Matthew Salier – National Christmas Manager for The Smith Family
Posted October 13, 2011, by Jordan Huidekoper
The Smith Family have been organising and delivering Christmas hampers to Australians in need since 1922, when the organisation was founded.
Matthew has been the National Christmas Manager at The Smith Family for nearly 12 months. He completed a Bachelor of Environmental Science before undertaking an honours year focused on community involvement. The latter, he says, was a signpost of things to come. He has worked for Landcare Australia and Tennis New South Wales, both not-for-profit organisations.
What does your job involve?
I manage the logistical components of The Smith Family projects that support families at Christmas. This involves coordinating nearly 3000 volunteers to pack 10 000 hampers and 25 000 toy packs and distribute them to thousands of financially disadvantaged families around Australia.
I have to make sure that we coordinate our activities to meet deadlines. First we pack the toys, then the hampers and, finally, we put them together ready for the delivery drivers.
What is it like coordinating so many volunteers?
Volunteers are great but allowances have to be made if, for example, a volunteer can’t make it on a day that they are scheduled to help. We have to have lots of contingency plans in place because we can’t insist that people turn up. However, we’re very fortunate that the majority do.
If we had the funds to hire people to deliver all of the hampers we might not have the logistical problems we do – we could just give the drivers the addresses and leave them to get the deliveries done. In reality, we have to support our drivers who in their regular jobs might be accountants, lawyers or administration assistants.
Who are the volunteers?
Staff from our corporate supporters – the companies that help fund The Smith Family activities throughout the year – often volunteer. We also have a lot of repeat volunteers from the general community year in year out. We have one guy in Sydney who has been volunteering to pack hampers for 51 years and now he brings his daughter along. So there is a strong sense of community in the group.
What personal qualities do you need to work for The Smith Family?
The Smith Family is a large organisation so the ability to communicate clearly and work in a team are key skills. A large proportion of my role as National Christmas Manager is keeping people informed. Around 200 of The Smith Family’s more than 500 staff are directly involved in the Christmas activities.
What is the hardest part of the job?
Having to say ‘no’ – unfortunately this is an aspect of the role. While 10 000 hampers and 25 000 toy packs seems huge, the reality is that we have more requests than we can fulfil. We have a lot of donations including those from the Kmart wishing tree and Woolworths, and we also purchase goods with our budget. We’d love to be able to say ‘yes’ to everyone but the reality is that there is a limit to our resources.
We send out order forms to families in September and there is an
eight-week window in which they can respond. We can generally accommodate the orders that come in a few days late, but there has to be a cut-off point. By the end of the eight-week period we’ve allocated everything that we have to allocate.
Why are the hampers so important to families?
The hampers help make sure that Australian children do not miss out on the little joys that make Christmas day special – the sharing of presents and food.
Did you always want to work for a not-for-profit organisation?
It wasn’t something that I necessarily aimed for. I believe that it’s important to be passionate about any work that you do whether it’s in the corporate or not-for-profit sector. Belief in what you do, and the organisation you work for, is very important – it makes it easier to come to work every day.
For me, it's important to know that I’m working for an organisation where the outcomes are so positive. That’s how I feel about my work at The Smith Family.
Will you be tired of Christmas by the time it comes?
I’m still looking forward to Christmas Day – it’s always a great time with family and friends. I don’t think I could ever be over Christmas, although, with the amount of wrapping paper and tinsel I see over the next two weeks, it might be hard to get motivated to clean up my place on Boxing Day!
Want to make a difference in your community just like Matthew? Start with a course in Social Work.
Jordan is a writer and photographer with a keen interest in personal growth and development.