According to Rita Marigliani, fundraising leadership isn’t just about management. At a more evolved level, it encompasses the ability to mobilise others to create new solutions. Melanie King reports.


Fundraising leadership isn't just about managementWorking in both the not-for-profit and corporate sectors, Rita Marigliani has dedicated her career to bringing corporates and communities together. At Medibank in her role as Head of Corporate Social Responsibility & Wellbeing, she focuses on developing and executing its Corporate Social Responsibility and Wellbeing strategy, recognising the impact connecting with each other and communities has on wellbeing.

It’s a job that requires complex negotiation with partners and challenging collaboration within a number of sectors: Medibank is a for-profit company, while many of Marigliani’s associates are working in the not-for-profit or government sectors.

Fundraising leadership isn’t just about management: developing leadership skills

Effectively exercising leadership in her role of affecting and mobilising people for change across her organisation and other sectors is essential to Marigliani’s work and a challenge, which is why she sought a course to develop leadership skills that would assist her.

She was seeking a leadership development course that offered her experience in dealing with challenging, complex situations outside of her own organisation and gave her the opportunity to explore collaboration and transformation with those from other sectors, especially focusing on social impact.

She signed up for The Benevolent Society’s six-month Sydney Leadership Program, which encompasses experiential learning, several retreats, one-on-one coaching sessions and mentoring by alumni. It also uses the Harvard Adaptive Leadership model to help leaders work across diversity and differences in order to have real impact on issues and to make effective change.

“I took the course to develop leadership skills because I wanted to work with a more diverse pool of participants in a learning environment. I was interested in exploring what colleagues from other sectors could teach me,” said Marigliani.

Shifting perceptions

Before undertaking the Sydney Leadership course, Marigliani admits her idea of leadership was about being the ‘go to person’ for answers. She felt she had to be the one who knew how to do everything and that her job was to support others to do the jobs she knew how to do.

“I now understand that leadership is more about having the courage to work together towards the answers that don’t exist yet – to support people to navigate their way to solutions, not to be the one with the answers,” she explains. “With leadership, there’s always a lot at stake. There’s a need not just to manage, but to mobilise others to create new solutions.”

Marigliani was excited to be working with people in the not-for-profit and government sectors. “I was able to explore opportunities and situations outside of my organisation and my way of doing things. For example, the difference between for-profit and not-for-profit organisations often lies with resources, not just money, although that’s always an issue with not-for-profits, but people – the ability to have resources at any time to make a project come to life. This course helped me to understand how complex and varied for-profits and not-for-profits are. Not only that, not-for-profits can accomplish a great deal with fewer resources.”

Completing the course helped Marigliani recognise how nonprofit leaders can achieve with so little – how they can deliver to their own organisations as well as their partners and understand more broadly their difficulties with government funding: “It’s a tough situation, always asking the government for money, even if your program is really good. It’s so different to for-profit situations.”

Skilling up

Through the program, Marigliani learned a range of things about leadership in general. “First,” she says, “leadership requires consideration. I came away from the course with tools I could use to change my leadership strategy. I learned to make more time for views that are unlike mine. It’s so easy to focus on views that are the same as your own – they reinforce your thinking. But different views give you different insights and exploring those insights allows you to consider so many new options.”

Then there are the skills and tools she learned that can be adapted, even for the most complex issues. Marigliani says she learned so much about the context of social issues: “I would never have had that opportunity without going outside my own organisation. Working with people from different sectors gave me a greater understanding of their challenges.”

The skills Marigliani learned were applicable in her day-to-day work too. “Any kind of leadership development is dependent on your personal development because leadership begins with self. Skills developed on the journey to becoming a better leader are applicable to the journey of being a ‘better you’. A renewed understanding of purpose, understanding through different lenses, and examining a situation from the detached view of the ‘balcony’ are all great to help navigate any relationship, not just those related to work.”

She adds that all organisations get a ‘licence’ from the community and it’s important to have the right skills to engage stakeholders to make the organisation a success. She says, “Community initiatives such as collaboration and innovation with Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, for example, are a way of looking at the ‘big picture’ approach to social change – looking at diversity and difference and having a real impact on communities. That leads to the concept of social impact.

“And the relationship with The Benevolent Society made social impact even more important because leadership is about vision, about understanding diversity and complex changing environments both in the workplace and out – like initiatives regarding homelessness. Things can often be chaotic and difficult to understand; people can be resistant to change. How can one be a good leader in such an environment? Additionally, leaders must be moral and accountable, and understand how best to deal with social entrepreneurship and lead sustainable and social change.”

Making a social impact

Social impact is an essential aspect of leadership that is taught within the Sydney Leadership program. “Social impact is about understanding that decisions we make on a day-to-day basis have a social impact, both on a personal level and, within my role, at a strategic level,” says Marigliani. “It is also about understanding that impact is different to outputs. In my role, we often get caught up in outputs: how much we’ve spent, what kind of resources we’ve allocated. These measures do not necessarily reflect impact and it is important to work with our community stakeholders to understand the social impact of our actions.”

All of which has helped Marigliani to change her focus. “In my role at Medibank,” she says, “we are focused on the better health of the community. The impact of our strategy on the health of the community is always at the forefront. Within Corporate Social Responsibility Health and Wellbeing at Medibank we are building social impact measures, such as the London Benchmarking Group Social Impact Methodology (the global standard for measuring corporate community investment – to be open, transparent, help community causes and work together), into our program development and working with community partners to track our progress.”

Today Marigliani is much more conscious of how she reacts, the assumptions she makes, how she approaches problems, and the opportunities she provides for teams to participate and to lead and to develop themselves. “I have certainly noticed positive change in outcomes since I completed the course two years ago,” she concludes.

Applications for April 2017’s Sydney Leadership Program are open now. Go to and click on ‘apply’.

Rita Marigliani

Marigliani is Head of Corporate Social Responsibility & Wellbeing at Medibank. She has also led the development and launch of the Medibank Community Fund, Medibank’s Reconciliation Action Plan, the Medibank Health Research Fund and the program of work supporting Medibank Growing Healthy Kids.

This fundraising leadership article has been sponsored by not-for-profit performance improvement specialists, Advanced Solutions International (ASI).


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