Scholar Profile - Deborah Smith PDF Print E-mail
Deborah Smith


Non Executive President at Family Planning Association of Western Australia (trading as Sexual Health Quarters)

Awarded a Bankwest Foundation / AICD scholarship for the Company Directors Course, 2016

What sort of work does your organisation do?

SHQ is an autonomous not-for-profit organisation first established in 1972 to provide women with access to contraceptive and family planning advice and information. Since then it has evolved as the State’s leading provider in sexual health, providing expertise through education, information and high quality affordable services to a diverse range of clients living in WA. SHQ has also emerged as WA’s specialist provider of sexual and reproductive health education and training of health professionals and people working in the community.

Describe a typical day's work.

As President I am responsible for facilitating the effectiveness of the board membership and processes. This involves board meetings, the flow of board information, performance appraisals and renewal of board membership. Part of the role of managing the board involves being able to facilitate an appropriate environment for robust board discussion and effective decision making.

Some of my specific activities include setting the agenda for each board meeting. Prior to distributing board papers I discuss the agenda with the CEO and the planned outcomes for the meeting. I also take into account the annual calendar which I set to try and ensure each meeting is productive and also so that the workload is spread throughout the year.

What are some of the key learnings from the Company Directors Course?

Everything within an organisation starts at the top. This means it starts with the Board. The Board is responsible for setting the tone and the culture of the organisation. It is therefore critically important that the Board act in a manner that they expect and want the whole organisation to behave.

The role of a Director is a significant responsibility and each director is individually responsible for the decisions made as a group. It is therefore important that honest and robust discussions are encouraged in the boardroom so that each and every director is comfortable with the decisions made. Having diverse backgrounds and skill sets brings different viewpoints to these discussions which improves the quality of decisions made.

How has it impacted / changed / benefited your role and your organisation as a whole?

I have a much greater understanding of the different elements required to be an effective director, and I have much more confidence in my role as President to help guide both the board and the organisation. I have taken a number of the learnings directly from the course and implemented them in our processes.

For example, I have implemented a series of breakfasts with the Board and Executive team and this now forms part of our annual calendar. The breakfasts are designed to build the team spirit, to get to know each other better which helps create an environment to have honest discussions and to enable strategic discussions in a less formal format. These are proving very effective.

One of the challenges of a not-for-profit board with volunteer members is that board meetings typically need to be held outside business hours which results in limited visibility of the board by staff. The breakfasts are also designed to help increase the visibility of the board.

Another measure introduced is manager presentations at Board meetings to help the board gain a better understanding of different areas of the business.

How did you come to be working in the not-for-profit sector?

Early in 2011 I joined AICD and Women on Boards as I wanted to learn more about the role of directors. Through this I discovered Abaf (Australian Business Arts Foundation – now Australia Council) which connected people looking to join Arts boards and Boards seeking new directors.

In May 2011 I joined the Awesome Arts Australia Ltd (“Awesome”) board as Treasurer. As a Chartered Accountant I had the necessary skills and a particular interest in the organisation’s mission. Awesome is a contemporary arts organisation for young people and their families in Western Australia. Awesome hosts the annual AWESOME International Arts Festival for Bright Young Things and the Creative Challenge.

In 2014 I was approached by Family Planning Association of Western Australia (Inc), through my networks, to join the Board which I did in April 2014. In October 2015 I became President. I believe health is important to each and every one of us.

Early this year, after gaining an appreciation of the additional workload required to be an effective President I decided to step down from the Awesome Board, which I did in May 2016. The Company Directors Course I have recently completed has taken my knowledge of directors’ roles and responsibilities to the next level.

What do you feel is most needed to sustain and build the impact of the not-for-profit sector?

Training and education of board members and executives has significant impact because these are the people leading and running the NFP organisations. It is important to ensure directors understand their legal obligations so that the role is taken seriously; just because the role is a volunteer position does not make the person or position any less responsible.

Pro bono support providing professional services. Changes in legislation create new challenges and NFP organisations often don’t have the necessary skills internally. For example, the new Incorporated Associations Act WA, has a significant impact on the organisations governed by the Act and unless you have legal skills in house it may be difficult to navigate. When these sorts of changes occur if there were some way to educate and assist a number of NFPs through workshops or another method might be effective.

Reducing red tape and compliance for NFPs. Organisations spend a lot of time complying with different legal requirements rather than working on their mission. I support the ‘report once report often’ initiative of the ACNC to try and reduce some of the red tape burden.

What is something interesting / unique / unusual about you?

I have lived and worked in several countries, have travelled to many more including a safari in Tanzania, rafting holiday in Siberia and dune driving in the Dubai Desert. I speak French and some Italian. I love travelling, playing golf and property investing with my husband. I also love cooking and completed a Cordon Bleu cooking course in London and an Italian cooking course in Sicily.

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"I have a much greater understanding of the different elements required to be an effective director, and I have much more confidence in my role as President to help guide both the board and the organisation."


Deborah is an Australian Chartered Accountant with over 19 years' experience gained at both blue chip and smaller organisations, including seven years of international experience in London and Europe, and six years West African experience. In April 2014, she joined the Board of Family Planning Association of Western Australia (trading as Sexual Health Quarters) and in 2015 she stepped up to the role of President.

In 2016, ASF awarded Deborah a Bankwest Foundation scholarship to attend the AICD's Company Directors Course. Upon completing the course, she was awarded an Order of Merit as recognition for her academic achievements.


Annual revenue / size:

Large - $5m - $25m

Segment of NFP sector:


Operating in: