In this interview, Marilyn Rickard, Head of Community Relations for St Catherine's in Sydney, talks about the importance of good communication and the beauty of diversity.
1. What's your role at St Catherine's School? What does a typical day look like for you?
I am the Head of Community Relations and have been in this role since 2010. Community Relations at St Catherine’s encompasses fundraising, alumni relations, community and events, media communications and marketing, archives and enrolments. My days generally involving dipping in an out of each of those areas supporting the fabulous team we have in place.
2. What projects have you been working on? Anything big for the end of the year?
We are about to resume a large capital works project that has been on hold for a little while – this will entail the re invigoration of our capital campaign. This project will be our main focus for 2020.
3. You've got a lot of experience in the educational sector. What motivates you to work? What do you feel is the most important part of your work?
I love working in education - the students always remind us of the value of our work and the impact education has on everyone and I love the variety of my role and the fact that each day looks different. I’m passionate about supporting our school community and affirming our parent’s choice of school – it’s most rewarding.
4. What would you say are the key skills you learned in all those years in education?
I think learning how to communicate with our stake holders has been integral to my role and learning that fundraising is a focussed and structured process. There is absolutely nothing ad hoc about fundraising – I knew nothing about philanthropy when I first commenced in this role in 1996 – my only experience had been standing with my grandmother on the streets in Cape Town as a child with a Red Cross collection tin! What a journey I have travelled since then and I’ve come to appreciate there is a real joy in giving - philanthropy is a lot more about giving than receiving.
5. What are the biggest challenges you face as Head of Community Relations?
Juggling the many balls that fall to our department can sometimes feel a little overwhelming. We’ve got to be clear in our communication strategies and mindful that our community is varied and diverse. Ensuring we consider everyone can be taxing but nevertheless we need to be thoughtful and careful remembering that our school staff are also an integral part of our wider community. In this world of social media we need to keep abreast of the challenges of this sort of communication while understanding that it is key to our communication strategies.
Our parents are paying significant fees for their daughter’s to attend our school and can often feel resentful of our fundraising initiatives. Managing our fundraising programs can be challenging at times.
6. What are the challenges of managing a community successfully?
Communication and engagement are key to building good relationships with our communities and keeping abreast with best practice in all our fields helps us manage issues as they arise. Building relationships first and foremost and not being afraid of the tough decisions that sometimes need to be made. For both my work and personal life my mantra is always: “It is never the message but always how the message is carried”
7. Tell us a little bit about yourself! What do you do when you're not working?
I’ve been fortunate in my role to travel quite extensively throughout Asia on international student recruitment exhibitions – I’ve loved that experience and the places we have visited. I am in awe of the commitment these families make to give their children the very best education they can. My own family is diverse which is just fabulous. I was born in South Africa and married an Aussie. We have three children, one of whom married a part Malaysian Chinese man, one of whom married a Lebanese man and our son has married a Swedish girl who is half Liberian! How wonderful it is when we are all together chatting in a range of accents. I am so proud of that diversity and see our family as truly representative of Australia today – how special that is!
I am in that delightful era of having little people in my life and I love the time I spend with them when I am not at work. ToucanTech's communitry database + website software helps schools, universities and institutes to build strong alumni engagement and powerful online careers and mentoring networks - book a demo to find out more!