move into the next few decades, will continue to be challenged and will need to master “blending together different tastes into a harmonious balance”.

The UPP framework offers a proactive approach in this direction and I look forward to sharing it with you. 

Featured event

To be or not to be: Navigating the non-profit landscape

If you’re interested in finding out more about the UPP Framework, be our guest on Monday 5 December.

This event should be of interest to any professional that is involved in the decision-making and day-to-day running of community services organisations, or wants to forge partnerships and relationships with the sector.

CSIA. IGNITE. navigate the nonprofit landscape

Session includes:

  • Overview of the rigorous research underpinning the framework

  • Evolutionary journey of nonprofit management theory: The Three Schools of Thought

  • Stories from the field

  • Insight into the UPP Process and Recommendations for how it can be used in your organisation

  • Panel Discussion with:
    • Dr Aastha Malhotra, Developer of UPP
    • Professor Ken Wiltshire, Emeritus Professor, UQ Business School
    • Belinda Drew, CEO, CSIA
    • Panel Chair: Andrew Hamilton, Social Scaffolding

Date: Monday, 5 December 2016

Time: 3pm – 5pm 

Location: Offices of McCullough Robertson, Level 11, 66 Eagle Street Brisbane


Dr Aastha Malhotra. Unpacking Priorities and Practices Framework

Dr Aastha Malhotra has over fifteen years of experience with nonprofit organisations, social enterprises and government bodies in India, Canada and Australia. She uses her multi-disciplinary background in design, community development, entrepreneurship and management to inform and create sustainable solutions for people living in difficult circumstances and the organisations that seek to assist them. 

Aastha contributes to the industry through seminars, teaching and guest lectures, consulting projects, speaking engagements (including events for UN Women, UQ Business School, CPA Australia, ECCQ and QAIHC) serving on panels and giving advice (sometimes unsolicited) to nonprofit practitioners and social entrepreneurs. 

Areas of expertise include strategic alignment and development, innovative business models, enterprise scaling and growth, impact evaluation, resource diversification and business sustainability.