Nigel Harris & Associates Managing Director, Nigel Harris, has been appointed as a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in the 2022 Queen’s Birthday Honours. The citation for this award identified significant service to the non-profit sector and to the community. Specifically, it recognises Nigel’s 40-year association with philanthropy, fundraising practice, and the community sector.
Speaking on the day of the award announcement Nigel said “I am deeply honoured and humbled to be acknowledged in this way. While it is a personal award, it also recognises the people and organisations I have worked with in professional and volunteer roles and the contribution they have made to our community.”
Roles in an evolving sector
Nigel’s most notable sector roles include his 24 years as Chief Executive Officer of Mater Foundation and his 21 years of Board service with Fundraising Institute Australia (FIA), spanning over three decades and including four years (in two terms) as Board Chair. Nigel has held executive and governance leadership roles in the non-profit sector since the 1980s.
He commenced his career in Adelaide in 1984, working with the Arthritis Foundation of South Australia and then moved to an executive role at Orana Incorporated in 1988. Relocating to Brisbane in 1994, he spent two years as Development Director at the Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation before joining Mater Foundation in 1996.
Reflecting on his early experiences in the non-profit sector, Nigel recalls a vastly different environment to today. “Fundraising practice and the sector more broadly was still evolving in those days. So much was still forming around us and looking back the experiences and expectations were different in many ways. Yet at the same time, there is much that has remained the same, especially in the way people continue to support and encourage others in the sector.”
“I was always grateful for the support and encouragement I received from more experienced colleagues early in my career, however I don’t think I appreciated at the time the extent to which people invested in me. Looking back, I can see the influence so many people had on me as I found my path in fundraising practice. Since then, I hope I have been able to pay some of that forward by supporting colleagues in their careers as well as assisting others in the non-profit sector as and where I could.
Leadership in non-profit governance
Nigel is currently serving as a director and Deputy Chair of Act for Kids, as well as a director of the Leukaemia Foundation, Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy and Braille House. He is also on the Council of the international fundraising think tank, Rogare. He has previously served a director of CFRE International (2001 – 2007), Community Council for Australia (2018 – 2020) and Aspley Hornets Australian Football Club (2000 – 2002).
“Two of the biggest challenges in creating and sustaining effective fundraising practice are leadership and knowledge,” said Nigel. “Over the past decade we have seen research affirm the lived experience many of us have had over many years.”
“Serving on non-profit boards not only provides a way to address social issues that are important to me, but also support organisational leadership in engaging philanthropy and evidenced based fundraising practice.”
Transforming Mater Foundation
Through his leadership of Mater Foundation, Nigel oversaw growth in annual revenue from $2m to $73m, transforming the Foundation into one of Australia’s most significant and effective healthcare foundations. Importantly, this led to major and sustained funding commitments to medical research, clinical programs, and healthcare initiatives, while establishing a platform for the Mater Foundation’s continuing success in philanthropic engagement and fundraising capability.
“Among the most satisfying elements of my time at Mater was leaving a legacy of a robust and sustainable fundraising structure supported by a culture of philanthropy, as well as establishing a transformational role for philanthropy in advancing health care and medical research” Nigel said in reflecting on his contribution to Mater Foundation.
“I was privileged to work alongside an outstanding board of directors with exceptional leadership, and a committed and professional staff team through my time at Mater Foundation” Nigel said. He also recognised the support that came from across the broader Mater organisation from many of the leaders, staff, and volunteers across his tenure.
“The other enduring memory for me from my time at Mater is the donors and supporters, many of whom I had the opportunity to work with and come to know over many years,” said Nigel. “Their generosity and passion demonstrated the meaning of philanthropy – love of people.”
Fundraising sector leadership
During Nigel’s leadership of FIA key initiatives in practice credentialing, continuing professional education and self-regulation were introduced and enhanced. He also gave long term service in local leadership roles in both Queensland and South Australia.
Nigel has also been actively involved in the advancement of professional certification, creation of professional development programs, and has been a presenter and educator in philanthropy and fundraising practice, nationally and internationally.
“Having the opportunity to play an active part in shaping the formation of fundraising practice, in Australia and internationally has also been a highlight of my career” Nigel stated. “I always felt a sense of responsibility to do more than simply work in fundraising practice. Taking on volunteer roles in sector associations as well as pursuing initiatives that advanced knowledge, practice excellence and donor experience meant that I could do something to honour my vocation” he added.
Community and family
At a broader business and community level, Nigel has taken on many volunteer roles from professional mentoring to community service and in sport. He is a mentor in QUT’s Executive MBA program, has been a member of Rotary and Rotaract, and is also a Paul Harris Fellow. He has also been actively involved with the Aspley Hornets and Unley Mercedes Jets Australian football clubs.
In addition, Nigel has been recognised as the Arthur Venn Fundraising Professional of the Year (2012), Harvard Club Fellowship (2006), as one of Five Outstanding Young South Australians (1984) and Mitcham Junior Citizen of the Year (1983).
“I was raised in a family who were actively involved in the community, and it was that example as well as the experience that it offered that shaped my professional and volunteer path. And just as my early family influences were so significant, the support of my wife and children has been the single most important factor in anything that I have been able to accomplish,” said Nigel. “Being involved in the community sector asks a lot in time and focus, and more than occasional sacrifices. I’ve always been extremely grateful for the understanding and encouragement my family have given to me” he added.
Establishing new business interests
In 2020, Nigel established Nigel Harris & Associates, an advisory practice in philanthropy and fundraising practice leadership, and at the same time commencing as Founding Partner of fundraising consultancy, Giving Architects Australia. Nigel now works with a range of clients in both advisory and consulting capacities, spanning healthcare, social services, education, sport, environment, international aid, and arts.
“Tackling the challenge of starting a new business as well as pursuing an additional business interest with colleagues has offered an exciting new dimension to my career” Nigel said. “These ventures present new and interesting ways of working with a broad span of people and organisations across the sector” he added.
Championing professional identity in fundraising
Nigel is a passionate, long-term advocate of professional identity in fundraising practice as being a critical factor is affirming credibility and enabling effective performance. To this end, he holds an MBA with a fundraising major, as well qualifications in public relations and marketing. He has his GAICD and is Australia’s longest serving CFRE, having held that credential since February 1993.
Nigel is one of Australia’s most respected and influential leaders in fundraising practice and philanthropic engagement. He is a highly regarded presenter, writer, educator, and mentor and continues to work with boards, executives, and organisational management across the non-profit sector.
Yet Nigel regards his career as fortunate, in finding his way to it initially, in the opportunities afforded along the way, and in the people and organisations he has worked with. He also identifies “that in the times when I faced tough leadership challenges, there we always people who had my back.”
“None of us ever do this alone” Nigel said. “Receiving such a significant personal honour as being appointed a Member of the Order of Australia is only possible with enormous support, over a long time. I’ve been lucky more than anything else, and I am extremely grateful to everyone who has been a part of the work I have done that has led to this recognition. I can only say thank you”