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The CEO Series: Q&A with Brett Macdonald, CEO at Dry July

The CEO Series: Q&A with Brett Macdonald, CEO at Dry July

Liska Turner

over 2 years ago by Liska Turner

Riverside High School Computer Club (8)

The CEO Series: Leadership Observations From The Front Line

Interviews with CEO'S from the For-Purpose sector with Liska Turner


For-Purpose leaders are as diverse as the organisations that they lead. Every couple of months I sit down with a CEO where they share their experiences and thoughts on leading a for-purpose organisation. This month I had the pleasure of talking to Brett Macdonald, CEO at Dry July.


Brett Macdonald, CEO at Dry July

Prior to working in fundraising, Brett was a creative director with more than 15 years in branding and business communications. He is now the CEO of the Dry July Foundation and the newly launched CHIL Fundraising platform.

Brett co-founded the Dry July Foundation in 2008. Since then he has expanded the initiative to 4 countries, encouraged over 400,000 people to go dry and raised over $80m for people affected by cancer.

Now with a decade of experience running mass-market, online peer-to-peer fundraising initiatives for leading NFPs in Australia, New Zealand, the UK and Canada, he is keen to share his knowledge and experience with other organisations to help grow their fundraising events.


CEO’s lead from the front. What are the most important decisions you make as a leader of your organisation?


Defining the strategy to drive growth and sustainability is probably the most important decision as it gives clarity on where investment in people and campaigns should be directed to deliver on outcomes for the causes we support.


Culture was identified as a priority for 2018 in the 2017 AICD NFP Governance and Performance Study. How do you help a new employee understand the culture of your organization?

We have an onboarding process where we ensure the new employee understands the importance of the impact we have through our Welcome Packs and beneficiary visits. Going out meet the beneficiaries of our work and to hear firsthand the impact we have had on their lives is really important.

We are a small team so each team member plays an important role in the difference we’re able to make. We’re open plan and love to collaborate on issues as a collective with everyone’s input valued.


No business operates in isolation. When you’re considering partnering with another person or business, what factors are deal-breakers for you?


If reputation, a shared vision or return on investment is compromised then I won’t proceed. I place value on shared recommendations.


Succession planning is key to building a sustainable organisation. How do you choose who to promote?


We’re a small team and growing fast. Each year is different in so many ways meaning there’s a lot of opportunity for the team. Knowing the impact we’re able to have keeps everyone motivated and challenged to push their boundaries for the organisations we support.

That said, succession planning is a massive challenge for a small organisation and also succession planning at board level needs to be considered.

I look for the following qualities. Someone who will go the extra mile off their own bat, shows initiative, thinks of new concepts and pushes boundaries.


The role of CEO is quite unique. What advice would you give someone going into a CEO leadership position for the first time?


Try not to be too overwhelmed. You’ve worked hard to get to this position so trust in yourself. Always remember there’s a lot of external support available to CEOs so don’t be afraid to call on that. Such as mentors or Hubs. Don’t be afraid to ask the board for professional development. It’s critical for the leaders of the business.

Get to know your leadership team, understand what you’ve taken on and how you’re going to make your mark. Having a clear strategy keeps you on track for where you need to go. Also, you need to develop a working relationship with the Chair.


What leadership decision are you most proud of?


International Expansion. We took advantage of an opportunity to partner with a major UK cancer charity and it was the best thing we did. That partnership has provided stability which has in-turn helped us to scale the Dry July Foundation.

Initiating the Dry July Grants which has enabled us to evolve our partnerships and measure our impact.


Twitter: @dryjuly


Insta: @dryjuly

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/dry-july/about/

Personal Twitter: @brettsk1

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/brettmacdonald/

Liska Turner is an executive recruiter that specialises in the For-Purpose Sector. She works with Boards and CEO’s to build sustainable organisations through connecting people and ideas. She can be contacted at liska@beaumontpeople.com.au or 02 9279 2777.