Strategic Directions Paper (2018-2020)

This Strategic Directions Paper was originally published in 2018. Use the links below to navigate to specific sections of the Strategic Directions Paper.

Executive Summary

RSL NSW’s purpose is to ensure that veterans and their families are respected, supported, and remembered.

Strategic Objective 1 – Be a stronger voice for all veterans and their families

Despite nearly 5000 organisations working for veterans1 across Australia, our members, and veterans generally, feel like they have no one advocating for their interests, developing sound veterans’ policy, influencing public perceptions, or holding government and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to account. The hundreds of thousands of veterans and service personnel across Australia are missing a voice, the ex-service community is fragmented, and the League can show stronger leadership.

1 The national roundtable of Veterans’ Minister now defines a veteran as anyone who has served in the Australian Defence Force for more than one day. RSL NSW endorses this definition.

Strategic Objective 2 – Serve and respect our members

Members and sub-branches are struggling with the weight of administration and governance, and our sub-branch executive members and trustees are shouldering large amounts of personal risk to manage the business affairs of the League. More fundamentally, many of our smaller regional and rural subbranches are struggling to survive both due to declining finances, difficulties in complying with fundraising requirements, and the challenge of recruiting the right people to replace aging sub-branch executive members. We must begin by finding ways to provide dedicated support to smaller regional and country sub-branches. The League has an extraordinary network across NSW, which gives us reach into every local community in the state as well as access to volunteers willing to help us in our mission. That network must be protected, and we cannot risk the loss of our smaller sub-branches.

Strategic Objective 3 – Work together as a league

Our sub-branches have adapted to the League’s recent difficulties by becoming self-reliant and fiercely independent. Those sub-branches with energetic volunteers and healthy financial resources have thrived in their local communities. Those with fewer financial resources and fewer members have withered and are concerned as to whether they can survive to continue serving veterans and their families into the future. Our strength as an institution will only come from working together as a league.

Strategic Objective 4 – Adapt to the future needs of veterans and the League

We must adapt to the future needs of veterans and the RSL. The needs of the current and next generation of Australian Defence Force personnel and their families are changing. Military personnel today have shorter careers and need closer support in transitioning from service life to civilian employment. We will adapt the services we offer to better support current serving and transitioning personnel, particularly by supporting employment initiatives. We will develop more services for military and ex-serving families whose resilience underpins the strength of our defence forces. The RSL will be a place where we mark births and marriages, not just funerals.

 

Our Purpose

We must begin with a renewed understanding of why our organisation exists:

RSL NSW’s purpose is to ensure that veterans and their families are respected, supported, and remembered.

Our Values

The level of commitment veterans make to this nation demands that they and their families hold a special place in our community. Each and every service member within the League has, at some point, made the commitment to risk their life to defend Australia. Military service binds us together as veterans. The unique nature of military service, and the hardships of military life, mean that the veterans community needs special support. Australians have an obligation to never forget the sacrifice of veterans and their families and to look after their interests. That requires an institution like the League to lead public commemoration and education.

We are at our very heart a service organisation. Our members join the League to give, not to get. That said, membership in the League continues the camaraderie our members experienced during their military life. This comes by way of our shared mission and our respect for Australia’s military traditions and history. We are not a social club but have built a rich social life around our sub-branch communities. We are, and always will be, led by our volunteers.

We are a charity and non-profit organisation. All the funds and property we either hold, generate through investments, are granted, or receive from fundraising are given to us on the promise that we will use them to help veterans and their families in need. All ourprofessional and volunteer efforts must be dedicated to advancing our charitable objectives.We do not exist exclusively for our members benefit, but rather to ease the disadvantage ofall veterans and their families.

Beyond the League’s legal obligations, we have a moral obligation to use the substantial resources we hold today to help disadvantaged veterans and their families, whether they are members of the RSL or not. And right now, the need to do so is urgent. We lost too many veterans across Australia last year, old as well as young. Thousands more will need our help this year. We must step up our efforts.

We speak for the benefit of all service personnel. Australian Defence Force members have no union. Our League is a strong non-partisan advocate to government on their behalf, to ensure that Parliament accords veterans the status and support they deserve and that the nation has the defence force it needs to guarantee security for all Australians.

 

Becoming a Public Benevolent Institution

RSL NSW has evolved through several structures in its hundred-year history. The separation of the RSL Welfare and Benevolent Institution (WBI) as well as the creation of a range of additional trusts in past decades has led to organisational confusion and unsustainable structural complexity.

As an immediate step in implementing this strategy we will consolidate the structure of RSL NSW and certain related entities into the one Public Benevolent Institution. This is the right legal structure for RSL NSW as we have been, and must continue to be:

  • Public: RSL NSW was created by members of the public who saw a need to step in and do for veterans what governments and bureaucracies could not. Our substantial resources have come from the public, on trust, for us to deliver on our mission to help veterans and their families. We hold several formally legislated roles to protect public commemorative institutions through our Custodianship of the Cenotaph, our role on the Hyde Park Anzac Memorial Trust, and management of the Anzac House Trust. We are privileged to raise money from the public through our fundraising appeals. We have an important role to play in educating the public about our military history and the need to accord veterans respect and special status in our communities. We do this through our commemorative programs, our role as spokesperson for veterans and service personnel, as well as engagements with the Australian Defence Force, the media, the diplomatic corps, and schools and cadet units.
  • Benevolent: We exist to provide social, emotional, and economic support for people who are in genuine need or distress. The hardship of military life as well as the difficulties and unique nature of operational service create a degree of disadvantage for some members of defence communities. Veterans experience a higher incidence of mental and physical health issues. Sadly in 2017 we saw a large number of suicides in the veterans’ community, many here in NSW. Our primary purpose is legally and morally required to be focused on veterans and their families who are suffering from social, emotional, and economic distress and are in need. Many of our members are not disadvantaged, distressed, or in need.We can commit resources to members (for example to provide a means for social engagement), to advance the charitable objects of the RSL, but that must be secondary to our commitment to veterans and their families facing genuine disadvantage.
  • Institution: We are an institution, with a set of charitable objects that guide everything we do. We have our own customs, traditions, and rules. The League, and the charitable aims and objects it upholds, is more important than any individual personality, group, sub-branch, district, or region.Our leaders are not appointed based on seniority, they are elected and accountable to our members and the public for the performance of the League. Succession planning, and guaranteeing we are sustainable for the next hundred years, must inform every decision we make. We are also expected and equipped to lead and assist the ex-service community as a whole and must once again do so.

The successful achievement of PBI status for RSL NSW will allow (subject to the approval of the trustees of RSL WBI) the integration of RSL DefenceCare activities into RSL NSW’s organisational structure. This means RSL NSW will be able to better deliver welfare services, attract external funding, and sub-branches can better support the needs of disadvantaged veterans and their families.

 

Our new strategic direction for the League

Between 2018 and 2020 RSL NSW will focus on achieving four strategic objectives, each of which supports our overall organisational purpose of ensuring that veterans and their families are respected, supported, and remembered:

 

Strategic Objective 1 – Be a stronger voice for all veterans and their families

Firstly, we will pursue a range of initiatives which will once again make the RSL a voice for all veterans and their families. Despite nearly 5000 organisations working for veterans across Australia, our members, and veterans generally, feel like they have no one advocating for their interests, developing sound veterans’ policy, influencing public perceptions, or holding government and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to account. The hundreds of thousands of veterans and service personnel across Australia are missing a strong voice, the ex-service community is fragmented, and the League can show stronger leadership.

We need to make sure the Australian public actively cares about its veterans. We will build our capability and resources to advocate for better veterans and defence policy through a new veterans’ policy think tank, and the development of RSL policy positions on veterans’ affairs and defence issues. We will advocate policy positions directly to state and federal government and increase our standing in national public debates. Critical to this effort will be initiatives to develop an online media platform from which all veterans can tell their stories, debate issues, closely examine veterans’ policy, and share good ideas. We will intensify our relationships with media, government, and other official stakeholders. 2018 will see RSL NSW refresh its image and strengthen the relevance and reach of our external communications (including the look and feel of the Sydney Anzac Day March), increase commemoration and public education activities during the centenary of armistice, and develop a partnership with the 2018 Invictus Games in Sydney as an opportunity to lead and unify the whole veterans and ex-service community around a single and important cause.

Our League will be an open source platform for the whole veterans’ community – cooperating rather than competing with other ex-service organisations. We will seek to form strategic partnerships with other community organisations, including overseas ex-service organisations. We will seek service delivery partnerships with ESOs delivering similar services to RSL DefenceCare to reduce duplication and increase impact.

To represent and lead the Australian veterans’ community, we will need to ensure our league is representative of the modern veteran. That means prioritising the recruitment of younger members and female veterans particularly. As an immediate step, our RSL Women’s Auxiliaries will be renamed “RSL Auxiliaries” to remove any possible suggestion that female veterans are not worthy of joining the League as service members. We will support the “By the Left”campaign as part of Anzac Day in 2018 and explore other initiatives to attract more female veterans, who are currently under-represented in our league.

Finally, to enable the growth of the League and to recruit as many veterans to our mission as possible, we will examine the financial feasibility of eliminating membership fees for service members entirely and will revitalise the unattached list for affiliate members at Anzac House.

 

Strategic Objective 2 – Serve and respect our members

Secondly, RSL NSW must serve and respect our members. Across the League, members and sub-branches are struggling with the weight of administration and governance, and our sub-branch executive members and trustees are shouldering large amounts of personal risk to manage the business affairs of the League. More fundamentally, many of our smaller regional and rural sub-branches are struggling to survive both due to declining finances, difficulties in complying with fundraising requirements, and the challenge of recruiting the right people to replace aging sub-branch executive members. We must begin by finding ways to provide dedicated support to smaller regional and country sub-branches. The League has an extraordinary network across NSW, which gives us reach into every local community in the state as well as access to volunteers willing to help us in our mission. That network must be protected, and we cannot risk the loss of our smaller sub-branches.

The League must make more resources available to help sub-branches do their work, including a dedicated sub-branch support team at Anzac House, and possibly the introduction of paid regional coordinators. RSL NSW’s member and sub-branch processes are slow and cumbersome and key processes must be redesigned to be faster and more efficient: this includes particularly membership processing, life membership applications, RSL Custodian activities, responses to sub-branch questions, and resolving member disputes. We need to make available to sub-branches clearer guidance on how we comply with our charitable objects, particularly what can and can’t be classed as welfare spending. More broadly sub-branches need training and shared information that helps them achieve best practice and share good ideas.

The League must also fix fundraising. Fundraising is of great importance to our members not only to increase sub-branch revenue to fund our activities but also to remind the public of their obligation to veterans and their families. Complying with fundraising legislation is complex and so we must look to a new centralised model for fundraising across the League. This will require a redesign of our current fundraising processes and procedures to ensure that all our members, sub-branches, and State HQ can comply with the law, and win back the public’s trust.

In the latter half of 2018 we will begin the introduction of shared administrative services to help sub-branches reduce their administrative burden and lower risks currently being carried by sub-branch trustees. Our sub-branch trustees are currently bearing enormous personal risk as they navigate complex property transactions, the management of charitable monies, fundraising compliance, and legal issues without appropriate support.

These shared administrative services will include centralised accounting, fundraising compliance, legal, IT and communications, property management and governance training. Shared administrative services will lower the cost and complexity of the League’s business activities and let sub-branch executives focus on what matters most: welfare and commemoration.

With professional advisors we will establish a Veterans Future Fund, a centralised investment management solution to reduce costs and improve investment returns. This will ensure that the financial resources are available to expand our support to the veterans’ community. Sub-branches opting in to this solution will reduce their administrative burden. We will also re-examine the feasibility and desirability of widely adopting social impact investing across the League. Backing up efforts to serve our own members better, we will develop a better financial and membership data analytical capability at Anzac House. This will help us understand and be responsive to the differing needs of members and sub-branches and reduce the personal risk sub-branch trustees are now shouldering in managing charitable monies. It will also allow us to coordinate our activities across the League.

We can also do a better job of publicly recognising our hardest working volunteers and most excellent sub-branches. At the 2018 Annual Congress we will re-introduce the Northcott Cup for the most excellent sub-branch in the League (last awarded in the 1970s).

 

Strategic Objective 3 – Work together as a league

Thirdly, we must once again work together as a league. Our sub-branches have adapted to the League’s recent difficulties by becoming self-reliant and fiercely independent. Those sub-branches with energetic volunteers and healthy financial resources have thrived in their local communities. Those with fewer financial resources and fewer members have withered and are concerned as to whether they can survive to continue serving veterans and their families into the future. Our strength as an institution will only come from working together as a league. Our network of sub-branches across the state helps to ensure that no veteran slips through the cracks of society. In 2018 we will shift our organisational culture to enable more cooperation between sub-branches and districts. We will make our organisation’s financial model more visible to members and the public. We will require our larger metropolitan sub-branches to support the work of our smaller country sub-branches through an expanded and institutionalised Sub-Branch Support Fund. We will utilise the economies of scale across the League to better manage the League’s property portfolio and reduce the personal risks inherent in the current property trust system.

Some of our larger sub-branches informally mentor smaller sub-branches in the bush – with advice, funds, and volunteer visits. We will formalise mentoring between larger sub-branches and smaller sub-branches, strengthening the muscle between our league across the state.

We will move to a new Anzac House in Sydney, which will function as a flagship headquarters for our members and a hub for all veterans and their families in NSW. It will be a more modern, publicly accessible, and family friendly location than our current head office – just as the founders of the Anzac House Trust envisioned after the Second World War. We aim to be in the new building by the end of 2018.

The relationship with the RSL and Services Clubs Association is an important one for the League, given our history and joint operations. Relationships between clubs and sub-branches lack consistency and it is in the interests of both to clarify and codify what a productive relationship looks like. We will work with the RSL and Services Clubs Association to standardise arrangements for governance and property management between clubs and sub-branches, and to help clubs that carry the RSL name to deliver an appropriate social dividend for veterans, including through shared initiatives for veterans’ service delivery (such as a state-wide veterans’ centre model).

RSL LifeCare is a veterans’ charity controlled by RSL NSW that provides aged care, home care, and retirement living services – both on a commercial and charitable basis. RSL LifeCare is a complex organisation, subject to more than 148 laws and regulations, with more than $1bn in assets and funds to manage, 3000 staff, and 33 locations around NSW. We began steps to professionalise RSL Lifecare’s board and restructure governance arrangements to reduce the potential for conflict of interest issues to arise in the management of the company. We are already working with RSL LifeCare’s board to determine a shared vision for RSL LifeCare’s strategy, including quantifying and clarifying the ways that RSL LifeCare delivers services to veterans. We will better coordinate the activities of RSL LifeCare with RSL NSW so that both organisations are working together as part of the RSL NSW group, maximising their ability to deliver for veterans and their families.

In 2018 we will centralise reporting to the Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission, instead of our current process where nearly 600 individual reports are provided. In due course we will need to fully consolidate financial reporting across RSL NSW. We will refresh the use of technology across the League so that our members can better communicate with each other, particularly through a better RSL NSW website and increased use of tele and video-conferencing. But we will also recognise that new communications technology will not be practical for all our members and continue to publish Reveille, as well as schedule regular face to face meetings with districts and sub-branches through the year.

Whilst we focus on working better together as a league in NSW, we will suspend working with RSL National for the foreseeable future. In November 2017 both RSL NSW and RSL SA removed their directors from the board of RSL Australia Ltd (RSL National), though both state leagues continue to exercise their rights as corporate members of the company. It is the view of RSL NSW that RSL National needs reform so that it can deliver the national leadership that veterans and their families need. RSL NSW remains engaged with other State RSL HQs on a regular basis and will continue to work productively with them on common issues. When RSL NSW is assured that RSL National is operating in accordance with the principles of good governance, and can add value for veterans and their families, we will examine reappointing a director to the national board.

 

Strategic Objective 4 – Adapt to the future needs of veterans and the League

Finally, we must adapt to the future needs of veterans and the RSL. It is clear that the veterans sector, and the way the Department of Veterans’ Affairs works is changing. So too, many of the needs of the current and next generation of Australian Defence Force personnel and their families are different from previous decades. Military personnel today have shorter careers and need closer support in transitioning from service life to civilian employment. We will adapt the services we offer to better support current serving and transitioning personnel, particularly by supporting employment initiatives. We will develop more services for military and ex-serving families whose resilience underpins the strength of our defence forces. The RSL will be a family friendly environment: a place where we mark births and marriages, not just funerals.

Positioning ourselves to deliver better services to current serving and transitioning personnel, and their families, will require us to scale up RSL DefenceCare, perhaps nationally. RSL DefenceCare is a unique organisation in Australia, providing support across the full range of veteran needs and with vital access to Australian Defence Force bases. We need to reinforce the success of this organisation and give it a permanent funding stream to ensure its work is sustainable. We will support plans of the WBI Trustees to transition RSL DefenceCare to be housed within RSL NSW, and to complete the mission of the WBI Trust. Adapting to the future needs of veterans is not just about supporting younger veterans. The needs of the Vietnam generation, who currently make up the majority of our members, will become more focused on aged care and home assistance in the next 10-15 years. Working closely with RSL LifeCare on a joint strategy will help us plan to provide support to our target cohorts of veterans, now and into the future.

Supporting veterans through advocacy and pensions claims is becoming more complex, and the number of volunteers trained to do this is declining. We will need to examine ways the community can better support veterans in need of legal assistance, including through dedicated veterans’ legal centres.

More broadly, RSL NSW will need to monitor defence and national security trends to determine which parts of the Australian Defence Force will require our intensive support in the years ahead.

Finally, we must look to ensure that we develop the right future RSL leaders. Ours is a large and complex organisation and we must prepare our future leaders to effectively govern and lead the League. But we also need regular renewal. Each of our different generations of veterans has different needs, our leadership at the state and local level should represent these needs fairly.

As part of succession planning within the League’s leadership we will implement term limits for the President and State Councillors, a board nominations committee, and development and training to better prepare RSL members to take up leadership positions within the League.

 

Enabling efforts and implementation

The League has not been through a major period of reform for nearly thirty years and is unaccustomed to change. Members have seen many strategic plans come and go, none of which have been properly implemented or resourced. The success of this strategy will rest upon several enabling efforts, particularly a number of transformations necessary to the existing league organisational structure and operating model. We will anchor our reform efforts in the existing traditions and ideals of the League, which have guided us for more than a century.

Maintaining trust between RSL NSW leadership and members and between the League and the public, will underpin both reform and this strategy. An effective communications regime will be integral to maintaining trust, as will ensuring that we deliver on commitments made. Members must have a chance for their feedback to be heard, particularly through face to face meetings with state councillors and the League’s executive.

The RSL NSW constitution will need extensive repair and adaptation to incorporate this strategy and vision for the League. Major reforms, that is reforms that go beyond managing the day to day business of the League, will need to be approved by the members at the Albury State Congress in May 2018.

As part of this reform package, the State Council will be modernised to reflect the structure and skills necessary to lead and govern an institution with 40,000 volunteer members, 75 staff (and oversight of RSL LifeCare which itself employs 3000 staff), hundreds of subsidiaries, 150+ properties, and responsibility for governance of at least $1.7bn in assets. State Council will become a smaller board with up to three independent office-bearers. Completion of the Australian Company Directors Course (ACID), or equivalent will be mandatory within the first six months of a new term. To ensure the RSL’s leadership remains energised and accountable, we will institute term limits for both the President and board. To maintain continuity and stability, we will introduce staggered elections to the board.

The system of regional representation of members has been discussed at a number of congresses in the past two decades and will need to be re-examined. The reality is that 23 districts are difficult to coordinate, and the current system of district council representation is neither allowing sub-branches to coordinate at a regional level, nor making sure that regional considerations are heard in the mostly metropolitan state HQ. Our regional members have unique challenges, driving long distances at night to attend district meetings for example, and changes to the district system will need to be examined carefully to ensure that sub-branches are not unfairly affected. Currently, District Council Presidents have not been granted either the powers, training, or resources to be successful in their regional coordination and representation role. Most districts have an active, skilled, and credible executive able to coordinate and lead their sub-branches. But a few district councils are seen as ineffective, with meetings that go for hours and deliver little real impact. Regional representation is critical, given our history and our desire to preserve our state-wide local network throughout smaller cities and towns. But it must be effective. We will examine supporting District Council executives with professional regional support officers.

With District Council Presidents, we will work to reform the current system of regional representation to support the implementation of this strategy, and present a new concept for regional representation to the 2019 annual congress

The organisational wiring and plumbing of state HQ at Anzac House will need to be modernised and in some cases repaired. Already we have made great progress in hiring new personnel with the advanced skills we need to run an organisation of the scale and complexity of our league – we will need more. This strategy will also need a dedicated project management office to coordinate, identify dependencies and resource constraints, and measure progress against deadlines. An immediate task for project management will be to set phasing, resource allocation, and priorities to elements of this strategy. We will need to be careful about the risks of over-reliance on a handful of key leadership personnel.

Funding this strategic direction will be a challenge. Already, the League’s HQ at Anzac House is not resourced appropriately to manage the extensive business of the League, let alone lead new initiatives or a major reform program. As is often said, a strategy without a budget is no more than a hallucination. We will also need to develop ways to ensure this strategy is on track, and successful.

The League has many independent trusts for which it is responsible, and these need to be reformed and aligned with this strategy and RSL business operations. The Australian Forces Overseas Fund, for example, overseen by RSL NSW, provides much needed funds to support deployed service personnel and provides a legal basis for RSL NSW staff and volunteers to have a presence on Defence bases, and if needed, in operational areas. Its operations need to be better synchronised with RSL NSW’s strategy.

Governance processes need extensive repair across the League and we can expect that they will be closely scrutinised during the period this strategy will be implemented. The strategy will need to be flexible enough to incorporate the recommendations and consequences of the NSW Government Charitable Fundraising Inquiry, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission investigation, changes within the veterans’ sector at a national level, and possible changes to the NSW legislation that incorporates and governs RSL NSW.

Finally, because of the scope of reform and repair required within the strategy, and the sweeping nature of the strategy itself, we must identify activities that can be discontinued so that we can focus energy and resources on our core mission. RSL Day Clubs are an excellent and efficient initiative and are designed to support senior citizens – many (if not most) of whom are not veterans. We will seek to transition RSL Day Clubs to RSL Lifecare by the end of 2018. Similarly, though they were once focused exclusively on the children of returned military personnel, RSL Youth Clubs have evolved a long way from our core mission. Today, many RSL Youth Club instructors are providing near-commercial coaching and teaching services, and the sporting groups competing for RSL Youth Club events are most likely to be populated by children who have little or no connection to a military family. The governance requirements to manage volunteers working with children are substantial and divert much needed resources from the League’s core mission.

Though RSL Youth Clubs are an admirable initiative, they are no longer well aligned with our core purpose of supporting veterans and their families in need. For these reasons, RSL Youth Clubs will be transitioned to a more suitable organisational structure by the end of 2018.

This strategy will need to be implemented alongside the provision of existing services across the League and continuing to raise funds to support our charitable purposes. Between 2018 and 2020 RSL NSW will have little capacity to embark on new ventures, or to provide funding and assistance to other organisations, outside of the initiatives outlined in this strategy. Maintaining focus on implementing this strategy will be critical to success.

 

Next steps

The strategic direction outlined in this paper is not a strategic plan. During the first quarter of 2018, RSL NSW’s State Council and management will work to develop this strategic direction as a strategic plan. That will involve listening to and incorporating feedback on this paper from members and key stakeholders, developing the funding and budget necessary to support this strategy and devising an accompanying and detailed project plan and project management office. Our constitution and regulations will also need to be amended to support this strategy. A final strategic plan and constitution will be presented to members in early April, for them to vote on at State Congress in Albury in late May 2018.

We have an historic opportunity to transform our league and our members have demanded that we do so. By 2020, we will have built an organisation ready to lead the ex-services community, speak for the benefit of all veterans and their families, and deliver the help that our defence communities need – for another hundred years. This is a league all of us can be proud to be part of.

 

Appendix: RSL NSW Membership Survey

A broad range of stakeholders have been engaged via the RSL NSW Membership Survey in October 2017. This feedback was invaluable for informing this paper. Key headlines from the RSL NSW 2017 Membership Survey representing 1762 members include the following 4 graphs.

Strategic Directions Paper Graph 1

 

Strategic Directions Paper Graph 2

 

Strategic Directions Paper Graph 3

 

Strategic Directions Paper Graph 4