Paying it forward

Interview with Grace McLean is the CEO and Founder of NFP Connect

Grace McLean is the CEO and Founder of NFP Connect, an organisation that bridges the gap between charities, business and the community. Starting her career in Hollywood no less, since coming home to Newcastle in 2004, she hasn’t been short of achievements; winning Lake Macquarie Citizen of the Year and also Lake Macquarie Young Business Person of the Year. She says her success so far is in large part due to great mentors and so she started NFP Connect as a way to ‘pay-it-forward’.

Your innovation

NFP Connect is all about connection. I work with people in not-for-profits, giving them structure, leadership and personal development tools like the peer-to-peer mentor program. Through breakfast events we provide education, support and collaboration with like-minded organisations. We also run a Community Impact Program to help businesses give back and connect them with local charities.

Your story

My journey starts in Hollywood, in 2001, where I started my career by joining the not-for-profit industry, working as a fundraiser for 10 years. I moved home to Newcastle from Hollywood to be closer to my family and worked for CanTeen, Leukaemia Foundation and the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children (RIDBC). My role was to set up the fundraising departments for these organisations – they had the service but no-one raising money, so I helped them build corporate relationships, run events and put those organisations on the map. When I was at RIDBC I was coached pro bono for 3 years by Harry Raftos from Momentum Coaching. NFP Connect actually started as a pay-it-forward initiative. I was getting this life-changing coaching, that was helping me to be quite successful in my role, and none of my peers were, so I started the breakfasts to give back.

Your business and team

NFP Connect consists of myself and a part-time assistant who joined the team last year. NFP Connect been running for nearly 3 years, and the breakfasts are in their 6th year. The aim is to ensure the model is successful for future growth.

Innovation support

NFP Connect was chosen to be part of the School for Social Entrepreneurs, an incubator program by Westpac. I was one of 23 out of 200 applications to be selected. It was vital to how I have guided my organisation. I would not be where I am without mentors and people that believe in me. At each stage of the business I have different people that I go to for support and guidance. We often have this idea of the trajectory which is entirely incorrect – you can’t predict what happens you can only do your best with what you have and who you have around you.

Why Newcastle

I have worked here for most of my adult life, I had my network here, and it’s a great ecosystem of demographics for what I’m doing, a city with all types of organisations. I have the trust of the community and I’d like to see if the NFP Connect model could be replicated, so what better way to
start in your home town.

Your biggest challenges

Starting something is often a lonely journey, no one believes in what you’re doing as much as you do, and you have to be patient to get the trust of the people you’re working with. They say it takes at least three years for it to prove itself and that was the case for me. Just keep swimming. And always act authentically in whatever you’re doing. Sometimes you fail, sometimes you succeed, you need to celebrate both for they both give you lessons that show you it’s all going to be OK!

The future

NFP Connect was created to be a sustainable model. All the parts have successfully been proven to work. Now it’s about re-energising and setting a more significant course.

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