Victorian Healthcare Association Case Study

An interview with Tom Symondson, CEO, Victorian Healthcare Association. The VHA is a large staff, state-based association.

Tell us about the VHA.

The Victorian Healthcare Association is the not-for-profit peak body supporting Victoria’s public health services to deliver quality care. Members of the VHA – established in 1938 – include public hospitals, community health services and aged care providers.

We have around 120 members, and our sector spends over $17 billion per year. The VHA has 17 staff and turnover of around $3 million.

What was your partnership situation before the program?

We had one major legacy partnership and a number of small event sponsors worth less than $130,000 in total. All of these were based on personal relationships and had been in place for an extended period of time.

What situation you are in now?

We now have three major partners and are hoping to sign our biggest deal in the next month. We have already doubled our partnerships revenue since the start of the program and hope to push this much further over the coming year.

What surprised you most about the process of implementing a partnership program?

People had told me sponsorship was dead. The surprise was that people are actually desperate to partner with our sector through us – and they’re happy to do so in ways that work for us and our members, not just them, and they are comfortable with my 100% no ‘sales pitches’ to members.

What was the most challenging part of the process?

Our organisation is mission based, and it was very hard to change the culture to accept commercial partnerships. Almost a year on, and we’re only just getting there.

People need to see the benefit of the partnerships for members (not just the VHA) before they start to warm up to them.

If you could go back and tell yourself anything before you started, what would it be?

Partnerships are really hard work - you have to really work on the staff engagement piece. And due diligence is crucial – turn away partners you don’t feel 100% comfortable with because whatever they’re offering you, your brand is worth more. Finally, partnership income isn’t free money – you have to spend up to 25% of it on delivering for the partner – make sure that’s in your budget or you’ll get a nasty shock at the end of the year!

What was the thing you were most thankful for during the process?

Having a dedicated staff member (who Julian helped me recruit) and having access to Julian to tell me everything would be ok!

How long did it take until you generated results after making the decision to proactively seek sponsorship?

Our first result came within a few months. We have been careful not to go too quickly, so we don’t take the risk of failing to deliver for partners or scaring members.

Any other comments you’d like to include?  

If I had not had good advice, and a staff member with the right skills, I would have been completely stumped – I hate asking for money, and I am in a fairly conservative industry where you have to be careful to be totally transparent.

The biggest continuing challenge is keeping partnerships on everyone’s agenda. Every member of my management team now has clear deliverables for each partnership, but it was a real struggle at the beginning to get people to understand that partnerships weren’t just the responsibility of my partnership’s director.