Lessons learned from an Aussie fundraising expert that can catapult your business

Lessons learned from an Aussie fundraising expert that can catapult your business

by Federico Re

Meeting a businessman with a genuine heart to help others and desire to help children in need is a rare occurrence.

Tim Conolan

Tim Conolan

Tim Conolan is more than your ordinary business owner, but also a social entrepreneur, philanthropist, and expert of fundraising whose mission is providing support for sick kids and their families across Australia.

In 2014, Tim was nominated the “Australian of the Year – Local Hero” and the EY 2014 Social Entrepreneur award in the Southern Region. He’s also an Australia Day Ambassador.

Tim’s influential leadership within his own organisation, TLC for Kids, is testament that a thriving and reputable business venture comes from a powerful vision an enduring passion for helping those in need, the opportunity to leverage on strategic partnerships, and the harnessing of the spirit of the community to create a lasting legacy.

Measuring Social Impact

Part of Tim’s success hinges on his broad knowledge of fundraising and solid career within the non-profit sector for over 25 years. In an interview with Tim on InspireTalk Radio, I uncovered the true essence behind his legacy and noble pursuit.

In an opening statement, he said that his success is based on hard work, having respect for people, and doing the things that you enjoy the most. This philosophy is commonly shared amongst many social entrepreneurs around the world, whose drive and passion is actually about the welfare of the community, rather than the interests of its internal stakeholders.

Another well-known social entrepreneur whose cause is to help sick children is TOMS founder – Blake Mycoskie. His core mission is providing shoes and eyewear to sick or injured children in third world countries. Over 60 million pairs of shoes have been distributed since 2006, as well as restoring sight to over 400,000 children since 2011.

TLC for Kids, A Cause to Smile

Collaboration, New Currency of the 21St Century

Back in 2016, I had an insightful encounter with Brazilian social entrepreneur named Julio de Laffitte, who claimed that the “new currency” of the 21st century is “collaboration.” He said that collaboration is worth more than money, as in an effort to emphasize the critical importance of working in unison with third-party organizations, with a common goal in mind, whether it is about saving the planet from environmental destruction or sending human beings to planet Mars.

In an effort to raise capital through fundraising activities, Tim has been highly instrumental in forming strategic partnerships with high-profile organizations, including IKEA, Kmart, Toll, just to name a few. Over the past 9 years, TLC for Kids has raised close to $14 million dollars in revenue.

“It’s all about working for the same purpose and cause to fix a need, and working side by side in a co-operative environment,” Tim said.

The Immeasurable Value of Integrity

All business owners are well aware that to build a thriving organization, it requires an ‘x’ venture capital, an ‘x’ amount of sales per month, a specific dose of advertising, and other factors that can be measured. However, when it comes down to ‘integrity’, how can this be measured effectively within the role of a business leader?

According to Tim, integrity is the number one ingredient when it comes to influential leadership. “It’s about keeping true to your vision, and not being misled by external factors, distractions, the media, or your skeptics.”

Part of this involves shaping your service model with integrity, aligned with your core organizational values. For Tim and TLC for Kids, this means unrestricted compassion and support, with a service model to match. When they say that ‘a sick child should never have to wait or qualify for the help they and their families need’, they really mean it. It’s about walking the walk.

This philosophy is also shared by influential leader Hillsong Church Founder Brian Houston, whose core values are underpinned by what the Bible has to say about integrity and authenticity shaping your destiny. He said, “Don’t be afraid of vulnerability and transparency. People respond to authenticity.” Brian’s success as a Global Pastor has been hinged around his tenacity, integrity, and care for others, despite the constant adversity he faced over the span of his 40-year career within Christian ministry.

After all, the absolute true test of integrity is about consistency, love and care for others, and long-term perseverance and tolerance during turbulent periods of adversity and failure.

About the Author

Federico ReFederico Re is an entrepreneurship coach, motivational speaker, journalist, and business writer based in Australia. In 1997, at the age of 22, he started a business with revenue growth of 50 per cent annually, achieving retail sales of more than $10 million per year. He attended the ‘Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship’ in South Africa, and is the founder of a niche coaching practice Creative Entrepreneur  based in Melbourne. His bespoke services are tailored for aspiring entrepreneurs, SME business owners, and CEOs.

Images by Federico Re

About The Author

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  • Eloise Baxter

    Hi Frederico,

    When I read this article I was interested in reading more about Tim. As an expat Australian living in the US, I wanted to find out more about this Aussie Hero you held in such high regard as both a business and community leader.

    So I did a little bit of research and you didn’t have to scratch far under the surface to find that

    1/ Tim is not a businessman, he is the head of a charity. In his Ted Talk he actually tells us he was a failed businessman, he talks about the failure of a garment business as being the catalyst for setting up his charity.

    2/ The failed business led him to becoming a motivational speaker telling people how to stay positive when the chips are down – with no credentials in youth work or health he then started working with young people with cancer!! His expertise, a failed garment business entrepreneur!! I am not sure what he thought he could offer these young people.

    3/I also think it is a stretch to suggest that Tim runs a successful charity, if you look at the financial summary’s he doesn’t seem to raise much money annually and there has been no significant growth in the last couple of years. He runs a small operation with 4 staff – fairly insignificant for an organisation that has been operating for 25 years.

    4/ From the website it is a little hard to work out what they do beyond giving one-off gifts to kids in hospital sometimes useful, sometimes frivolous. There is also the distraction box program, which sounds like a pretty good service, but all the evidence base they are quoting on the website is from 2010. What is happening now? Has the program grown? Do they have current impact results?

    5/ The organisations goal is to put smiles on kids faces. How do they measure this?. They also say they have impacted 51% of all children’s hospital visits and treatments but don’t provide any evidence of how this is measured. What do they mean by impacted? Is this 51% of Australian kids, Victorian kids or does the charity have plans to go global. They state on the website that their goal is to ‘reach them all’ making sure no kids fall through the gaps. What does this mean? Reach them all with what? What is the gap? Is it a service model gap? a funding gap? Again, do they mean all kids going to hospital globally, nationally, in Victoria? Do all kids need or want their help?

    6/ When you jump on TLC for Kids social media, there are a lot of videos of Tim doing low production value comedy videos, their feed is also peppered with motivational quotes and cute kid videos sourced from the internet. There is however very little information about how the charity operates or their impact and not much information about the beneficiaries of their programs.

    Federico, I am keen to understand what criteria you used for the accolades you are lavishing on Tim. It is hard to ascertain from the publicly available information whether this is a good charity to support or not. Can you shine a light on this? I would also love a response from the Charity itself. Tim could you tell me how your impact is measured, how you have calculated the 51% impact stats and when you last had an external organisation review your programs.

  • Ana Darras

    Being a former staff member of RCH, I’d think you’d know the difference Tim’s charity has made to many sick children and their families over the last 20 odd years and the personal sacrifices he’s made to help these families.

  • Ana Darras

    Might also be an idea for you to get some updated information on TLC and how the free services are run, because you have that completely wrong, also on how many staff etc there are.

  • Eloise Baxter

    I am not sure what RCH is? I am a retail store manager.

  • Eloise Baxter

    Ana, I am asking for clarification on how the services are run, whether there is any 3rd party auditing of your programs and clarification of the organisations impact measures. These are fairly straightforward questions. Your website does not provide this level of detail and much like a publicly listed company their is a community expectation that charities can provide supporting evidence for their public claims. So please provide me with updated information. I stand corrected. your website says you have 4 full-time staff and a handful of part-timers. How many part-timers?

  • Tim C

    Hello Eloise, I’d firstly like to thank you for taking the time to do some research on my background. I’m flattered I took your interest and I’m glad you saw the TEDX Talk, that was something I ticked off my bucket list. I was also pleased with the fact that I could share part of my life’s story, which lead to what I’m doing today.

    You’ve made some pretty interesting accusations, obviously the first being that I’m not a ‘businessman’ I’m the ‘head of a charity’. This really depends on your definition of a businessman. Before I set the charity up, I had a number of businesses, and although one failed, I managed to find a way to continue and worked through it and kept going. Staying hopeful and focused on the positive. I’ve managed to look for the positive in every situation. Some people may not do this, and that’s fine. But for me, that’s what I do. I regard myself as a businessman, and as I have the title of CEO, that seems to be a pretty common title for anyone in business. Charity and for-profit businesses run very similarly.

    Regarding your comment that you’re ‘not sure what I could offer those young people with cancer’. Apart from having empathy and a kind heart, I offered those young people another point of view to stay positive through adversity. During that time, I met some incredible people, and one young man who changed my life. He sadly passed away just weeks after I met, and helped him, and his mother expressed how appreciative she was that I helped her son before he passed away. As far as I am concerned, if she felt I had something to offer her son, then that is all that matters.
    If you are ever in a situation where you could make a positive difference in someone’s life, would you do it?

    Of course, everyone has the right to their own opinion, I’d be interested to know what your definition of a successful charity would be? I’d also be interested to know what you consider a successful level of fundraising would be? I personally believe TLC for Kids is successful, due to the fact we have been around for almost 19years (not 25), have raised almost $14million and have provided free support services to hospitals across Australia. The charity services are run out one office, instead of multiple offices that would incur additional overheads. This is due to the fact that we have spent so much time developing the services that work seamlessly with hospital staff from anywhere in the country and have been proven to be much needed programs for sick children and their families, as stated by many healthcare professionals across the county. You may think we are an insignificant operation and we may not have a huge team or be generating billions of dollars, but the families we help, our stakeholders and supporters, our dedicated donors, volunteers, board of directors and, as you say, small team, all consider us successful.

    Your next point took was of particular interest. You stated, and I quote, “From the website it is a little hard to work out what they do beyond giving one-off gifts to kids in hospital sometimes useful, sometimes frivolous.”
    I wonder if you could shed some light on your definition of ‘sometimes useful’ and sometimes frivolous”? It would be interesting to know if you think that helping to pay for a 4 year old child’s funeral, organising plaster casts of a deceased child’s footprints to create a lasting memory for the family or paying for a tombstone would be in your ‘sometimes useful, sometimes frivolous’ category?

    In addition, you wrote, “There is also the distraction box program, which sounds like a pretty good service, but all the evidence base they are quoting on the website is from 2010. What is happening now? Has the program grown? Do they have current impact results?” – Thanks for the praise of our program, really appreciate it and it’s nice you think it sounds pretty good. We are going to be publishing some new results on our website soon about the progress and success of the Distraction Boxes. We are also mindful of costs associated with additional expenditure for research bodies so we have to wait until a large corporate firm can conduct external research pro-bono. Until that happens, we constantly collect information from all hospitals using the program which helps us provide statistics on the service. To date, comparing current data to the data collected in 2010 indicates that the program is in fact being used more often.

    Our mission continues to be to put smiles on sick kids faces. The number of times we provide support is calculated by the number of times our Distraction Boxes are used during examinations and procedures and the number of individual requests we receive.

    We measure our impact by the number of requests we fulfil and from feedback received by the hospital staff who use our services. We then compare that to the number of occasions of service (number of visits made to a hospital) taken from research found in hospital reports. Compared to the number of occasions of services from the stats taken from hospitals reports, our services are reaching, in comparison, 51% of children.

    You also mentioned there is very little information on our website about the beneficiaries, that’s because not all families like sharing their stories, especially if they have needed financial support or they have faced the loss of their child. Tact, respect and empathy are the things we treasure most and we are always mindful of what we publish. In saying that, there are a number of families who have asked us to share their story and if you clicked the link ‘stories’ you would have seen some. Here’s the link, just in case – https://www.tlcforkids.org.au/how-we-help/rapid-stories/

    To answer your question regarding who and where we help, we work with hospitals across Australia. We aim to help as many sick children as we can, or at the very least, have support services in place for any child who needs it. If we secure enough support and our awareness increases, we will achieve this and ensure no child falls through the gaps of the healthcare support network.

    Hope this has helped ‘shine a light’ on what we do, Eloise, and thanks again for taking such an interest in TLC for Kids.

  • Eloise Baxter

    I am responding to a comment from Tim that is not showing up in this feed.

    Firstly, there is a great difference between for-profit and not-for-profit businesses that I don’t think I need to spell out in this feed.

    My comments mainly relate to lack of supporting evidence for the accolades that Federico has showered on Tim. Because there was nothing in this article that either supported or refuted that he was a business and philantrophic leader – I started to do some research.

    I don’t think a charity needs to be huge to be effective, but this article reads like you are some kind of business prodigy. I think that your public profile and financials suggest otherwise.

    I am sure you are a very emphatic person and your support of that young person in their hour of need was a kind act. However, I am concerned that you were providing advice and guidance to a group of vulnerable young people without the requisite qualifications. Fine if you were doing it in a voluntary capacity on a one-to-one basis, with people who chose to seek out your support. But I would be concerned if you took on a paid role as motivational speaker given your background. If it was a charity organisation who engaged you to speak at an event for clients, I would be questioning why donors funds were used for this purpose. There are risks with having unskilled people advise young people who are in a vulnerable position. That said, you might have done a good job, but that is not the point I am trying to make. I don’t know you personally so like the majority of your donors I use publicly available information to find out more about what you do and whether I should donate to your charity.

    My biggest concern, is that your website makes a lot of claims about the impact of your programs without providing any methodology or verification of the statistics that you are using to promote your work. They may be true, but it is your word we are relying on. Even in your response, you say that you have used hospital reports to develop your impact statistics for the Distraction Box Program. What hospital reports? Can you name them? What were the statistics? How many children are using hospitals annually? I am also keen to understand ‘what is the crack that you are filling in the existing healthcare model’? What are children missing out on and why? and how are the programs you are providing, filling that need. It would also be good to know how many services you provided in 2016? what were the requests you fulfilled? How did the service provider and families view the services, what were the long-term social, economic or health benefits. I fully understand that you can’t always show photographs of the children in hospital for privacy reasons, but you could provide a list that gave an indication of how many services were provided the kind of material or financial aid you supplied and the situations that you were responding to through your support.

    The way TLC for Kids presents its work is far from fact driven. From reading your website and social media pages, it feels like that focus is you Tim, not the kids. Your marketing strategy is based on the premise that you are a good guy who has won Australian on the Year, so we should just trust that you are doing the right thing. I think you have a responsibility to be clearer about how the donor dollar is being spent and the impact of your programs.

  • Eloise Baxter

    Thanks for getting back to me. Your request to take the conversation offline further demonstrates that you are either unable or unwilling to be transparent about the impact of your programs. My interest is not specifc to TLC for Kids. In my view you are just one of a long list of charities who are collecting donations without providing clear information about how the money is used and the outcomes and impact of your programs. Don’t feel like you have been singled out for special attention,the first I heard of your work was when I read this article. I have raised the same issues with numerous charities, it is always interesting to see whether they will respond publicly and provide more detailed information about their work. Many take the opportunity to address my concerns, others like yourself are not prepared to be transparent, which is disappointing.

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