After six years as General Manager of Spark Foundation, Lynne Le Gros is returning to the corporate arm of Spark. We’ve asked her a few questions about her time leading one the country’s largest corporate foundations (and if she’ll miss us!)
What was your first experience in the not-for-profit/grantmaking sector?
My very first experience of the sector was as a volunteer at Auckland City Mission. Working a regular evening shift in Drop-in serving food, washing dishes and emptying rubbish. A very hands-on role giving the opportunity to contribute to my community.
What have been some major highlights for you at Spark Foundation?
There have been many highlights working in this role. Undoubtedly being a part of the growth of Givealittle and to see it become a household name and the go-to crowdfunding platform for Kiwis is one of the stand-outs. I remember the day we passed the $10m all-time donations and now we’re fast approaching $90m! And it’s not just the dollars that Givealittle enables (moving from donor to cause) it’s all the messages of love and hope that go with those dollars. I love that Kiwis know the value of their words and totally get the power of the crowd, in that collectively all of our small contributions add up to something amazing. The other big standout is the contribution of Spark Foundation to the culture of Spark – as a corporate foundation that’s always been one of the most important parts of the role for me. Making sure Spark people understand what we are about and that they can contribute in a way that’s dear to their hearts, which means they can have that proud barbeque conversation. One of the first things we did was establish our Ambassador programme and have a group of 110+ generous passionate people who literally wear the badge for us and spread the word and promote our programmes to their colleagues which means we have a strong presence across our offices and teams. This is such a huge asset to the small core team of three people supporting Spark Foundation.
Spark Foundation was an anchor partner of the Manaiakalani Education Trust. A big partnership. What are the key takeaways from that partnership?
Reflecting on our five-year partnership with Manaiakalani Education Trust there’s much to be proud of. My key takeaways are around the power of collaboration and our step-change approach (at the start we were a very young Foundation, so this was our first attempt at this) and that the contribution we could make went way beyond the funding. The engagement opportunities and linkages we made for Spark people and the learnings we had around the wider needs of children being able to continue their learning at home. This highlighted the opportunity to create Spark Jump (our subsidised broadband product) leading to another programme supporting education and learning and harnessing the core competency of Spark (as a technology company) to do good in the community.
What do you believe is one of biggest challenges facing grantmaking and philanthropy currently?
As Kiwis, we like to get stuck in and help. We’re a generous bunch which is confirmed each year in the giving indexes. We also hold the view that our part of the country is different and so that means we believe we need to create our own local version.The downside of this is fragmentation and duplication, confirmed by the 27,900+ registered charities listed on Charities Services. It’s true we do know our own patch best, however we can all probably benefit from doing some research on who is doing similar to us and build an understanding of how we might work together and maximise our outcomes.
What is one of the most interesting papers/ books or pieces of research relating to the sector that you’ve read recently?
The End of Charity is an easy and thought provoking read. I found it interesting (so much so I’ve read it twice!) as someone working in the sector and from the business philanthropy perspective. I’ve also watched some great TedTalks including Dan Pallotta and Wendy Woods. And the annual Colmar Brunton Better Futures report gives great insights into what’s top of mind for Kiwis.
Finish the sentence
For me, good philanthropy is… thoughtful, focused and drives long term social change.
You’re moving back to the corporate arm of Spark, what will you miss about working in the sector?
With every role I’ve had the answer to this question [what I’ll miss] has always been people. When you change roles your network changes. Some of those relationships you carry forward and others you don’t, often simply because you’re not directly connected anymore. Meeting people across NZ doing amazing work in their communities has been a highlight of this role. As the charity arm of a large corporate we’ve had the privilege to meet so many folk and then to use that knowledge to help make connections across the sector.
And do you have plans to remain engaged with the sector?
I’ll continue to volunteer at Auckland City Mission which is a very hands-on way to keep connected. This makes me grateful every shift for the simple everyday things we often take for granted.
And anything else you’d like to add?
Shout out and huge thanks to everyone I’ve met in the sector for their generosity – of their time and knowledge shared. I look forward to keeping in touch!
- Thanks Lynne. It’s been wonderful working with you, and thank you for your support of PNZ.