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Throw Out the Lifeline

By HipBookfairy - 11 April 2013 18

This year’s March Lifeline bookfair was arguably the most successful ever, with high attendances, high sales and a good spread of visitors and buyers through the whole weekend. Volunteers also reported that it was remarkably well organised in the setup and preparation. It comes as a shock, and an unexpected one, to all volunteers that the bookfair and warehouse manager’s position was made redundant immediately after the bookfair.

The Lifeline bookfair is almost entirely run by volunteers. There are around 120 working year round in the warehouse in Mitchell, and contingents of others who come in to help specifically at bookfairs. Lifeline runs two large bookfairs at EPIC each year, one smaller one at Erindale, runs an online book sales service and occasionally sells bulk loads of books, or gives them to other Lifeline branches, when supplies are in excess. All books are donated by the Canberra community.

The combined bookfair and warehouse operations pulled in close to one million dollars in the last twelve months. There are (or were) only two members of paid staff for this massive operation, a warehouse and bookfair manager and a van driver. The warehouse manager’s position is now to be tacked on to the already full schedule of a marketing manager who handles all Lifeline publicity, functions and other commercial enterprises.

The reason given for the structural change is that Lifeline needs to trim its expenditure to balance its budget. It seems a very strange commercial decision to trim expenditure on the part of its business which pulls in the greatest percentage of its revenue, and which runs on minimal paid staff and volunteer goodwill. This goodwill is currently being severely tested. Volunteers are not happy.

The Lifeline bookfair is something of a Canberra institution, with its tradition of queueing around the block before breakfast for the early start and bringing the family along for bags of bargains at the weekend. It is a shame that it should be threatened by poor management decisions.

What’s Your opinion?


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18 Responses to
Throw Out the Lifeline
joey97 10:55 am 15 Apr 13

Lifeline canberra is supported by the canberra community through it volunteers, donations,sponsors and government funding. It is a community asset. Mike Zissler is Lifeline Canberra highest paid CEO ever but has presided over the loss of programs and funding since he arrived. The canberra community should be looking for answers from the Lifeline Canberra Board.

heatwave 9:42 pm 12 Apr 13

The Lifeline CEO appears to have only a limited understanding of ‘volunteering’ if he holds the view that all aspects of operating a commercial activity can be undertaken by a committee of volunteers. To swallow the line that the business management responsibilities can be allocated to in-office staff is stretching credibility.
If I were to consider sponsoring Lifeline I would have serious doubts about the organization’s capacity to efficiently and effectively use the sponsorship.

surly-owner 7:14 pm 12 Apr 13

Is it “hard-nosed profit-maximising optimal streetwise commercial management” to eliminate a paid job position which is key to the successful operation of the bookfairs and the warehouse? Or is it, what often happens, a focus on the costs without an appreciation of the benefits?

clj 6:50 pm 12 Apr 13

heatwave said :

It would seem that Lifeline has three enterprises and no business manager with the relevant acumen to operate:
1. a warehouse and conduct the bookfairs;
2. the Bean Talkin’ coffee cart;
3. the Hipsley Lane vintage clothing business.
The Lifeline bookfairs generate the income. Are the bookfairs monies being used to subsidize the coffee cart and the clothing business? If so, on what basis?

I’ve been involved with Bean Talkin’ as a volunteer since it started. It’s a good business, especially since it’s operated almost entirely by volunteers (staffing being a if not the major cost in a cafe business), and the lady who ran it until this week has been extremely dedicated and a good businesswoman. I don’t know what’s happening with the restructuring but I think it’s sad that they’ve made her redundant, especially since she put so much of herself into getting it off the ground.

heatwave 5:17 pm 12 Apr 13

if only!…“hard-nosed profit-maximising optimal streetwise commercial management yadder yadder”? ..

no evidence of ‘profit-maximising’; ‘streetwise’; or ‘comercial management’ ….but certainly lots of self serving ‘yadder, yadder’.

When will we hear from the board of Lifeline Canberra ?

LSWCHP 4:25 pm 12 Apr 13

Yarrah said :

Strange “commercial” decisions indeed, and poorly implemented.

Hmmmm….I greatly suspect that “hard-nosed profit-maximising optimal streetwise commercial management yadder yadder” and volunteer organisations don’t go too well together. The volunteers are self-evidently doing it for love, and administrators who focus on purely commercial aspects just piss the volunteers off by behaving like heartless sharks, as seems to be the case here.

heatwave 3:04 pm 12 Apr 13

It would seem that Lifeline has three enterprises and no business manager with the relevant acumen to operate:
1. a warehouse and conduct the bookfairs;
2. the Bean Talkin’ coffee cart;
3. the Hipsley Lane vintage clothing business.
The Lifeline bookfairs generate the income. Are the bookfairs monies being used to subsidize the coffee cart and the clothing business? If so, on what basis?

Yarrah 2:02 pm 12 Apr 13

Strange “commercial” decisions indeed, and poorly implemented. But while it would be nice to be able to admire the commercial acumen of current Board Members and Management, it would be a pity if this storm diverted any of us from from the vital role that Lifeline plays for extremely vulnerable people in our community. That is the main reason so many individuals have been willing to work incredibly hard as volunteers and/or book donors books over decades – the “business” that generates net revenue.

surly-owner 1:27 pm 12 Apr 13

Given the fact that the bookfairs (and the behind-the-scenes operation at the warehouse) contribute so much financially to Lifeline Canberra, the act of Lifeline Canberra eliminating the bookfair and warehouse manager’s position is very much a case of the dog biting the hand that feeds it.

NoImRight 11:07 am 12 Apr 13

screaming banshee said :

120 working year round in Mitchell…I call bulls###, 120 at a book fair maybe

Because thats the important part of this?

Fitz 10:49 am 12 Apr 13

I’m not happy with the situation either, but I don’t want people to think the volunteers for the bookfair (of which I am one) are not doing everything they can to make the bookfairs a success.

And not donating books or buying books is not the way to help…

davo101 8:54 am 12 Apr 13

screaming banshee said :

120 working year round in Mitchell…I call bulls###, 120 at a book fair maybe

You need to remember that these are volunteers and some of them may work a number of days per week, others once a week, and some maybe once a month. I would guess the maximum number I’ve seen in the warehouse at any one time would be about 30. I would suspect that HipBookfairy is in a much better position to know what the total number is than I am.

Masquara said :

Well bang goes my donation for any future year!

That’s OK–we already get too much Twilight stuff already.

screaming banshee 10:04 pm 11 Apr 13

120 working year round in Mitchell…I call bulls###, 120 at a book fair maybe

Masquara 8:42 pm 11 Apr 13

Well bang goes my donation for any future year!

Jimmyg 7:40 pm 11 Apr 13

Hear! hear! HipFairy.

The so-called consultation after the event indicated the revenue is being leaked by new enterprises supposedly cash positive but which I suspect are probably running at a loss at present. Interestingly, we were told most of the so-called costs of counselling calls are those levied by Lifeline Central Office on Lifeline ACT through an internal transfer pricing arrangement. The situation described by the ACT CEO yesterday suggests the duties of the staff who were made redundant have been allocated to office managers and the driver (nice bloke) already fully engaged in their existing full-time work for LL. This indicates the work done by the redundant staff still needs to be done which indicates these were not genuine redundancies.

JG

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