How Bernie Fehon founded a cause that's delivered sustainable change since 2006

The St Vincent de Paul Society operates in 153 countries across the globe to alleviate the causes of poverty and inequality. Affectionally known as ‘Vinnies’ in Australia, the Society relies on the generosity of people for its works.

One of the most well-known Vinnie’s fundraisers is the CEO Sleepout, which was founded by CEO Bernie Fehon OAM.

The Challenges

In 2006, Bernie and a small organising committee had become immersed in the problem of how to develop a better fundraising dinner. Although successful, it suffered from:

  • Heavy reliance on human and physical resources
  • Limitations with funding diversification, and
  • The uncomfortable idea of having a banquet to raise money for those affected by poverty, hunger and homelessness.

Under Bernie’s encouragement, the fundraising committee took a step back.

They knew the reason for the dinner (to raise much-needed Society funds).

They knew their stakeholders (Vinnies, fundraiser dinner guests, and the homeless people they served).

They knew what they wanted to achieve (a deeper understanding of Australia’s homelessness problem).

And yet, despite being unsustainable for the Society to deliver more grandeur on a larger scale every year, the thought process remained heavily focused on the dinner.

Using design thinking to unleash new thinking for Vinnies' fundraising

By viewing the challenge through a client-centric lens, Bernie changed the focus to the end goal – awareness and fundraising. What did Vinnies truly need?


At an organisational level, it needed a sustainable income sufficient for society goals. But at a fundraising level, it needed to:


  • Avoid being resource-heavy
  • Eliminate physical or other constraints that prevented ongoing growth, and
  • Diversify the source of their funding to reduce risk.


Most importantly, it needed to raise awareness and help change the lives of Australians experiencing homelessness.


The CEO Sleepout

On a cold Winter night in 2006, a handful of business associates joined Bernie to forgo the comforts of home and sleep outside.

Today, over 1,400 CEOs, business owners, and community and government leaders have taken part and raised over $80m.


Fundraising with Momentum

Held annually on one of the coldest and longest nights of the year, the CEO Sleepout is now an Australia-wide event. Every year, hundreds of business leaders commit to a night sleeping without shelter to raise money for the homeless in a truly sustainable event that’s:


  • Relevant, acknowledging the plight of those it serves to help
  • Unconstrained with growth, having become both a national and global event, and
  • Provided the visibility and finance that’s critical for Vinnies to support Australians experiencing homelessness.

Awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia in 2018, Bernie remains involved with Vinnies to this day. He continues to develop Australia’s national event and works with international charities undertaking CEO Sleepouts in their country.



© Fehon Strategy & Design – 2023

Another collaboration with Spotty Dog and Affordable Web Solutions