Swimming with sharks to find new revenue streams

What do you do when you’re a Not-for-profit facing a particularly challenging moment in your existence and a global pandemic comes along that strips away almost 70 per cent of your revenue stream?

It’s, unfortunately, a common enough predicament in these COVID-19 times, but the situation facing the Pancare Foundation– the nine-year-old NFP that supports patients and their families who are dealing with pancreatic cancer – was perhaps more complex than most.

Last year, the organisation’s board realised that there was a need to transform the organisation. No one doubted that Pancare did great work funding research and supporting those dealing with the disease, but the reality was that the key metric – the numbers of people being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer – had not shifted in 30 years. Perhaps it was time to think differently. Maybe innovation and boldness were the way of the future.

The first step was to recruit a CEO who had experience in strategic change management, new venture commercialisation and corporate innovation. Doug Hawkins had no connection to Pancare or its cause, but he does have a CV that is rich with delivering and overseeing corporate transformation. He knew what he was getting in to and was keen to address the challenge.

“The role appealed to me because of a combination of the dire and confronting state of the cause, the quality and passion of the people at Pancare, my ability and license to influence change and the overall scope of the transformation,’’ Doug says. “It’s a broad, exciting and complex remit and that appealed to me.

“It’s a small and traditional NFP, not very scalable and quite labour intensive,’’ Doug explains. “And it’s very heavily dependent on its own community and traditional physical events, which generates 60-70 per cent of its revenue. We were thinking pre-COVID: ‘That model’s not a scalable and innovative model at all.’’
And then the pandemic arrived.
Fortunately, Doug and his team and the board had a plan. A pre-Christmas 2019 reworking of the organisation’s strategy affirmed the need for Pancare to embark on a new way of operating, that covered everything from fundraising to investments. There were goals, aspirations and a vision of what Pancare would look like in 10-15 years. Then Doug got busy and started contacting a range of people – most of them from the corporate world, many of them with global profiles – to help him deliver two ideas.

Doug Hawkins, CEO of Pancare

The first idea was Pancare’s version of the reality business development TV program, Shark Tank. The second idea leveraged off the first – to utilise the panel of experts as the “Sharks’ but to encourage them to stick around after the exercise.

“I really felt that as a group, for a range of reasons – lack of resources, fatigue, stress, just workload and the nature of other priorities, we weren’t making fast enough progress on the changes we needed,’’ Doug says. “So, I just decided that I would stimulate it with an event and a deadline that would be fun but have a real purpose to fast track the thinking and idea-ation. And then engage a panel of really first-class international experts in lot of different areas, some of them with an NFP background, but highly awarded and recognised creatives, global innovators, a top-flight group, and get them together for the event to scrutinise and evaluate our new ideas.’’

Pancare’s staff were divided up into six teams of two-three members each for the Shark Tank exercise. They were given the framework on how to structure their thinking and present their concepts, were given coaching and mentoring, and had a three-week deadline. They would have eight minutes to pitch their idea, which had to be an initiative to boost short-term fundraising.

Doug recalls the final pitch event to the Sharks held seven weeks ago was not without its stresses for Pancare’s staff – some of them found the process challenging. But the results, Doug says, were worth it. There were two ideas that earned the Sharks’ approval that he hopes Pancare will be able to commercialise soon. One is a sports-related initiative that has the potential to generate significant global revenue, but Doug is the first to admit that its speculative, unique and bold in its ambitions. The other is a play in the cosmetics sector, where the pitch has been given to the CEO of a global cosmetics groups. They are now working through the product strategy and the “go to market’’ activities.

Doug, though, is far more confident about what he describes as his real agenda behind the Shark Tank project – the engagement of the panel of global experts to provide on-going insights, support, initiatives and resources to the organisation as part of a formal and sophisticated Innovation Program facilitated by one of the Sharks.

“The Shark Tank idea was to genuinely identify an initiative that we could work on now,’’ Doug says, “but we’ve also now got seven or eight global innovation experts excited about supporting Pancare. They have the ability to take us to places as a group that we can’t even comprehend. If you look at their profile – global heads of innovation for some of the biggest brands in the world – and people with 25 years in extraordinary forms of innovation.’’

This broadening of Pancare’s resources gives the Foundation the opportunity to think differently, rather than relying on the more conventional in-house solutions that may come from workshops and seminars. The probono expert panel comes are part of the broader Innovation Program that will support Pancare’s next steps.

“We have a very strategic plan for the Innovation Program, and it will quickly emerge as best practice in our sector and perhaps more broadly than that,’’ Doug explains. “The collaboration will be global, go way beyond our sector and areas of specialisation: true open innovation across fundraising and programs,’’ he says.
“I have no doubt that our new Innovation Program will help discover, design and deploy the new initiatives that will create diversification and scale for Pancare and a step-change for our cause.”