The best of Australian giving

This week’s guest post comes from Liz Gill-Atkinson,  writing on behalf of the Top 50 Gifts Working Group (Myer Family Company Philanthropic Services, Philanthropy Australia, ProBono Australia, Asia-Pacific Centre for Social Investment and Philanthropy, The Myer Foundation and Sidney Myer Fund)

Recently the conversation around growing the culture of philanthropy in Australia has been ramping up. Much productive dialogue around why the culture of philanthropy in Australia isn’t flourishing as it could be and what can be done have been a focal point of many meetings and cross-sectoral discussions. Shrinking government and philanthropic budgets have reawakened an awareness of the need to grow the philanthropic pie and make the most out of every philanthropic dollar.

The obstacles to growing the philanthropic sector in Australia have been presented and dissected. A key obstacle relates to the foreignness of the word ‘philanthropy’ for many Australians. The pronunciation is clumsy and the visual can be vague or mysterious. A challenge appears to be making ‘philanthropy’ a familiar part of the Australian vocabulary and with it, the Australian culture.

This is exactly the aim of the recently launched Top 50 Gifts competition.

The purpose of the Top 50 Gifts competition is to increase awareness of Australia’s philanthropic achievements through capturing and promoting Australian philanthropic success stories in order to catalyse a nation that has untapped potential to create a fairer, more diverse and culturally rich Australia.

The Top 50 Gifts competition aims to inspire and engage existing and potential philanthropists through achieving the following objectives:

  • Demonstrate the difference philanthropy can and has made in the Australian landscape;
  • Create a repository of the most influential grants in Australian history across all sectors;
  • Provide an opportunity for the philanthropic sector to reflect on the generosity of past and present organisations and individuals;
  • Inform others of impressive historical acts of philanthropy they may not be aware of; and most importantly
  • Generate discussion about philanthropy.


  • From nominations received a list of the Top 50 Gifts will be compiled by the Top 50 Working Group.
  • A public vote on the Top 50 Gifts will determine the Top 10.
  • The Top 10 (as well as the Top 50) will be disseminated far and wide through a large media campaign to inspire and promote philanthropy by championing the public’s (your) favourite Australian philanthropic success stories.


  • By ‘Top’ we mean the most significant. We don’t necessarily mean ‘biggest’– in fact a lot may have been achieved with comparatively small gifts. A gift may be significant because of its scale, size, creativity, innovation or impact.

Australia’s historical and contemporary landscapes are rich with philanthropic success stories and whilst many philanthropists choose to go about their work discreetly, the lack of publicly available data on philanthropy in Australia has done little to promote philanthropy to the Australian public. The Top 50 Gifts competition is an opportunity to demonstrate the role philanthropy plays in adding to our vibrant cultural sector, in supporting the health and wellbeing of our nation, in facilitating discovery and in connecting us together.

We want to hear from you. What are the ‘top’ philanthropic gifts in Australia’s history? And why? Help grow the culture of philanthropy in Australia.

Click here to nominate now.



The economics of environmental giving

October saw the passing of one of the great dates on the philanthropic calendar with the Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network (AEGN) holding its annual conference in Melbourne. What makes the event special is the quality of speakers and the genuine opportunities to network, share and debate practices in grantmaking and environmental support. It is always a great day and one that most people involved in environmental grantmaking look forward to immensely. Interestingly it is also one of the few annual philanthropic events that brings together a good mix of private donors, board members and grantmaking staff.

One of the great challenges in environmental grantmaking is that, more often than not, collaboration among funders is required to get projects moving and sustained. The AEGN has done a wonderful job in fostering a membership that is connected and supportive of each other, making collaboration a much more natural process. One of the other special things about the Network is that there is diversity among the small but growing membership in the approach to grantmaking. This diversity allows for learning and collaboration at all levels of funding.

Despite the energy, expertise and collegiality of the environmental grantmaking sector what’s missing is sheer weight of numbers. We need more funders willing to give to the environment and we need them quickly. Many funders, despite having a genuine interest in protecting our environment, tend to feel overwhelmed about where to start in granting to ‘green’ projects. To that end, the AEGN needs to be congratulated once again on their work on Giving Green: An Introduction for Grantmakers. This step by step guide to environmental grantmaking is an important tool in building a strong green philanthropic sector.

While Giving Green is one tool for assisting environmental grantmakers, I noted with interest another tool spruiked a couple of weeks back via Ellen Fanning’s wonderful two part series in the Global Mail, which examines the cost of saving Australia’s endangered animals. The articles get to the heart of the many challenges environmental grantmakers have when choosing how and where to make their investments.   The ability to make economic arguments about why and how to protect our natural environment is increasingly important. This is a shift we are seeing across the funding space of the ‘public good’.

We are no doubt gathering the data, the skills, the collaborative relationships required in green philanthropy to better affect change in our environment and environmental policy in Australia. The time is right for those funders with interest to move into the green giving space and boy don’t we need you.

You can follow the musings of Caitriona Fay on Twitter via @cat_fay

Warming the cold spots of philanthropy

Some people will be delighted to have the AFL season behind us.  I guess it depends a lot on whether or not you’re a Swans supporter. As a sometimes parochial South Australian and all the time Crows supporter, living in Melbourne can come with mixed blessings. Mercifully season 2012 was a little easier on me than the two prior.

As a committed South Aussie I like to keep my eye on what’s happening at ‘home’. I read the papers, stay abreast of the politics and in my job am always interested to see the types of projects and applications coming out of SA.  In philanthropy circles South Australia, along with Tasmania, is often referred to as a ‘non-traditional’ philanthropy State. I’ve always been puzzled by the ‘non-traditional’ bit and what that actually means.  Does it mean that there is no history of philanthropy in SA?  If so, it would be an unfair indictment on SA with Australia’s oldest continuing trust, The Wyatt Benevolent Institution, still playing a leading role in South Australian philanthropy. I’ve also recently had a chance to meet with Philanthropy Australia’s South Australian network, a growing and committed group of private, family and corporate funders.

While there is a historic and ongoing philanthropic culture in South Australia, it is small. There is absolutely room for growth and with Philanthropy Australia’s announcement of the positioning of a staff member in Adelaide, we can hope for some some big gains in the numbers of active philanthropists as well as increased support for those that are already there.

Despite my parochial ways, I’m under no illusions about some of the challenges South Australia faces. The Northern suburbs of Adelaide are home to some of Australia’s most disadvantaged families. South Australia’s remote Aboriginal communities face significant health and education challenges and some of the State’s most important marine, riparian and terrestrial ecosystems continue to face threats from policy, mining, commercial fishing, fire and urban growth. Yet despite the needs that are evident when I speak with funders who have the ability to fund nationally most will say they receive very few applications from SA – the State is a cold spot on the application heat map.

The announcement from South Australia’s Premier Jay Weatherill this week, that the State’s public service was about to get cut and that these cuts were about working smarter with less, caught my eye. It’s impossible to know where these cuts will be felt the most, or whether those left behind are able to meet the Premier’s ambition of greater innovation. With these cuts at hand and the needs of the community clear it is time for the South Australian Government to find ways to engage with philanthropy to lift levels of community funding and innovation. No government has embraced relationships with philanthropy like Victoria, both the current and the previous State Governments have maintained and built valued relationships with the sector. Word from funders in NSW is that the Government there too is making inroads into building functional and more supported partnerships with private funding partners. With the language of ‘big society’ creeping into our politics, much more is going to be expected of private and corporate grantmakers into the future. Those communities who will be least affected by public funding cuts will be in those States with strong and functional relationships with philanthropy.

So how can South Australia help to bring increased philanthropic dollars to the State? I wanted to brainstorm some ideas that might help my home State to take greater advantage of philanthropic dollars on offer.

  1. Recognise that Adelaide is a perfect size for ‘trials’:  the Australian Centre for Social Innovation (TACSI), which is based in SA, is helping to sell that message to funders with an interest in social innovation. A strong functioning nonprofit sector will provide more jobs and obvious community service benefits.  Finding ways to be attractive to nonprofits as a centre for national community trials will reap rewards for the State and its communities
  2. Match the dollar: most Foundations love to leverage and nothing feels better than leveraging money from government. An initial match funding pool of funds in areas of priority for the Government could be set up initially to incentivise philanthropic investment from outside SA
  3. Come and say hello: trade delegates travel all over the world trying to bring investment into SA, why not have the Premier or key Ministers jump in a plane to Melbourne to meet some key Foundations and their Boards to discuss some of the needs and priorities of the State?
  4. Get funders to SA: the Government could consider investing to get philanthropy to come to SA and meet some of the organisations that are doing great work across the arts, health, academia, housing, community development etc. Philanthropy is ultimately about people, so it’s imperative that foundations feel as though they are connected into the State. While I acknowledge you can bring a horse to water but you can’t force it to drink, there are enough attractive funding opportunities in SA that getting funders to the State is an important first step
  5. Value what you’ve got: philanthropy is alive in SA and other foundations look to and respect the work of their peers.  The SA Government should be working actively to ensure that their relationship with locally based philanthropy is strong.

I’d love to see more national funders examining their giving and attempting to improve distributions to those ‘cold spots’ on the map. Those areas tend to be the places with the highest need and quite often the least capacity for attracting support. But our local and State Government friends need to recognise that philanthropy, like most things in life can be incentivised and encouraged. So if you were advising the SA Government, what else would you recommend to encourage greater philanthropy? We’d love to see some of your views below.

You can follow the musings of Caitriona Fay on Twitter via @cat_fay or the blog via @3eggphil.

Being Grantmaker of the Year 2013

It’s all about visualisation!!….

The Australian Institute of Grants Management (AIGM) is a professional network linking grantmakers, grant managers and grants administrators from philanthropic, corporate and government grant making.  It provides support, advice and inspiration to people involved with all things grantmaking, with the aim of helping practitioners to achieve excellence.

In 2012, the AIGM inaugurated its Grantmaker of the Year Award.  The award aims to find out from those working at the coalface what they think could be done to enhance and improve grantkmaking in Australia.  It aims to find the leaders of our field and have them share their great ideas with their grantmaking peers and what’s really important is that it aims to give recognition to the great skills and professionalism that exists in Australian grantmakers.

The first award was given to our own Egg 1 (well done Caitriona!!) and the search is now on for someone to fill her award-winning shoes.  Anyone who has worked for at least six months of this year as an Australian Grantmaker can apply and if you’re the winner, you’ll be paid handsomely for sharing your grantmaking pearls of wisdom ($5,000!). I’ve heard mention so many great ideas about best practice and next practice, and how we can improve what we do.  Now’s the time to share them. And be paid for the privilege!

To nominate, you just need to complete the online nomination form at

Entries are open until midnight on Tuesday, December 4, 2012 and the winner will be announced in March 2013.

You can follow the musings of Claire Rimmer on Twitter via @ClaireMRimmer or the blog via @3eggphil

What the?!

When the news broke a few weeks ago that Deborah Seifert, CEO of Philanthropy Australia, had resigned after being in the post barely two years I was really surprised.   I was even more surprised when it was announced more or less simultaneously that the Director of ArtSupport Australia, Louise Walsh, would be stepping into her shoes.  After initially being a little bit puzzled at the seamlessness of it all, I began to think about the possibilities that having Louise at the helm might represent and things felt quite positive.  Interesting, even.

But what has unfolded this past couple of weeks has left me a little cold.  I really don’t know what to make of it all.  Which is not being helped by the fact that PA is revealing nothing to its membership.  Where is the communication?  Where is the transparency?  Consequently the rumour mill is running wild and people are not happy about the whole situation. Certainly, if the rumours are true there are big changes on the horizon which, if they are to be accepted, need to be managed (which they haven’t to date).  And so, what was an air of possibility has now become a distinctly bad smell.

All this and then the Opposition’s opposition to the ACNC.  Obviously I can’t pretend to know the whole of the NFP sector, but what I can say is that I haven’t heard the same wide-ranging doubts and concerns that Kevin Andrews, Liberal spokesman for families, housing and human services was recently quoted by Fairfax Media as having heard. However if there are doubts and misgivings, it’d be great to hear them….


Collaborating with government

I recently had the opportunity to sit with other representative from across the philanthropic sector at the formal launch of the Guiding Principles for Collaboration Between Government and Philanthropy. The development of the principles was in and of itself a collaborative working effort between many within the philanthropic sector and representatives of the Victorian Government’s Office for the Community Sector. The launch of these guiding principles was an Australian first, and a point of much pride for those involved in what was at times a difficult and challenging process of documentation.

It is not a surprise that the Victorian State Government is advanced in the development of its relationship with philanthropy.  The vast majority of traditional philanthropic foundations in Australia are centred here in Melbourne.  To those of us that work in the sector, Melbourne has and always been and will always Australia’s philanthropic centre. With such a high density of philanthropic foundations comes a high density of philanthropic distributions to Victorian based or centred organisations.

For some within philanthropic circles, guiding principles or not, the role of philanthropy is to avoid where government works not to duplicate it. I have had views expressed to me suggesting that in working closely with government philanthropy is simply absolving government of its responsibilities, its duty. I don’t count myself in the anti-government camp. For me the role of philanthropy has always been to work where there is need and opportunity and sometimes that means working with or beside government.

The education sector has long been hamstrung by philanthropic philosophy that believes the workings of our schools, the training of our teachers and the wellbeing of our students are best left in the hands of government. Slowly that wheel of thinking has turned and today more and more foundations are donating directly into schools or through nonprofits who work directly in support of schools. I have heard fewer and fewer debates around the merit of such an approach.

My experience of working with government, the Victorian or otherwise, has been mixed. Like many professions the government bureaucrats who we philanthrocrats rely heavily on in the development of relationships and understanding, are controlled by the politics of, well… politics. The political cycle is one of the greatest challenges facing the development of meaningful relationships between government and funders. What incentivises the behaviour of a philanthropic foundation is ultimately very different to what influences the behaviour of a government.

So is there a secret working formula these guidelines have produced?  Of course not, nor did the working group intend produce one.  That said, I tip my hat to those involved in the development of the Guidelines, as they are a comprehensive set of principles.  The key Guideline for me is engaging early. All of the projects that I have seen where philanthropy and government have worked together have had that one shared characteristic. Trying to get philanthropy to buy into a government supported program half way down the track is challenging, equally, governments seem to engage best when they are involved in projects (as cash supporters or otherwise) from the beginning.

Of course every guiding principle is defunct without a willingness by both government and philanthropy to at least be open to exploring how they might support the work of the other.  The Victorian Government, through the Office for the Community Sector is more willing than most. It often surprises me how little other state government across Australia have considered leveraging philanthropic support. Hopefully these Guidelines lead more government to look at their own working practices and their willingness to engage with philanthropy.
You can follow the musings of Caitriona Fay on Twitter via @cat_fay or the blog via @3eggphil

Investing in understanding you

I had a chance recently to sit in on Philanthropy Australia’s Rural and Regional Affinity Group Meeting.  It’s a group ably led by Jeanice Henderson of the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal (FRRR) and links together funders from across Australia with an interest in supporting communities in regional, rural and remote Australia. I was there in my capacity as Co-Convenor of the Philanthropy Australia’s Education Affinity Group but I have subsequently signed up to participate more regularly as a member of the group.

I began wondering why it was that the Foundation I work for hadn’t been involved with the Rural and Regional Affinity Group up until that point.  It is a relatively new group and, like all in the philanthropic sector, I find myself ‘time poor’ a good deal of the time but the truth be told I think I may have actually dismissed the fact that I work for a foundation does make investments in those communities. Sometime when you are not explicit about what you fund (in this case regional and rural Australia) you can dismiss the role you should be playing in thinking about how to make better investments in that area.

Interestingly, I have noted the issue with ‘education funding’ too. I speak to a lot of philanthrocrats who aren’t involved in the Education Affinity Group and when we get talking about their funding priorities it’s clear that there is a genuine education cross over. Education is perhaps the broadest of all funding areas – what are we actually talking about when we say ‘education funding’? Is it simply schools support, numeracy and literacy and basic learning support for students? Or, as funders do we need to think about the wider diversity of education support we direct to young people via our arts, environment and health programs?

Last year’s Leading Learning in Education and Philanthropy survey picked up on the diversity of areas that philanthropy was making its investments to in education. A group of 25 funders actually agreed to identify themselves in the survey to outline the diversity of their education funding remit. The breath of funding priorities was impressive with areas as wides as support for the creative arts to vocational education for young people all supported. You can check out the full results via the Leading Learning in Education and Philanthropy (LLEAP) dialogue series.

In 2012 everyone involved in the LLEAP research is hopeful that the full diversity of philanthropic funders involved in education will complete the Philanthropy Survey to try to paint an even clearer picture of what funds are being directed to education by private and corporate funders. So I would urge all those funders who think they fit within the broad education remit to complete the survey and twist the arms of others they know to get involved too.  As a philanthropic sector it is important we invest our time and energy into knowing how we currently engage with our partners, so that we might in the longer term improve our practices, share our learnings and ultimately do better by those communities we are aiming to support.

The LLEAP Philanthropy Survey closes on Tuesday 21 August. If you have any questions about the survey or you involvement contact Emma or Michelle via

You can follow the musings of Caitriona Fay on Twitter via @cat_fay or the blog via @3eggphil

Can we teach old dogs new tricks? Increasing giving through Wills

We’re delighted to have this guest post from Ross Anderson, Director on the Board of the Include a Charity campaign and Christopher Baker, a Research Fellow at the Asia-Pacific Centre for Social Investment and Philanthropy. There are few people in Australia better placed to talk about charitable giving via Wills.

We all know that there is significant demographic change underway in Australia.  The next decade will see Australia’s population exceed 25 million and age dramatically. It will also see members of the population boom that followed the end of World War II (Baby Boomers born between 1946-1964) firstly retiring and then ultimately passing away in increasingly large numbers.

Baby Boomers currently comprise 24% of our population, yet they own over 50% of our nation’s private wealth. By 2020, when most of those ‘never-grow-old’ Baby Boomers will be in their 60’s and 70’s, we will witness the start of the biggest inter-generational wealth transfer in our history.

No wonder charities are stepping-up their efforts to generate increased income from gifts in Wills. This is one of the most logical and obvious sustainable funding strategies that they could possibly adopt given these demographic predictions. But we must act together now to truly harness the powerful philanthropic effects of an increasing mortality rate and the intergenerational transfer of huge wealth that is anticipated to occur over the next 40 years.

What do we know about this form of philanthropy?

Not that much as it happens. We know that charitable giving through Wills in Australia is wildly out of kilter with levels of ‘giving whilst living’ via the support we give to charities whilst we’re alive.

The latest ATO figures show that 4.4 million Australian taxpayers (or 35.55% of the Australian taxpaying population) made tax-deductible donations totalling $1.96bn in 2009-10. Other studies estimate that almost 90% of us support charities in some shape or form.

So why is it that only 7% of us have been sufficiently inspired to include gifts to our favourite charities in our Wills?

A detailed study at Swinburne University of Technology of 1,700 Victorian wills has provided the statistical evidence for what you might have already expected to hear.   The overwhelming majority of us leave all of our accumulated wealth to our immediate family members: first to our spouses, then to our children.  It doesn’t seem to matter how much wealth we’ve accumulated or whether or not we have contributed generously and passionately to charitable causes throughout our lives, when it comes to dividing up our estates – charities essentially don’t get a look in.

The question this raises is whether or not f this role modelling by older Australians has  doomed future generations to repeat this same pattern of estate-planning and overlook charitable giving  in their Wills too?

Let’s be clear, of course looking after our families comes first in most cases.   Adequately providing for those who are dependent on our financial support during our lifetimes is an important aspect of our estate-planning and decision-making. Our current family provision legislation and our ability to challenge the final wishes set out in our Wills ensures that the legal system makes this a reality.

There are however more significant levels of charitable giving through Wills in comparative countries:

In the UK, despite the fact that a very healthy looking 16% of British Wills that went into probate last year contained charitable gifts, the UK Government has introduced substantial financial incentives in an attempt to encourage further giving from personal estates to charitable causes (see  for more information).

In the US, the latest figures show that charitable giving through American Wills increased over 12% in the last year to a total of US$24.41 billion.

With our current levels of giving, Australia sits very low down on the league table of charitable giving from Wills.  We don’t believe this is something to be proud of.  We do see it however as a significant opportunity to improve.  The big question we face is “What we can do to inspire more Australians to leave money to charitable causes in their Wills?”

So, what can we do?

Many Australians will be shocked to learn that so few of us make any charitable provision what-so-ever in our Wills.  Given our self-perception as a generous nation, it is unlikely that most of us actually take a considered decision to specifically exclude charities; low participation rates are far more likely to come as a result of a general lack of awareness or falsely perceived barriers getting in the way.

Our current behaviour is unlikely to change without a collaborative and systematic approach to improving our attitude towards charitable giving through our Wills.  This is not an either / or decision. The challenge is not to try and get Australians to leave their entire estates to charities instead of their families.  The challenge is to get most of us to a point where we can consider leaving most of our estates to our families AND to include gifts as a small portion of our estates to our favourite charities.

The Include a Charity campaign ( is a practical response to that very challenge. With some realistic, measurable and achievable goals in its attempts to bring about wide-scale social change, this is one of the only true cross-sector initiatives led by 140 Australian charities. With ambitious plans for further collaborative, collective joint impact initiatives, this is one social change campaign to watch.

The campaign has already delivered a wide range of targeted activities to introduce the idea of including charitable gifts in the nation’s Wills to a wider public audience. It is also seeking to increase the skills and sophistication of all in the sector in our efforts to encourage more Australians to take the step of including a charity when preparing their Wills.

We know that the challenge of tipping the very strong prevailing social norm in estate-planning away from thinking about “family only” and towards thinking in terms of “family first, philanthropy second” is large indeed.  It is important to the sector and to wellbeing of Australian society that we are able to make some significant inroads to change the current behaviour in estate-planning.

Arguably we have a window of opportunity to change Australian’s attitudes towards charitable gifts in their Wills of some 10 years.  If Baby Boomers start to include more charitable gifts in their Wills now, the sector will start to receive significantly increased income from this generation over the next 10-20 years.

We’d like to hear from you

The Include a Charity campaign is open to your suggestions and ideas.  We’d love to hear your reflections on what you think is needed to change our behaviour.

  •  How can we work together to inspire older Australians to act philanthropically, supporting their favourite causes at the same time as making sure their families are provided for?
  • Are Australian children entitled to challenge their parents from “spending the kids’ inheritance”?
  • Does the Government have a role to play in incentivising more charitable giving through Wills?

You can continue this conversation with Ross and Chris via the comments section below, or chat with them on Twitter via @ChristopherSWIN and @rossandersonIAC

Leopards can change their spots…

I have just been reading the fantastic conference program for the recent European Foundation Centre Conference in Belfast. From 6-8 June 2012, more than 500 foundation professionals from Europe and around the world gathered for the 23rd EFC Annual General Assembly and Conference to learn about, share and debate issues surrounding peace and social justice and other pressing philanthropic topics, from education to the financial crisis.  Take a look….  Definitely one to think about for next year (30 May – 1 June in Copenhagen, Denmark)!!

One of the many fantastic concurrent sessions open to delegates was Shedding light on our own practice: the impact and effect of our own behaviour.  And it offers a nice follow-on from the Eggs’ most recent post,  The Never Changing World of Philanthropy .

Shedding Light is a research project supported by Adessium Foundation, FACT, Fondation Philanthropia Lombard Odier, Oak Foundation and Pears Foundation, and coordinated by European philanthro-gurus Judith Symonds, David Carrington and Karen Weisblatt.  It’s part of the European Philanthropy Learning Initiative, a relatively new initiative which aims to strengthen learning and knowledge about philanthropy in Europe, to help Foundations positively enhance what they do.*

Consultations with 26 Foundations of varying sizes, histories and priorities from across Europe were carried out, specifically in preparation for the EFC Conference.  Each Foundation was asked a series of detailed questions about their work, practises and performance, and the responses were used to formulate recommendations regarding the practical steps every Foundation could take to improve or change how they do their work, to help them achieve more.  The recommendations formed the basis of the session discussion.  Instant grant-making think-tank!

There were two major things that stood out from the consultations: the need to enhance opportunities for peer learning and the need to develop a community of practice. In fact, one of the key recommendations was that a group of foundations from across Europe should form a community of practice to lead by providing resources, working to a jointly agreed plan, celebrating and promoting learning initiatives, supporting new initiatives and encouraging other organisations to take action.  Session participants were invited to be creative and critical in response to the findings.  Wow.  I bet it was a very long, impassioned discussion!  It certainly would be here but it sounds like a conversation well-worth having if it helps us to improve what we do.

Discussions from the session will be fed into a final report which has an as yet unannounced publication date.  I’ll keep you posted!

*The European Philanthropy Learning Initiative is an informal collaboration of donors and consultants. The first stage of the initiative, which was launched in 2009, commissioned a report, The Application of Learning and Research to Philanthropy (David Carrington)

You can follow the musings of Claire Rimmer on Twitter via @ClaireMRimmer or the blog via @3eggphil

The never changing world of philanthropy

New approaches to solving old problems is the innovation mantra of more than one philanthropic foundation in Australia. Recently this got me thinking about the different approaches operating within the grantmaking space in Australia. With a few notable exceptions aside I think it is fair to say that most trusts and foundations operate in a pretty similar procedural manner.  So while funders ask grantseekers to innovate in their practices there is little experimentation around grantmaking practices. Can we assume this lack of innovation from funders in their grantmaking approaches is due to the fact that funders have got their processes perfected?  I wonder what grantseekers would say to that?

So what do grantseekers think of Australian funders? Officially we don’t really know but I doubt that is because applicants and grantees don’t have opinions.  The unfortunate reality is that there is little opportunity provided for grantseeker or grantee feedback about a funders approach to their grantmaking. In the United States the Centre for Effective Philanthropy has developed the The Grantee Perception Report® (GPR) which provides grantmakers with comparative and frank feedback on how grantees think they are performing.  Some funders even choose to make their reports publicly available. The GPR allows philanthropic boards to assess their performance as funders, this in turn helps them to work more effectively with grantees in the pursuit of their mission.

If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck…

So is the answer to better practices and diversity in grantmaking approach as simple as the provision of a feedback loop? While comparatively speaking there are greater levels of diversity in philanthropic practices across the United States it could be argued that ‘sameness’ is still the dominant feature of their foundation sector.

In a 2009 post on her philanthropy blog, Stanford University’s Centre on Philanthropy and Civil Society Visiting Fellow, Lucy Bernholz, questioned why, when there is so much that people outside of the foundation field would change about how philanthropy functions, has so little changed in past 100 years. She contends:

It doesn’t seem possible that these practices survive because they work well, please the customers, or even please the board and staff who choose them and re-create them. Institutional isomorphism is one of those graduate school concepts that is… true to life – organizations mimic like organizations, even when it doesn’t necessarily serve their purposes” (2009).

Isomorphism is basically the much flashier way of saying ‘sameness’.  It should also be said that not all about isomorphism is bad. If you look like a duck and talk like a duck chances are other ducks are going to accept you. These behaviors are really evident in the corporate world where organisations that look like each other (in terms of board structure, staffing structure, business philosophies) will more easily attract investors, customers and secure loans.  In short isomorphic behavior gives many organisations legitimacy.

There have been studies that suggest that isomorphism within the nonprofit sector is not as evident as it might be in the corporate world.  I’d contend however that traditional philanthropy is the exception to that nonprofit rule and there are a couple of reasons for that.  Think of the really big Australian philanthropic foundations, even most of the small ones too – they seem to operate and look pretty similar to one another in their grantmaking (e.g. application process, closing dates, reviews, board meeting, results etc). Objectives and priorities might be different, but processes and board structures are fairly similar. Part of this is driven by fiduciary responsibilities.  Trustees of foundations need to concerns themselves first and foremost with management of the assets – the upside is that if they do this well they can give away more money. So with grantmaking merely a by-product, it’s not hard to understand why diversity in grantmaking approach is not as evident as it might be.

Competition in the corporate world drives innovation and new behaviours.  In the nonprofit world, there is competition too for funds as well as the mission driven approach that dictates how NFPs work and the skills sets that they have on their boards and among their staff.  In philanthropy that competition doesn’t exist and compliance is focused almost solely on tax and law. So how do we drive diversity?  How to do celebrate those foundations that invest more in understanding that sometimes what is really important is the way you give? Perhaps a good starting point is to accept some feedback from those we work with most closely, our grantees. We also need to start listening and learning from those funders who are working a little bit outside the box. What have been their experiences, successes and failures? How did they bring their boards on that journey?

So what do people think really good models of philanthropy look like? Can we start to compile some of the features that not only lead to better practices in philanthropy but greater impact on the ground?

You can follow the musings of Caitriona Fay on Twitter via @cat_fay or the blog via @3eggphil

Increasing professionalism: the role of trustee companies in philanthropy

It has been expressed to me on more than one occasion that philanthropy is becoming too professional. I work in the sector, so I try not to take it personally but I think it is time to pick apart the debate a little. We’ve previously tackled on this blog the delicate balance that good philanthropic grantmaking must attempt to strike: a warm heart and a cold eye. There have been a number of good posts and speeches about the nature of philanthropy and the belief that altruism is unique and embedded within human nature. There are also the economists of this world and other theorists who believe altruism, like all other human behaviours, is incentivised and can be moulded into form.

It appears the nonprofit sector, with the exception of a couple of amateur sporting codes (Gaelic football comes to mind), is the final domain of debate around whether increased professionalism diminishes rather than increases the value of a sector. Does increased professionalism, and the development and employment costs it carries, remove much needed funding from the service coal face, or ultimately help to deliver more while building efficiencies?

With relation to professionalism within philanthropy I hear two main complaints:

  1. There are a lot of people making a lot of money out of spruiking the value of professional organised philanthropy and/or;
  2. Philanthropy has lost its benevolent heart and is no longer organic or enjoyable.  In short, it’s become work rather than play.

The question of philanthropy profiteering is more often than not pointed in one direction – trustee companies. With the enormous growth in private ancillary funds and the governance arrangements they carry there is suddenly money to be made in giving away money. Of the 5,000 or so estimated trusts and foundations in Australia more than half are thought to be held within trustee companies.  These pots of funding are held outside of the public view and are managed and coupled with investment and other financial services. To the cynical, trustee company philanthropy is perceived as tax-break grantmaking and the philanthropic services they offer is viewed as being muddled up with, and merely ancillary to, the bigger bucks of the financial services game.

Equally, those who lament the loss of the benevolent heart of philanthropy are genuinely fearful that philanthropy is the latest victim of fads and bureaucracies that add little value and ultimately deter people from giving. In the world of strategic grantmaking, venture philanthropy, philanhrocapitalism and engaged philanthropy, the concern is that the joy of giving has been lost and with it, potential philanthropists.

It would surprise some detractors perhaps to learn that despite concerns around profiteering and the loss of the joy of philanthropy, it appears that financial advisers and trustee companies might actually be playing an important role in both attracting people to and educating people about philanthropy.  A report from the Queensland University of Technology, Foundations for Giving: why and how Australians structure their philanthropy, documents responses from 40 people involved in structured, formalised philanthropy.  Virtually all respondents indicated that advisers and other intermediaries played some role in their philanthropy and the views expressed were generally positive.  In fact, the negative views expressed by respondents around advisers seems to suggest a greater level of expertise in philanthropy and skills in grantmaking would be preferable.

Philanthropy is and always will be a ‘people’s’ game.  Its about people being inspired by other people.  Its about people trusting and believing in other people.  Most of all it is about people wanting to create better lives and communities for others. It is hard to imagine that the heart of philanthropy will be lost simply through increased professionalism. In fact there is mounting evidence to suggest that the opposite may actually be true. Some of Australia’s trustee companies are driving not only increased professionalism within philanthropy, but also a greater diversity in practices and approaches to grantmaking. Some of our most vocal proponents for greater levels of giving among Australia’s wealthy, increased investment in organizational capacity support and improved engagement and evaluation of grantmaking approaches, are coming from within the trustee company sector. The gags many individual philanthropists are compelled to wear when talking about their philanthropy are less evident within adviser circles.

Good trustee companies will be passionate about their philanthropy and the approaches available to their clients.  Poor trustee companies will see philanthropic services as ancillary, and more than likely will charge a hefty price for the pleasure. As is the case with all services, donors should shop around, the cream of the crop will quickly become evident.

The professionalism that trustee companies bring to client services is beginning to have an impact on philanthropy as it is delivered in Australia.  It’s a diversity that the sector absolutely needs.  More choice for donors and potential philanthropists is important as is greater debate on grantmaking approaches and philosophies.

You can follow the musings of Caitriona Fay via @cat_fay on twitter and the eggs via @3eggphil

Gonski calls to philanthropy

In the 24 hours since its release the public response has been mostly positive to David Gonski’s comprehensive report on the funding of Australia’s schools. The independent and catholic school systems, state education proponents and unions are all urging the Gillard Government to act on the recommendations of the report. With 5 billion extra dollars being earmarked by Gonski to fund his reforms it’s not all together surprising.

One of the big surprises falling from the report was the focus on the need for greater partnerships between schools and philanthropy. The recommendations equally acknowledge the role philanthropy plays in our communities and the need to better equip schools to access that funding. We’ve raised some of the issues facing philanthropists wishing to support schools in a previous post and it was great to see some of the important voices on the issue, Ros Black, Michelle Anderson, Philanthropy Australia, Brian Caldwell, Myles McGregor-Lowndes et al, referenced in the Report.

So let’s take a quick look at the recommendations the Report makes on philanthropy and school partnerships.

1. A fund to encourage philanthropic giving to schools in low socioeconomic areas

The report outlines this fund as a DGR entity focused on assisting schools to develop philanthropic partnerships. As a staffed organisation, the fund would be responsible for facilitation of school-philanthropy partnerships while also building the capacity of individual schools to better partner with philanthropy. We have seen a number of organisations working actively in this space. For example, The Australian Council for Education Research (ACER) has established the Tender Bridge with the specific intent of assisting schools to develop the skills and knowledge required to better access and work with philanthropic and corporate partners. ACER and Tend Bridge have also been the key drivers behind the Leading Learning in Education and Philanthropy (LLEAP) initiative that is investigating the impact of philanthropy in education with the aim of building knowledge and improving outcomes for schools and their philanthropic partners.

2. Capacity building

Access is a critical issue for many schools when attempting to interact with philanthropy and other potential donors.

  • Access to philanthropy – understanding who is out there, how to approach donors and what a suitable partnership looks like
  • Access to individuals – building and growing alumni with a view to keeping former students connected to their school communities for longer
  • Access to DGR status– limitations around DGR funds, particularly for state schools means community partnerships must be developed with the non-profit sector
  • Access to knowledge – understanding different types of grantmaking and sponsorship partnership and what reciprocal obligations, if any, they create

Building the capacity of schools to improve their access to all of the above is imperative in allowing school-philanthropy-business partnerships continue to grow.

3. Increase taxation incentives for donations to government schools

Seen by some as a soulless altruism, tax incentives have been highlighted as a potential means to increase donations to government schools. Debate is still hot on whether these incentives actually work but as highlighted in the Report they could at the very least be an important conversation starter between some donors and schools.

There is a good deal to do before the vision and potential of  a more active philanthropy-schools collaboration is realised. Senator Jacinta Collins has been tasked by the Government with examining the Report’s philanthropy recommendations further and to continue a consultation process with the key stakeholders. The great thing however is that philanthropy has been slowly moving towards more sustained engagement with the school sector for some time. Organisations like the former Education Foundation and the Foundation for Young Australians have a wonderful history in this space. The development of the Business Working with Education Foundation is a further example of this movement as is the wonderfully engaged interaction of so many philanthropic funders with the Leading Learning in Education and Philanthropy (LLEAP) research project over the past 12 months. All of this serves as a reminder of the commitment many funders already have to finding better ways of working with schools. Let’s hope Senator Collins engages with them all.

You can follow the musings of Caitriona Fay on Twitter via @cat_fay or the blog via @3eggphil.

2012 Trends in Philanthropy: Data

This is the final installment of our three-piece post examining what 2012 has in store for philanthropy. We’re taking our lead from Lucy Bernholz’s Philanthropy and Social Investing: Blueprint 2012 which notes three big shifts in store for the sector this year. Today we’ll be taking a look at data and it’s role in creating the social good.

Data and the desire to accumulate it tends to fall in and out of fashion in Australian philanthropic circles. Opponents compare the collation with the chains of government bureaucracy or worse still, that overly self-indulgent practice of ‘naval gazing’. On the flip side of the argument you have proponents espousing data as a commodity every bit as important as the currency distributed through grants.

Gone are the days of data being considered simply numbers on a spreadsheet.  The Blueprint paints a wonderful picture of the changing face of data and how we use them:

In reality, anything that can be digitized can become data. This includes items that start out digitally – photos, videos, cell phone calls, text messages, Facebook posts, and blog comments. It also includes things we convert to digital form – books, old newspapers, films, music, and the content of our file cabinets. Once this material is digitized and we can click on it, “like” it on Facebook, or share it via Twitter with friends we create another layer of data.

Data allows for the impact of our philanthropy to be captured, shared and understood in ways like never before. Equally we can better and more quickly measure the campaigns people respond to and as a result help to bring resources and effort to major issues more quickly. As individuals we can donate via text messaging (not as well as we should be able to here in Australia), crowd funding, Twitter, Facebook, online newspapers, and an array of other web tools – all of which leave a trail of giving data behind. We respond and interact with data in today’s world – we are the creators the next role is to become the curators.

So has philanthropy in Australia responded to this changing landscape of data collection and use? In grantmaking philanthropists have long backed data collecting and building in the area of medical research but the sciences have a longer history of utilizing the power of data in their research and storytelling.  For the community sector the sell to philanthropy is much tougher. Research, evaluation and data collection doesn’t excite philanthropists in the same way that getting tangible things done on the ground does.

The community sector is not alone in being under resourced to measure and understand its own impact. The philanthropic sector, which houses huge amounts of data, makes precious little use of any of it. The tide is slowly turning however.  The Centre for Social Impact is undertaking mapping work, led by former Philanthropy Australia CEO – Gina Anderson,  to examine where some of Australia’s major trusts and foundations are making gifts. Research at Queensland University of Technology’s Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Non-profit Studies is exceptional and building, while Swinburne University continues to grow its credentials in this space.  All of these are positive advances but more can be done and is required.

Data is powerful.  It helps us to tell our stories.  To excite and teach us.  Data helps us to build a picture of where we are as a society and where we might be headed.  How we use and interact with data in 2012 has the potential to influence the trends we will be seeing in 2013.  Is Australia’s philanthropic sector ready for this shift?  I have my doubts but there is a slow movement occurring. Let’s revisit at the end of the year.

If you have not already done so, head to the Philanthropy 2173 Blog to get your hands on a copy of the Philanthropy and Social Investing: Blueprint 2012

You can follow the musings of Caitriona Fay on Twitter via @cat_fay or the Blog via @3eggphil

2012 Trends in Philanthropy – Political Advocacy

As promised this post is going to continue to examine some of the trends for 2012 highlighted in Philanthropy and Social Investment Blueprint 2012 – the annual industry forecast produced by Lucy Bernholz.  In my last post I looked at the first of three major shifts identified in the Blueprint, today I’ll be moving on to trend number two: the implications of the US Supreme Court‘s Citizens United ruling on philanthropy and social investing.

There is no doubt that grantmakers here in Australia have a lot to learn from philanthropy overseas. I am often reminded however that much of how and why we practice philanthropy is unique.  By constantly casting an eye towards North  America and Europe we risk failing to recognise and value the innovation taking place in our own backyard. So what can we here in Australia possibly learn from examining the potential implications of the Citizens United US Supreme Court decision?

Before I address that question in detail, it probably serves to give a quick rundown on what that Supreme Court decision actually amounts to. In short Citizen United removed prior restrictions on spending by corporations on election campaigns; in essence allowing these bodies the similar first amendment rights to free speech as everyday American citizens. These newly available dollars will certainly come into play in 2012, the first presidential election year since the ruling was handed down. Rather than promoting and opposing political candidates or parties directly, much of the funding from corporations is likely to flow via non profit organisations advocating on issues that serve their purpose. It is the implication of that funding process has some interesting cross over with Australia.

Around the same time that Citizens United was taking it’s case to the US Supreme Court, here in Australia an international aid watch dog called Aid/WATCH was taking its fight to hold on to its charitable tax exemptions to the High Court. In Australia, like in the US, the judges ruled in their favour. The decision asserted that Aid/WATCH, as an independent watch-dog examining how aid is distributed, may well be involved in political advocacy.  Because the generation of public debate created by Aid/WATCH through their advocacy focused on the relief of poverty through foreign aid, the Judges ruled that it should not be excluded as a charitable activity. This ruling opened up direct funding of political advocacy by charitable trusts and foundations, ensuring that neither the donor, or the non-profit they were supporting, put their charitable status at risk. The Eggs have posted previously on the new place for advocacy in the Australian non-profit sector, but perhaps we have not explored the potential implications for donors in full.

In an environment more open to political advocacy from our non-profits, what are the potential implications on donors and ultimately donations? In the US, it’s likely that the Citizens United decision will lead to not only more political advocacy from non-profits but also more non-profits being created with a focus on raising money for or against their preferred candidates and issues.  Here in Australia, the likelihood is that we’re gong to see a greater intensity of out and out advocacy.  For some funders, the thought of seeing their long supported charities engaged in the political might be too much to bear.  For other funders it will open up spheres of influence like never before.

I’ve spoken with people on both sides of the advocacy fence, those that find philanthropic support of political advocacy unseemly and those that see it as critical vehicle in mission based philanthropy. Not all philanthropic organisations in Australia believe or want to be mission driven, the warm heart of benevolence for many is still the greatest motivator. There will always be a place for both. I do sense however, that the new wave of youth and online philanthropy in this country will drive a new era of donor funded advocacy.

Should you wish to learn more about the trends in philanthropy and social investment for 2012, I’d encourage you to get your hands on a copy of Blueprint 2012:

  • Hard copies from Lulu
  • PDFs at Scribd
  • Kindle version from Amazon
  • eBook from Smashwords. Also available for Amazon Kindle, B & N Nook and others.

You can follow the musings of Caitriona Fay on Twitter via @cat_fay or the blog via @3eggphil

Blueprint 2012 – Looking at the new social economy

Religious readers of this blog (my parents) know that more than once I’ve spruiked the value of Lucy Bernholz’s Philanthropy 2173 blog. It’s a great read for those interested in emerging trends in philanthropy and social investment. Lucy, a self confessed philanthropy-wonk and  visiting scholar at the Stanford University Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, also publishes a much anticipated annual industry forecast.  I got my hands on a copy of the Philanthropy and Social Investing 2012 Blueprint just before Christmas and it was a great way to both end 2011 and prepare for 2012.

The 2012 Blueprint is ultimately aimed at assisting “donors, investors and enterprise leaders address three big shifts in 2012”.

  1. Finding your way in the new social economy in which philanthropy and impact investing now operate
  2. Considering the implications of the Citizens United decision on philanthropy and social investing
  3. Making sense of data as a public good

On initial reading you’d be forgiven for thinking points 1 and 3 are the only ones that could possibly relate to an Australian context, but interestingly the potential implications of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision in the Unites States provides a couple of ‘ah-ha’ moments around the potential future of Australian philanthropic investments in light of our own High Court’s Aid/WATCH ruling (more on that later). I’m going to explore all three big shifts on this blog a little further over the next week. Today I’ll be taking a peek at the first of the identified big shifts; Finding your way in the new social economy.

One of the big statements of the 2012 Blueprint concerns the need to shift our traditional perspectives on non-profit/donor interactions to a much broader frame that encompasses the multiplicity of ways private resources are today being used for public good. This is a shift to the social economy frame and acknowledges a greater diversity of players, stakeholders and influencers in the resourcing of the ‘public good’. Lucy lists three main ‘galaxies’ as being at play within the social economy: impact investing, political giving, and charitable giving. Here in Australia are we too focused on exploring charitable giving without consideration to the role of those two other galaxies?

It’s fair to say impact investing in Australia is lagging well behind the United States and UK, but 2011 was a big year for the sector (think SEDIF, Hepburn Wind & the NSW Government Social Impact Bonds* announcement). While political giving may not be natural space of play within our system, the Australian High Court’s Aid/WATCH ruling has the potential to change traditional interactions between political parties, donors and non-profits (if donors and non-profits can cope with the cultural change required in this sphere of influence).

In short the interactions between these galaxies within the Australian context are happening at a growing rate and the influence each is expelling on the other needs greater examination.  The 2012 Blueprint helps to explore this beautifully:

Donors today are choosing between and among philanthropy, impact investing and political giving to pursue their goals…the line between the galaxies are clear, other times they are blurry.

As an example, a donor today may choose to pursue their interests in protecting the environment by funding direct landscape restoration & maintenance.  Alternatively they may decide to invest in a community wind farm project or support direct political advocacy with the aim of removing cattle grazing from a national park.

Lucy’s exploration of the social economy and the different galaxy of players has me thinking more and more about who is in the room when conversations about funding and tackling social and environmental problems are actually being had. Are we (donors & doers) actively excluding each other and if so, why? Lucy once again sums it up best:

It is not enough to focus only on philanthropy and nonprofits; rather we need to understand the changing dynamics of the whole economy over time…..The key to our future is accepting that our old assumptions about “which sector does what” may no longer hold.

It’s fair to say that despite opening with a statement on American political giving in the 2012 presidential campaign year, the Blueprint is packed with an enormous amount of content that will be of interest to Australian social investors. For those interested in where the shifts are happening, what the buzzwords of 2012 are likely to be, as well as a prediction on where the social economy is heading, then a copy of the 2012 Blueprint is a must.

You can get your hands on the 2012 Blueprint the following ways:

  • Hard copies from Lulu
  • PDFs at Scribd
  • Kindle version from Amazon
  • eBook from Smashwords. Also available for Amazon Kindle, B & N Nook and others.

*Interestingly Social Impact Bond is on the 2012 Blueprint Buzzword Watch List


You can follow the musings of Caitriona on Twitter via @cat_fay or the blog @3eggphil

Verbal reporting… the next step in effective philanthropy?

Louise Kuramoto is a Grant Researcher at the Myer Family Company. She works with families, foundation and corporates providing philanthropic research, administration and strategic advice with regard to their philanthropy.

Engaging effectively with grantees is something that many philanthropists and philanthrocrats alike strive to achieve but are we really getting it right? And when I talk of ‘engaging effectively’ I am not talking of post application feedback but rather the day-to-day relationships you hold with your grantees.

So, where do you sit on the spectrum? Think of a program you have funded and ask yourself three questions;

1. Do I have the direct contact details of the person managing or responsible for the program and have I had a conversation with them?

2. Can I explain the program’s three main challenges to achieving its objectives?

3. Am I aware of the program’s progression (or otherwise!) in the last six to twelve months?

For those of you who could not confidently answer ‘yes’ to each of the above questions you may want to give verbal reporting further consideration.

Otherwise known as face-to-face reporting, verbal reporting is a tool that some foundations have been using to varying degrees as a way to truly understand the organisations they fund and the complexities and challenges of the areas in which they work. Foundation staff cite that the reduction of paperwork for both the funded organisation and the philanthropic body is a bonus, but the real benefits of verbal reporting lie in the face-to-face interactions they have with their grantees. It is these face-to-face meetings they state, that have proved to facilitate a more open and honest dialogue between the two parties, consequently enabling the foundation to form a true partnership with its grantees and in turn, yield better results.

The Myer Family Company, in collaboration with The Portland House Foundation, held a forum late last year to explore this topic further, specifically focusing on The Portland House Foundation’s reporting model which encompasses:

  • A high trust, low documentation process;
  • The CEO or leader of the funded organisation committing to attend at least one face-to-face reporting meeting per year (this meeting would also include a number of other funded organisations who verbally report on their projects); and
  • Supplementary documentation (such as financials etc.) is requested as needed.

The organisations represented at the forum also described the verbal reporting process as highly beneficial to their work because it provides a ‘safe’ environment whereby their organisational and project challenges can be offered for discussion and brainstorming with the donor and other attendees. This point is especially pertinent for us philanthropists/crats, who have a tendency to focus on financial giving and at times underestimate the value of the non-financial support we are able to offer. Whether it’s as a sounding board to discuss program design or harnessing the skills, knowledge or networks of board members, the value these links and expertise can leverage is often much more than any monetary figure the donor could provide.

So next time you seek an update on a particular project or receive an application in the mail, think about picking up the phone and organising a meeting with your grantee, it might change your outlook entirely.

You can follow Louise on Twitter @LouKuramoto or the Myer Family Company via @MF_Philanthropy

Australian Philanthropy in 2011 – A review

Welcome to 2012 philanthrocrats. On behalf of the Eggs, I hope you had a safe and wonderful festive season.

Apart from the occassional overindulgence in food and frivolity I often find my festive season filled with reflections on the year past. Dinner conversations quickly turn to the ‘best of’ lists; movies, albums, theatre and so on. 2011 is certainly a year worth reflection in terms of philanthropy in Australia. The year, in my mind at least, marked the beginning of what is going to be a period of tremendous change in the non-profit sector in this country.

Over the next few blogs we’re going to reflect on the 2011 year that was and look at what 2012 has in store for the philanthropic and grantmaking sector in Australia. We’ll be taking a look at Philanthropy and Social Investing: Blueprint 2012, the annual industry forecast released by Lucy Bernholz, philanthropy wonk and visiting scholar at Stanford University’s Centre on Philanthropy and Civil Society. The Blueprint presents some interesting Australian parallels with what is happening in the charitable and philanthropic sectors in the United States.

But before we kick off 2012, perhaps it’s time to undertake a ‘best of’ type list for philanthropy in 2011. Rather than focusing on the best of 2011 it might be more useful to look at the big movements, moments and changes of 2011. What happened that really influenced the way philanthropy was and is working in Australia? What were the important gifts? The most talked about projects? The most influential policies? Please feel free to share your comments, views or even your own list in the comments sector below, as it would be a terrific resource to revisit at the end of 2012.

So here it is, in no particular order, my Top 10 list of big movements, moments and changes in Australian philanthropy in 2011.

1. Disaster and Emergency relief: It’s hard to believe that a year has passed since the Queensland and Victorian Floods devastated both States. Unfortunately, those floods set the scene for what was a year of natural disasters in our backyard, with Japan and New Zealand both devastated by earthquakes. Giving at all scales was greatly influenced by these events and there is much to learn about how best to manage this outpouring of philanthropy in the future.

2. Statutory Definition of Charity Announcement: The 2011/2012 Federal Budget announcement on the implementation of a statutory definition of charity was met with mixed views from within the non-profit sector. Many in philanthropy have applauded the commitment as it will assist in providing greater clarity around what and who can be funded in the wake of the AID/Watch and Word Investment High Court decisions.

3. Research into Philanthropy: Two significant inaugural annual pieces of philanthropic sector research were launched in 2011 and initial results from both proved hot talking points. Research into Australian philanthropic funding for women and girls was conducted by the Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies at Queensland University of Technology for the Australian Women Donors Network while the Leading Learning in Education and Philanthropy (LLEAP) research project was launches by the Australian Council for Education Research and The Ian Potter Foundation. It’s great to see greater attention going into how we give and where the money goes and to what end.

4. Public Ancillary Fund Guidelines: One of the big legislative changes for the philanthropic sector in 2011 was undoubtedly the drafting and passing of new Public Ancillary Fund Guidelines that, according to Treasury, aim to improve the regulatory framework and ultimately the integrity of these public philanthropic funds. The Guidelines also provide direction on minimum distribution rates, brining Public Funds into line with their Private Fund counterparts (albeit with a slightly lower distribution rate).

5. The establishment of the Australian Charity and Non-for-profit Commission (ACNC): While the impact will be felt more keenly in the years to come, the establishment of the ACNC must be seen as one of the most significant moments for the non-profit sector in this country. The ACNC will be responsible for determining the legal status of groups seeking charitable, PBI and other NFP benefits. It will also serve to greatly reduce and streamline the current exhaustive red tape process faced by many non-profits. The ACNC has potential to do much good but there are important lessons to be learnt from its counterparts in Europe in North America.

6. A decline in giving: The 2008-2009 tax statistics released in 2011 showed a decline in giving by Australians for the first time in a decade. These results come on the back of a year where some of Australia’s most prominent wealth advisors and philanthropists courted controversy by dismissing as a myth, the common perception of Australian generosity. Time will tell whether this decline in giving is merely an apparition or a new reality.

7. The Sidney Myer Creative Fellowships: The Myer Foundation and Sidney Myer Fund have a long and prestigious history in supporting the Arts in Australia. So when it was announced that the Myer would no longer be supporting arts organisations and instead would focus its support on individual artists, a few eyebrows were raised. In short, it was a gutsy move by a Foundation that has a history of driving innovation with its grantmaking. In December the Foundation announced its first 12 winners of The Sidney Myer Creative Fellowships, providing artists with $80,000 a year for two years to pursue their artistic endeavours. For me, it was a one of big grantmaking innovations of the year that created a healthy level of debate around how best to build the capacity of the arts in Australia.

8. Global Fundraiser of the Year: Melissa Smith, currently Director of Development at RMIT in Melbourne, was named both Australian Fundraiser of the year and Global Fundraiser of the year in 2011. Melissa received the awards for her role in securing a $25 million gift from Dr Chau Chak Wing’s to the University of Technology Sydney in 2010, where she was a development manager at the time. The gift ranks in the top ten of largest ever single donations in Australia philanthropy. It’s great to see Melissa professionalism and passion rewarded, but equally it’s wonderful to see Australian gifts of this magnitude recognised globally.

9. The closure of Rio Tinto Aboriginal Fund: After nearly 16 years of innovation in support for aboriginal projects in Australia, Rio Tinto’s decision to close its Aboriginal Fund was a shock to many in philanthropy and the boarder community. The fund was particularly supportive of urban aboriginal projects that do not benefit from mining royalties. While Rio Tinto has defended the decision arguing the over $100 million annually will continue to flow to remote and rural aboriginal communities via mining royalties annually, the loss of the fund is blow to Indigenous philanthropic giving in Australia.

10. The launch of It’s ok to be a bit self-indulgent isn’t it? Ok, the launch of this blog isn’t one for the top ten 2011 moments but it is reflective of a significant philanthropy communications boom that is taking place at the moment. Australian philanthropy is being discussed on blogs, Twitter and in the media like never before. Long may it continue.

So that’s my list, what did I miss that you think should be there? What does your list look like?

I hope 2012 is a big one for Australian philanthropy. All the best to you in this year ahead.

You can follow the musings of Caitriona Fay on Twitter via @cat_fay or the Blog via @3eggphil

What does philanthropy incentivise?

I was delighted to read Vanessa Meachen’s (Philanthropy Australia) most recent contribution to the Alliance Magazine Blog.  She tackled that not often talked about elephant in the room – the grantmaker and grantseeker power imbalance. The issue is an important one to highlight and one that we’ve only addressed in stealth on this blog.

One of the key issues Vanessa highlights is that the power imbalance creates a criticism vacuum, where few grantmakers, philanthropists or high net worth individuals are criticised for their giving practices (or lack thereof). As the satirical Scottish writer Thomas Carlye once said ‘the greatest of faults is to be conscious of none’. Without this criticism sectoral improvement is left to be driven by those who think it practical as opposed to those who know it to be a necessity.

I’ve noticed another interesting issue that appears to have its roots within this power imbalance. For funders it’s that proposal that just doesn’t pass the ‘smell test’.  It’s the application that may be beautifully written, with all the right language and yet something just doesn’t feel right. On many occasions these proposals tend to be for programs that have been dramatically changed to fit with the funder’s guidelines or created simply for the purpose of attracting resources. When I see this happening I begin to worry, not only about the power imbalance and hoops good organisations need to jump through to access funds, but also the practices philanthropy is incentivising.

Many nonprofits are forced to access administration monies for their ‘core’ activities by seeking funds for supplementary programs and placing operational costs within the budget. Does that behaviour mean that philanthropy, and grantmakers more generally, are left dictating through their funding objectives what programs the community most needs?

The latest Leading Learning in Education and Philanthropy (LLEAP) survey report shows some interesting connections between the priorities of philanthropy and nonprofits. There is a striking similarity between who philanthropy and nonprofits see as the top target audiences for support in education (they both see secondary school aged students and disadvantaged students as their number 1 & 2).  Yet, when schools were asked who they see as the most important audience for support, they responded primary school aged students (ranked 6th and equal 2nd by nonprofits and philanthropy respectively) and teachers (ranked 9th and 11th). So is this a case of nonprofits not listening to the needs of schools or are they being forced to prioritise audiences that are more likely to garner support from philanthropy? Who is influencing who in this instance? In truth, it could be a pattern we are seeing for a number of reasons but what LLEAP does provide us with is a conversation starter around incentives.

The grantmaker/grantseeker power imbalance exists. Grantmakers need to be aware of it when developing their programs.  The imbalance also highlights the need for philanthropy to stay connected to the broader nonprofit sector and to continually listen to the needs of those at the coalface. Good funders will reflect and review their grantmaking approaches and objectives regularly to ensure they are meeting a need as opposed to creating a market.

You can follow the musings of Caitriona Fay on twitter via @cat_fay or the blog @3eggphil

The LLEAP Survey Report: A conversation starter for education funders

It was exciting yesterday to see the release of the 2011 Survey Report for the Leading Learning in Education and Philanthropy (LLEAP) research study. The Report documents the responses to the inaugural LLEAP survey provided by 300 schools, non-profits and philanthropic bodies working in the education space.

The release of the Report marks the first real milestone for the LLEAP team and everyone involved in shaping the research program. Those organisations and individuals who have given their time generously to be involved in the interview phase, focus groups and in the completion of the survey have done so out of a commitment to finding better ways to work towards improving educational outcomes.

The LLEAP research is the first of its kind in Australia to bring together schools, non-profits and trusts & foundations to examine the role and impact of philanthropy in education.

For me, one of the more eye-opening aspects of the Report relates to the number of disconnects in priorities and target audiences among respondent schools, non-profits and philanthropic organisations. This is perhaps best demonstrated by schools clearly ranking teachers and teacher quality highly in terms of need for support and yet this need is not reflected in the highest priorities of philanthropic and non-profit respondents.

There are three main themes to come out of the Report with respect to the barriers faced by schools, non-profits and philanthropy.  For schools, it’s that their capacity to find and access philanthropic dollars is poor. For non-profits, the issue of short term funding and program sustainability is hindering their capacity to be as effective as they could be. For philanthropy the barriers are what the report refers to as “knowledge issues” (specifically the who, how and why of collaboration and best practice).

The great thing about the Survey Report is that it is a conversation starter.  The survey results are simply that; survey results. How we use and interpret the results however can potentially influence our practices and decision making. We’ll be exploring some of the issues the Report has thrown up on this blog in the coming weeks and would love you to join in the on the conversation.

Caitriona Fay is a member of the LLEAP Project Team. You can follow her musings on Twitter via @cat_fay and get the latest from the Eggs via @3eggphil

More than money

Each year since 2009 The Myer Foundation has offered a six month internship to a graduate of the  Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies (CPNS) at Queensland University of Technology. The internship provides an opportunity for the graduate to get their hands dirty at one of Australia’s largest family philanthropic foundations. While learning the ropes, the intern is also expected to undertake a piece of research that examines contemporary issues in philanthropy and the nonprofit sector.  The result is an experience that is valuable for the intern and the broader philanthropric and Not For Profit (NFP) sector alike (check out some posts from 2010 Myer Intern, David Hardie, on this blog).

The Myer Internship Program is a form of value-add philanthropy.  It’s no wonder then that the 2011 Myer Intern, Lesley Harris, decided to focus her research piece on what other value-add activities philanthropy in Australia was undertaking. Her report, An Exploration of Non-Grantmaking Activities in Philanthropy, explores the activities philanthropic organisations in Australia are currently undertaking beyond the provision of grants. There is a surprisingly diverse range of capacity building, policy and practical support currently being offered to NFPs by trusts and foundations.

While Lesley has been pulling together her report, counterparts in the UK have been doing the same. There, a group of funders commissioned some research around what the sector in the UK refers to as Philanthropy-Plus activities. The report, called Beyond Money: A study of funding plus in the UK, makes for fascinating reading. It captures the pros and cons of funders taking on a more engaged and hands-on approach with their grantees.

On the surface you might think funders bringing more than cash to the table is a good thing.  Great funders can help their grantees leverage extra dollars, negotiate policy outcomes and collaborate and connect like-minded organisations. This approach is best harnessed by those trusts and foundations who, rather than seeing themselves as being outside the NFP sector, consider themselves as a mission driven piece of its complex tapestry.

There are however important considerations for philanthropy to make before jumping into this ‘more than money’ approach. Equally, NFPs who are offered more than grants by funders need enter into the arrangement with their eyes wide open.

The UK study into philanthropy-plus activities lists capacity building as one of the primary activities undertaken by grantmakers beyond their financial contributions. I’ve previously posted about the challenge funders face when trying to support capacity building in a way that respects the power-dynamic that naturally exists between grantor and grantee. There can be just a subtle difference between a funder enabling and a funder encroaching on the work of their grantee. Being aware of the existence of that power-dynamic is important. Being respectful of it is essential.

It’s important that funders remember the diversity of grantee organisations they are working with. Not all will want, or have the time, energy or need, for the non-grantmaking support the funder can bring to the table. A standardised approach to non-grantmaking activities can be counter productive and result in poor outcomes.  The authors of the UK philanthropy-plus research encourage a bespoke approach that recognizes the different needs and resource requirements of each grantee .

The ultimate challenge for those funders wishing to add non-grantmaking activities to their service provision is the ability to recognise their own strengths and weaknesses.  Further, it is essential that the funder has a clear understanding of why they want to engage in non-grantmaking activities and what value it will bring.  If you are going to do it, then know why and, while you’re at it, measure whether or not you are having the intended impact.

This engaged approach can be resource intensive, it’s important therefore to be sure that you are adding value. When measuring, be realistic, the delicate power dynamic means sometimes your grantees won’t feel like they can say no to the extra support you are offering.  You’ll need to provide mechanisms for anonymous feedback and empower your grantees to be honest.  Better yet, resource the evaluation so a third party can ask the difficult questions.

Done well and with purpose, these non-grantmaking contributions can be incredibly valuable.  Done poorly, they can be harmful and deflating for all involved. The funders of the UK report into philanthropy-plus activities perhaps best sum it up in their foreword to the report:

Our work is our work. Their work is their work.
Our joint achievements are joint achievements. Our job
is to enable where we can and stand back, except where
we bring things to the table which only we can. Where
that is money, it should be given without expectation of glory.

Sara Llewellin, Barrow Cadbury Trust;  Sioned Churchill, Trust for London; Andrew Cooper, The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund

You can follow the musings of Caitriona Fay on Twitter via @cat_fay or the the Eggs @3eggphil

Prevention at the expense of the cure

Let’s face it, these days it’s simply not in vogue to be considered a philanthropist (or philanthrocrat) driven by a spirit of benevolence.  We have entered the era of the venture philanthropists, the philanthrocapitalists, the tactical philanthropists.  In philanthropy, strategy is now the name of the game. Philanthropists and their foundations are finding smarter ways to give and more innovative ways of funding for impact. If this group of strategy driven philanthropists had a mantra it would likely be prevention, prevention, prevention. But when everyone wants to be the funder helping to build the fence at the top of the cliff,  what does that mean for those people who need the ambulance at the bottom of it?

The philanthropic sector in Australia is racing towards a new level of maturity.  It’s vastly more professional than it was as little as five years ago. But professionalism has led to a recognition that supporting prevention and mitigation programs offers greater bang for the funder’s buck.  There is no disputing the fact that prevention is less costly than the cure. However, if we as a sector are encouraging a greater focus on prevention, perhaps it’s important to stop for a moment and consider at what cost?

Photographer : Cybele

I’m fortunate enough to work for a foundation that has the capacity and the inclination to fund across the grantmaking spectrum. Funding programs that seek to mitigate against homelessness are great, but there is still a desire at Board level to make sure issues of food security and the need for refuge are also addressed. For some, funding the ambulance at the expense of the fence might appear counter-productive but we’ll always need the balance.

I wrote recently about the growing recognition that great philanthropists can balance the head and the heart. Perhaps the reality is that the benevolent urge to help those in need is the heart of funding. Trying to make progress on the problems and difficulties (a great post here on the difference) that affect our communities is more a challenge for the head.

I remember reading once that Bill Gates sat his young daughter down and tried to explain to her the work the Gates Foundation was doing to find a vaccine for malaria. As they flicked through pictures of the devastation caused to those individuals already struck down she asked ‘who is helping them?’.  It was a reminder to Gates, and should be to all of us, not to forget those with immediate and real need for support. It’s important that we don’t leave behind those organisations working at the bottom of the cliff for the sake of increased bang for the buck.

For some funders, prevention is the best way to give within their limited resources.  For others, their philanthropy will be driven by a desire to address the need they see every day. I don’t ever think we’ll get to a stage where all funders are focusing prevention at the expense of the  ‘cure’. We do however, need to be careful not to dismiss programs and organisations working to provide immediate support,as having no place in strategy driven philanthropy.

As a sector, philanthropy needs to be more introspective.  Perhaps it’s time to shift our focus from funding where government can’t or won’t and start looking more closely at where the philanthropic gaps are. That requires new levels of collaboration and a transparency around our foundation missions and objectives.  If we can get the balance right and find a way to solve problems and service our society’s greatest difficulties, then as a sector we will be more impactful.

You can connect with Caitriona Fay on Twitter via @cat_fay or any of the eggs via @3eggphil.  

Philanthropy, the Next Generation

The Australia Council’s Artsupport team held two private events last week in Sydney and Melbourne, to launch an initiative targeted at cultivating a new generation of giving in Australia. I went to the Melbourne event as an interested philanthrocrat, wanting to hear the stories of the three panellists (more about them below). But my interest was mainly sparked by a desire to know what’s being done to encourage greater giving in Australia, given the ongoing negative press about wealthy Australians’ meanness. It’s a common talking point, as our blog attests.

Artsupport’s purpose is to grow cultural philanthropy in Australia. It began in 2003 with just two staff members in Sydney but now has representatives in every state and territory (except Tasmania). It’s estimated that, so far, the initiative has facilitated more than $50 million of new philanthropic income to around 200 Australian artists and 600 arts organisations – as their page of the Aus Co website says, this is a strong outcome for a government investment of nearly $5.2 million: providing a return of nearly 1,000 per cent.

The two events last week are billed as stage one of a three-year ‘New generation of giving’ plan to build a community of young philanthropists, aged between 28-39 years, with inherited or self-generated wealth; through panel sessions, dinners and other networking events (a field trip to the US was mooted…..).   The younger generation, where better to start?

The Melbourne event was held at Comme, a swanky bar in Melbourne’s CBD and a favourite after-work haunt of the be-suited ladies and gentleman of the city. A smart choice given the invitees, if we’re to go purely on stereotypes that is. In fact the choice of venue called to mind my blog ’Giving is Sexy’ which explored UK research findings into why donors give and non donors don’t.

The three panellists were:

  • Dr Sam Prince, Founder of the Emagine Foundation and Zambrero Fresh Mex Grill Restaurants
  • Danielle Caruana, aka Mama Kin, co-Founder and director of The Seed (previously known as The JB Seed)
  • Thora Klein-Gibaud, Former Director, Jurlique International and someone whose passion for music is lived out through Ngaringa Farm Arts Foundation.

Each had a very individual story about what inspired them to give, how they chose the focus of their philanthropy, what they aim to achieve through their giving and, in a good reality check, some of the problems they experienced along the way. It was inspirational stuff and I hope the intended next gen philanthropists left the evening duly inspired, with a sense of what is possible, and a better understanding of the drive, determination, motivation and nous they will need if they decide to step up to the plate.

I was certainly inspired by Danielle’s story. To me it was the most accessible of the three (I am neither an entrepreneur, nor someone with inherited wealth). The Seed’s philanthropy was born on a very small scale, using collaborations which drew on Danielle and her co-Founder, John Butler’s, networks in the music industry to amass enough support to create a fund to “help Australian artists from any background, creating art and music across any genre, to establish themselves as self-sustained, professional artists”. It has since gone on to grow and grow, supporting more and more artists. In essence, it was a great idea which met (and still meets) a need and was able to galvanise people around it. Food for thought.  If you’re interested in knowing more about The Seed, this little youtube video will give you a great insight:  

The New Generation of Giving initiative has good potential and I’ll watch with interest to see how it develops, because it is of inestimable importance to encourage and nurture the next generation of philanthropists.

You can follow the musings of Claire Rimmer on Twitter via @ClaireMRimmer

The condition of being human

It’s not often we stop and consider the role humanity plays in grantmaking. In this age of ‘it’ words where it’s easier to quantify the need for evaluation, social returns and collaboration, perhaps humanity is a just a little passé.

Last week Paul Connolly of the TCC Group wrote a blog for Tactical Philanthropy examining the need to balance the humanistic and technocratic in philanthropy. He wrote:

Philanthropy must heed a growing body of research across the neuroscience, psychology, and behavioral economics fields that confirm the importance of synthesizing logic and instinct, head and heart, linearity and serendipity

With Connolly’s viewpoints still fresh in my mind I wandered across to the University of Melbourne to hear the inaugural Philanthropy Australia Oration, Reflections on Philanthropy: In cash or in kind?  For love or for money? For now or forever? given by Emeritus Professor Dorothy Scott. Before even beginning her oration Professor Scott clarified that she would be focusing entirely on the in-kind aspects of philanthropy.  My heart dropped a little on hearing this.  Were we about to hear the same old line about Australians being great volunteers? Thankfully the oration was beautifully devoid of the usual clichés, with Professor Scott warming us up for what was to come when she began:

I must confess that I am a little ambivalent about the academic and professional dimensions of philanthropy.  There is a risk that they may suppress the philanthropic impulse, as literary criticism may suppress the love of literature.  Philanthropy is about the head and the heart and we have heard a lot about the head in recent years.  I think it time to talk about the heart again.

In her oration, Professor Scott argued that philanthropy was in fact embedded in our humanity. She went on to contend that while Australia’s current and past philanthropic heritage has been shouldered by those of religious traditions, there is also much secular-inspired philanthropy that we should remember to reflect upon.

The distinction around secular-inspired philanthropy is an important one to make.  The obligation to give is less muddied. And yet, as we’ve discussed on this blog previously, incentives will exist nonetheless. Dick Smith came out over the weekend threatening to name and shame those millionaires who don’t give – for some that might be incentive enough.

Perhaps in this time of professionalism in philanthropy it is time to take stock?  It’s easy when faced with the paperwork, budgets and meetings to forget that philanthropy is after all defined as a love for humankind.

I’m often reminded in my work that philanthropy is about ‘people’.  Backing people, helping people, encouraging people and inspiring people. Of course there are smart ways to do this, approaches that help to ensure the best results.  But at the end of the day we should not forget about the humanity of it all.  To quote Paul Connelly:

The best philanthropic leaders are not only analytical, objective, and expert, but also self-aware, respectful, and intuitive—and can adjust the mix when needed. They understand, for example, that even if a seasoned nonprofit leader has not explicitly depicted a program logic model, he or she may have an excellent implicit strategy based on deep experience and wisdom. Funders cannot afford to leave their humanity outside the workplace.

Is it possible for a funder to leave their humanity outside the workplace?  Not the good ones.

You can follow the musings of Caitriona Fay on Twitter via @cat_fay

The administration obsession

You may have seen a couple of articles run in the Sydney Morning Herald a fortnight ago examining the administration and transparency of some of Australia’s better-known celebrity foundations.  In the firing line were the McGrath Foundation, The Shane Warne Foundation, the Cathy Freeman Foundation and others. The journalists rightly point out a number of inconsistencies regarding the required public transparency of the non-profit sector here in Australia. Both articles contend that without adequate transparency the donating public can never know how much of their dollar is actually making it to their cause of concern.

The inconsistencies raised in the articles are nothing new to non-profits.  The sector has long struggled under the burden of a fragmented regulatory system and been crippled under the red tape of multiple compliance obligations. It’s hoped that the establishment of the Australian Charities and Non-profit Commission (ACNC) will help to reduce the burden on the non-profit sector while providing a new level of transparency sector wide.

What the two articles also helped to highlight was that there continues to be a lack of wider public understanding around administration costs in the non-profit sector. Held up for high praise were those organisations with the bare minimum of administration costs, while those with professional staff and overheads were the inferred to be less effective and somehow less impressive.

It might well be that those organisations highlighted in the article are ineffective but examining administration and fundraising costs will only paint a partial and sometimes misleading picture.

I’ve worked for a grantmaking organisation that was incredibly strong on applicant organisations submitting ‘real world’ budgets. A budget submitted without a provision for administration costs and contingencies was considered poor, full stop.  Administration costs were considered realistic if they were in the 8%-25% field (depending on the project type).  Any lower or higher and it deserved some prodding. Equally, it was considered poor project management if an applicant didn’t factor at least 10% of the total project costs for contingency costs.

For that particular grantmaking organisation, low administration costs increased the risk of the project operating at the margins, which in turn increased the risk of the project failing.  As a grantmaker they decided to mitigate against that risk. When I called organistions to ask why they had submitted application budgets with low or no administration costs their responses were generally the same – most thought putting the actual administration costs in the budget would reduce their chances of success with the grantmaker.

I’m reluctant to suggest that there is any ‘right’ range for administration fees. What’s really important is that donors examine the administration figures within the context of the organisation’s activities and mission. There is no one rule.  As a donor you need to be more savvy and a donating public we need to expect that administration costs are a reality for charities.

I’d also encourage donors to recognise that staff within the non-profit sector deserve to be adequately reimbursed for the work they do. One of the great tragedies of non-profit sector is our high staff turn-over, and inadequate remuneration is partly to blame. Working in the most challenging of areas, doing the toughest of work, it’s imperative that the non-profit sector hold on to good staff. That includes senior managers and CEOs whose leadership is so valuable in ensuring the ship is pointing in the right direction.

You can follow the musings of Caitriona Fay on Twitter via @cat_fay

Vale Neill Martin

I noted with much sadness the passing of Neill Martin on Friday, 26 August 2011.  Those regular visitors to the ‘top end’ of Collins Street in Melbourne would know Neill as the proprietor of Shiny Shoes Shoeshine outside Harrold’s. So young, at the age of 49, a father of five and engaged to be married, Neill’s sudden passing is tragic.

For those of you not familiar with Neill’s story, I can assure you it’s an inspiring yarn. I am not the person to tell it, but I am certainly one that has been inspired by it. If I ever needed evidence of the impact of a little bit of philanthropy and a lot of determination, all I need do was walk outside my office and there he was, rain, hail or shine. It’s been a sad few days walking down Collins without hearing Neill’s deep voice selling his wares to punters – Shoe-shine, Shiny shoes…ladies shoes.

It takes a lot for person to pick themselves up and attempt to recover from drug addiction, alcoholism and homelessness. People like Neill are proof that you can, but that it can rarely be done alone. John and Theo Poulakis, the owners of Harrold’s, who in the spirit of true benevolence, helped Neill establish his small shoe shine business are said to be devastated by his passing.  There will be many across Melbourne sharing their grief.

My condolences go out to Neill’s family and friends. For whatever it is worth, there hasn’t been a day in the last four years when I’ve walked passed Neill and he hasn’t put a smile on my face. Speaking to colleagues and the other eggs, it’s clear I’m not alone.

Funding for a more equal society

Sometimes all it takes is a spark. Whether it’s revolutions in the Middle East or riots on the streets of London, it can be difficult to predict what ‘it’ is that ignites tensions into rebellion (or revolution).

I have read with interest as social commentators from across the globe try to make sense of what has been a year of tremendous civil unrest in many countries.  In the aftermath of the London and Birmingham riots, the Cameron Government has responded strongly to what it perceives as a ‘moral decline’ in British society. A review of all government social policy is now to take place. In response many, including Tony Blair and Darcus Howe, have claimed that the riots are reflection of a growing disconnect between the country’s haves and have-nots and that talking about a moral breakdown might be good politics but leads to bad policy.

The issue of social inequality (perceived or real) is a common trend among much of the civil unrest we have seen in 2011. Pushed too far communities can respond, sometimes violently, to the excesses of the few.

All the talk of inequality reminded me of a wonderfully though provoking Communities in Control Conference in Melbourne last year.  Of particular note was a session by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett discussing their book The Spirit Level. The book examines how virtually everything, from life expectancy to homicide rates and literacy levels, are affected by how equal a society is.  In short, a big gap between a country’s richest and a country’s poorest leads to bad outcomes for everyone (including the wealthy). There is, in typical British fashion, a 3.5minute punch and judy-esque video below explaining the book’s content in a little more detail.

Is it possible for philanthropy to address the issue of inequality in a way that could lead to change for an entire nation? In response to the overwhelming evidence pulled together in The Spirit Level, the authors of the book established The Equality Trust. Set up with funding from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust (JRCT), the mission of the The Equality Trust is simple – advocate for a more equal society.  By analysing and disseminating the latest research, the Trust provides campaign groups with the substance required for their advocacy to be impactful.

So how compelling is the evidence presented by The Equality Trust? Well let’s have a look at a couple of graphs provided in The Spirit Level and made freely available to the public by the Trust:

The graph below looks at imprisonment rates in ‘rich’ first world nations.  In countries like Japan and Norway, where income inequality is relatively low, you’ll note imprisonment rates are also low. The converse is true in the United States and Singapore.

Another eye opening graph shows  us that the level of social mobility in less equal societies is low – meaning the poor stay poor. It’s much better to be born poor in a Scandinavian country, where you have a strong chance of breaking the cycle of disadvantage.  In the UK or United States, if your parents are poor, the chances of you breaking the cycle are much lower.

The Equality Trust provides sets of their ‘evidence’  via their website and it’s definitely worth a look over.

Ultimately, the book concludes that politics in wealthy countries should move away from an obsession with more and more wealth creation and shift the focus to creating more equal societies. There comes a point when more wealth creation stops having benefits for the community.

So if philanthropy is to have a role in creating more equal societies then its role needs to be influencing politicians. If we jump from the UK to other side of the Atlantic we have one of the world’s more generous philanthropists attempting to do just that. Warren Buffet drew the ire of a few of America’s most wealthy last week when he wrote a New York Times article calling for greater taxes on mega-rich:

“While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks”

The fact that ‘equality’ in wealth distribution leads to perceptions of socialism will do proponents no favours.  How to achieve these more equal societies is also open to debate.  The key issue remains that there needs to be robust debate around social and tax policy, debate not driven by fear and political posturing.  That’s the role philanthropic bodies in the UK like the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation have long played.  Those philanthropists in Australia interested in improved health, education and social outcomes might need to bite the advocacy bullet.

You can follow the musings (good, bad and boring) of Caitriona Fay on Twitter @cat_fay

When is a wealthy entrepreneur a philanthropist?

I watched with interest a couple of weeks back as word hit that Graeme Wood and Jan Cameron had tipped in $10million to buy the Triabunna woodchip mill in Tasmania. While Wood and Cameron have already established outstanding philanthropic credentials, many environmentalists would argue that the acquisition of the mill, which they intend to transform into an eco-tourism site, is their greatest gift to the community to date.While some media used language to infer the purchase was philanthropic, others simply referenced Wood and Cameron as two wealthy, conservation-minded entrepreneurs. Environmental philanthropy has long been a game of semantics.

So was the purchase of the mill philanthropic?  If we believe that philanthropy is the love of mankind, or the desire to improve the well-being of humankind, then strictly speaking I’d suggest that the purchase certainly came from that place for Wood and Cameron.  Regardless of your beliefs or mine,  both Wood and Cameron would believe deactivating a native woodchip mill is for the benefit of all people; a healthy environment is good for us all. On the flip side, those in the forestry industry have argued that the purchase will lead to jobs loses, will do little to protect the environment and will be an economic failure as an eco-resort. But consensus on the value of the gift has never been required to define philanthropic acts.

The purchase of the mill has got me thinking; is this a sign of  philanthropy moving away from its passive roots? If the purchase of the mill isn’t philanthropy, what is it? Who is it that ultimately gets to define what constitutes philanthropy?

The growth of social enterprises, crowd funding, CSR and giving structures are mixing the world of philanthropy into the world around us. Apart from the Wood and Cameron example, I’ve heard recently of a number of unique approaches to funding and fundraising.  For example Anh Do’s gift to the Australian Cancer Research Council of 1% of his book takings looks set to reap some nice financial rewards – a definite act of altruism and philanthropy.  I’m also hearing more regularly about the establishment of investment circles, where a percentage of income earned goes to the circle’s charity of choice. And what about sponsoring a friend to grow a ‘mo’ in November, is that an act of personal philanthropy (by both the donor and mo grower)?

No doubt, when the figures are compiled at the end of the year many of these unique approaches and ways to give back to the community will not be recorded in our ‘giving’ data. So, how much should be considered philanthropy and how much should we disregard? Does it need to  pass all the public benefit tests before we can celebrate it as philanthropic?

In environment funding, litigation, advocacy and campaigning have always been the bedrock of funding approaches in the United States.  It’s been tougher here in Australia.  The approach taken at Triabunna Mill by Wood and Cameron is regularly at play in the United States and much of the time it is underwritten by philanthropic trusts and foundations. Perhaps what the environment (and the rest of the NFP sector) needs is less philanthropists and more wealthy, conservation-minded entrepreneurs?

Is there a role for philanthropy in education?

Education is a tough space for philanthropy.  In my view, the only tougher area to support is environment. The things that make environment funding tough are the exact same in education.  In each you are faced with complex issues at a policy and local delivery level and ultimately, the things that impact on outcomes may have nothing to do with the context in which you are working.

So why would philanthropy even pretend to be a player in the education space? When you examine all the dollars governments put into schools annually any philanthropic commitment, singularly or combined, adds up to little more than small change.  It’s rare to speak with trustees of trusts and foundations who don’t wrestle with this underlying feeling of ‘what’s the point?’ 

I read with interest an interview with Bill Gates in the Wall Street Journal this week.  Gates is a learning philanthropist,  constantly looking at what’s working and what isn’t with his Foundation’s grantmaking.  This past week, in what is a rarity for philanthropy in general, he spoke about failure and more specifically, the Gates Foundation’s failures in its approach to supporting education in the United States.

The Gates Foundation approach to education funding was set around an objective of increasing college attendance. It included an investment of $100 million in 2004 into the establishment of 20 ‘small’ high schools across several States. The objective of the ‘small school’ model was simple – smaller classrooms provide higher levels of teacher/student engagement, which also promotes increased attendance, better classroom behaviour and the development of significant ‘adult’ relationships for students. While the programs they supported helped to increase outcomes for students on an individual level, they did not make a dent into the overall objective of improving college attendance.

There’s no point getting into a conversation about the approach the Gates Foundation decided to take in investing in education, or even the overarching value of supporting an objective of improving college attendance.  Here in Australia our education system and environment is vastly different, so it equates to comparing apples and pears.

Regardless of the differences between our policy contexts, there is an interesting issue for philanthropists on both sides of the Pacific to consider.  The Gate’s interview picks up on one of these issues nicely:

This understanding of just how little influence seemingly large donations can have has led the foundation to rethink its focus in recent years. Instead of trying to buy systemic reform with school-level investments, a new goal is to leverage private money in a way that redirects how public education dollars are spent.

“I bring a bias to this,” says Mr. Gates. “I believe in innovation and that the way you get innovation is you fund research and you learn the basic facts.” Compared with R&D spending in the pharmaceutical or information-technology sectors, he says, next to nothing is spent on education research. “That’s partly because of the problem of who would do it. Who thinks of it as their business? The 50 states don’t think of it that way, and schools of education are not about research. So we come into this thinking that we should fund the research.”

Education research is underinvested in here in Australia.  But worse still, the evidence and research we do have within the Australian context for improving outcomes for all students is too often ignored in policy and it’s here that the funding paradox exists for philanthropy.

Education research involves implementation within the classroom (or equivalent) setting and rarely can we say with any conviction after a typical 12 month trial whether any of these programs have worked. In philanthropy we often express the need to ‘prove’ innovation works so that government might come to its senses and fund these programs and approaches in the long term. But the reality is that there are very few trusts and foundations with the stomach and patience for the really long term stuff. Add to this the cost involved with genuine research and evaluation and what you create is a tough environment to be a philanthropist in. Even Gates, who is committed to backing research to influence education policy, recognises that the big bucks are required; he’s investing $335 million over the next five years to find the formula to ‘effective teaching’.

The real losers in this funding challenge are schools and their students. Schools that can identify their needs rarely have the resources to fund the solutions in the long term (or the short or immediate term). The schools that do know how to present a case to philanthropy for support are often hamstrung by tax issues or a simple lack of capacity manage the resources (financial and time) required to seek the support. On the flip side, philanthropic organisations who want to be effective in their education funding can find knowing how to find and work with school partners difficult. And under it all there remains at trustee level that underlying feeling of it all being just too big an issue for philanthropy to help.

It is for all these reasons that I am personally excited about the potential for the Leading Learning In Education and Philanthropy research that is being undertaken by ACER’s Tender Bridge.  I’ll declare my hand, I’m on the project team, but despite my obvious bias I am genuinely excited about this work for two reasons:

  1. It’s an investment in philanthropy in Australia
  2. It’s about learning how schools and philanthropy can better work together

Education is not an area philanthropy can walk away from.  Quite the opposite.  What we actually need is a philanthropic sector better equipped to understand how our limited resources might actually benefit the people that matter most; students.  But first, there needs to be a process of openness, we need to know more about what we do and don’t do well as a sector, but we also need to ask schools where they think our strengths are. There’s already too much ‘top-down’ in education policy, philanthropy should avoid adding to the noise without genuine reason and it’s my view that the only genuine reason to enter this space is in support of education partners.

So while it might be disheartening for some smaller philanthropists to see the Gate’s of this world despair about the role of philanthropy in education, I for one am more resolved about the opportunities the education challenge presents. To have an impact in the education space trusts and foundations are forced to be more thoughtful about their giving approach. The really innovative philanthropists will find new ways of working and will commit to longer term approaches with an ability to pivot when things aren’t going well. There’s a lot to be positive about and equally, when you consider the outcome potential, there’s a lot to be excited about too.

You can follow the musings of Caitriona on Twitter @cat_fay 

It’s Follow Friday (#ff)!

Happy Follow Friday! Don’t know what Follow Friday is?  Well, it’s Twitter speak for these people are worth listening to.  Every Friday, tweeps (slang for people who use Twitter) share the list of people they think are worth following by using the hash tag #ff.

If you’re in the philanthropy game and are wondering why you’d even bother getting into Twitter, it’s worth checking out Lucy Bernholz’s (@p2173) blog Why Would A Foundation Tweet. Her advice is pretty simple, Twitter is a great listening tool.  When you start to get your Twitter legs you’ll begin to find it’s a great way to network, connect, share and talk with an incredibly diverse (and impressive) group of people.

So here’s a #ff list for those new to Twitter and for those interested in philanthropy

Influential Philanthropy Tweeps

#1 @Philanthropy – The Chronicle of Philanthropy is a must follow and considered one of the most ‘influential’ (there is a way of measuring that) philanthropy tweeps in the twitterverse

#2 @Kanter – Beth Kanter is the doyenne of all things social media and nonprofit

#3 @p2173 – Lucy Bernholz is fab, follow her on Twitter and follow her blog

#4 @phijo – The Philanthropy Journal online is a great source of nonprofit and philanthropy news

#5 @Newphilanthropy – From the best of the US to the best of the UK, I really enjoy the work of New Philanthropy Capital

#6 @Alliancemag – it’s the leading global magazine on philanthropy and social investment and definitely one to follow on Twitter

#7 @philaction – Another great news source for international philanthropy

#8 @tactphil – best way to follow Sean Stannard-Stockton, the man behind Tactical Philanthropy Advisors

#9 @philanthropy411 – Great philanthropy blog and if you follow this link you’ll find a some great resources on who else to follow on Twitter from philanthropy

#10 @fndcentre – The Foundation Centre, I absolutely love the work of this group, supporting trusts and foundations since the 1950’s, they are a great source of information, thinking and strategies for people who give.

There’s a significant international philanthropic presence on Twitter and there has been for a good couple of years now. Nonprofit organisations are embracing social media in Australia and while philanthropy has been a little slower, its fair to say the Aussie philanthropy contingent has been growing rapidly over the past 12 months.

So let’s get started on a list of the Aussie philanthropy tweeps we all should be following, connecting with, talking with and listen to.  I’ll kick us off, but I’d love to hear from, and of, those Aussie philanthrocrats who are tweeting their stuff
























And of course there’s the contributors of this site @ClaireMRmmer, @3Eggphil, @Debmorgan22 and me, @cat_fay. Share with us the tweeps you know that are talking about philanthropy on Twitter by leaving a comment. It will make the beginnings of a great resource.

Keep in mind that the above list is just those people who do a lot of talking on the why’s and how’s of philanthropy in Australia. Not included in that list are the wonderful nonprofits many philanthropics support across Australia.  Twitter is a wonderful tool for staying connected to those organisations.

If you still need to be convinced about social media and it’s value then watch the following 2min video:

So if you’re now convinced that it’s time to set up your Twitter account, check out this great infographic from @Partyaficionado.

I look forward to seeing you out in the twitterverse.

Lucky you!

I read an article in Arts Hub last week which shook me in my grant-making boots when I got to the final line – “There are certainly some ground rules, but if you think that getting a grant is not a lottery, I wish you luck”. The article, Heads or Tails? Getting that grant, was written by Tamara Winikoff (Executive Director of NAVA, the national peak body for the visual arts, craft and design sector). She writes regularly on the arts for Arts Hub and various other publications and, given her extensive knowledge and experience of the sector, she has an opinion which carries quite some weight. I think that’s why I was so surprised and disappointed when I read what she had to say.

Perhaps I’m an idealist, but I like to think that every funding decision I’ve ever helped a Board or Committee make has been a fair one, based on a set of known funding objectives and with a clear rationale. Will the project meet a clear need or demand? Is it viable? Is the organisation viable? Is project planning and management adequately well considered?

And no, it hasn’t been possible to support every good project – usually due to budgetary constraints – but in this instance the project that appears to offer most to its audience and the applicant organisation, and will deliver most strongly against my organisation’s funding objectives is the one that will be supported. And yes, funding rounds are hard work and can be draining, but the decision-making process is a multi-layered one where each recommendation is seen by more than one pair of eyes.

Before coming to Australia I worked as a Grants Officer for a UK lottery distributor. Part of my job was to review draft press announcements prepared by grantees about their newly awarded grants. I was forever having to edit out lines like “lucky lottery win for xxx!” and “what a stroke of lottery luck!” because it was considered that they gave the wrong idea: getting a grant wasn’t in any way about luck or lottery, it was about a lot of thought and hard work.  Every decision was a very robust one which had to be transparent and accountable to applicants and the lottery-ticket-buying-public because, after all, them buying the tickets was what enabled support for these projects to be considered in the first place.

I have to admit, reading Heads or Tails, I really got the sense that I was reading the words of someone who’d reached the end of their tether; jaded by a few really tough weeks at work. I could be wrong. If I am, perhaps I have to take solace from Tamara’s recognition that there are ground rules to grant-making and hope that others have faith that getting a grant is not a lottery.

I feel like I might have co-opted Caitriona’s high horse….

What’s innovation anyway?

I’m not embarrassed to say that much of my twenties was spent jumping from high-horse to high-horse. I had views on everything and felt that it was incumbent on me to share those views with any poor soul who would listen.  More often than not, like many twenty-somethings, what I lacked in eloquent reasoning I made up for in passionate rhetoric. Unfortunately, as well meaning as I was (and am) I was occasionally guilty of sweeping statements, the kind of which I had no real right to make.  I recall one occasion being in conversation with the eminent historian Professor Geoffrey Blainey, where I suggested to him my belief that the world had never faced an issue as critical or important as climate change.  He warmly, and without the slightest hint of denigration, suggested there were very few things the world had not faced before. It wasn’t that he disagreed with my views on the importance of action on climate change (I can’t actually speak to what his views are on that), it was simply my use of sweeping sentiments that he wanted to highlight.

There are a few years between me and my twenties now and my passionate youthfulness battles daily with my maturing sense of cynicism at the world around me. I’m still prone to jockeying my way on to the occasional high-horse or two but I have mastered the art of picking my battles much more carefully. All the while the words of Professor Blainey have manifested themselves into my thinking about philanthropy and specifically into the philanthropic obsession in Australia with ‘innovation’. Could it be the sector suffers from the same passion filled rhetoric that afflicted me in my twenties?

I was recently speaking with Stacey Thomas, from Myer Family Philanthropic Services.  She runs a weekly philanthropy popquiz that poses some of the questions facing philanthropy in Australia (you can follow Stacey and the quiz on twitter @thomstac). Stacey and I were having a chat over the meaning of ‘innovation’ and what it looks like in program or project form when philanthropy is asked to fund it.  Stacey kindly agreed to make the idea of innovation the focus of her popquiz in the week just gone and she increased her altruistic credentials further by sharing the results with me.

As I was reading over the comments left by the 29 respondents to the quiz there was one statement that caught my attention, I am always reminded that the innovation of contemporary dance is firmly rooted in classical ballet. For me this statement sums up some of my concerns with the philanthropic approach of supporting ‘innovative’ programs only. What actually constitutes innovation?  Is it something entirely new that’s never been seen before (which, as Professor Blainey alerted me to, is very hard to find)?  Or do we accept that innovation is more regularly built on the back of the work of many others. Is innovation a successful program that has worked in Fitzroy, rolled out in Sunshine?  In other words, how much innovation is enough?

My view?  Well it’s my position that innovation shouldn’t simply = new. If philanthropy wants to support innovation, then it should be the NFP sector and broader community that is dictating what that looks like.  If a community genuinely identifies that a well established program is the answer to its needs, then perhaps that should be innovation enough?

While I do believe philanthropy should be a little more flexible with what it defines as ‘innovative’, there will always be that passionate part of me that holds out hope for that one ‘thing’ that solves some of our most pressing problems.  It is important that philanthropy helps to keep the fires of creativity burning among our the leaders, thinkers and doers of our community. Just because the task appears impossible does not mean that it is.

The Innovation point is the pivotal moment when talented and motivated people see the opportunity to act on their ideas and dreams

– W. Arthur Porter

Everything that can be invented, has been invented

– Charles H. Duell, Director of US Patent Office 1899

You can follow the musing of Caitriona Fay on Twitter @cat_fay and the blog @3eggphil

Two little BIG words

I hate it when people don’t say thank you. Maybe it’s my upbringing? Whenever we were given anything Mum would always go – “what do you say?” – and me, my brother and sister would chime, “Thank youuuu“. After Christmas, birthdays, or any other occasion which involved us receiving a gift from someone, we’d be sat down to write thank you letters to let people know we’d got and liked their gift. The importance of saying thank you was instilled in us to such a degree that these days if I hold the door open for someone, for example, and am not thanked, it’s not entirely uncommon for me to say slightly sarcastically “no, problem, it’s my pleasure”. Or maybe it’s nothing to do with my lovely Ma and it’s just Curmudgeonly Claire rearing her head again?!

One of the things I love most about my job is when I get to tell someone they’ve been awarded a grant. If I’ve been in contact with an applicant during the review process, they’ll know when a decision’s being taken on their application and they’ll be expecting a call. There’s usually a nervous, anticipatory silence at the other end of the phone which, if I was sadistic, I’d draw out before letting them know the decision, but I’m not so I try to cut to the chase as soon as possible (and because I’m excited to tell them!). It’s so lovely when you hear a delighted “thank you!”. Makes all the hard work so worthwhile.  I can’t tell you how disappointing it is to call someone to let them know they’ve been given thousands of dollars if I get little reaction and no thanks.

I’m not saying grantee gratitude is the be-all and end-all in the decision making process. Of course it’s not. A poorly conceived project isn’t going to be supported simply because an organisation said thank you for a grant in the past. But it is important, and it is remembered. It comes back to that all-important grant maker/grant seeker relationship again (How to make friends and influence philanthropy and Too much or not enough?).

And it seems I’m not the only one that notices when someone says thank you. The June/July edition of Fundraising and Philanthropy Australasia had a story about a donation of $1m to Queensland University of Technology, recently gifted by Peter and Heather Howes.

The Howes’ have a long association with QUT: both are ex-QIT students (QUT’s immediate predecessor) and have a daughter who graduated from QUT; both were lecturers at QIT; and Peter was a member of QUT‘s School of Management Advisory Board.  They first contributed financially to QUT in 2009 and 2010 in its annual alumni appeals, when they gave relatively small amounts of money in support of the Learning Potential Fund – an endowment fund to support bursaries and scholarships for QUT students in financial need.  They began discussions with the University about the potential for them to make a larger gift after July 2010 when they sold the very successful human resources consultancy business they had jointly founded in 1982 (the sale giving them greater capacity to consider giving more significantly to QUT).  Before the year was out, these discussions came to fruition in the form of The Howes Family Gift: a $1m donation which was added to the larger LPF endowment, but to be used to fund discrete Howes Family Learning Potential Scholarships for disadvantaged students.

One of the factors behind the Howes’ decision to increase their philanthropic engagement with QUT was the phone calls they received from LPF fundraising staff thanking them for their 2009 and 2010 appeal gifts. Apparently this was the first time they’d got such personal thanks from an organisation they’d given financial support to.  As a consequence of this very simple gesture, the very neediest of QUT students can now apply for annual scholarships of $5,000 to support the cost of their study (more than standard LPF scholarships and bursaries offer), and there is also talk of the Howes contributing more money to QUT in the future to enable more scholarships to be offered. I wonder if LPF fundraising staff had any idea how powerful those two little words would be?!

While we’re on the subject of saying thank you…. thank you!!  Since we launched 3eggphilanthropy back in April, we’ve had almost 2,600 views of our site and enjoyed some fantastic thoughts and opinions on the blog site, and on Twitter and Facebook. We’ve also had some amazing contributions from fabulous guest bloggers which added so much to the conversation. It’s been a fantastic first couple of months and we look forward to everything that’s to come.  Scrambled, boiled, or poached….  Thanks again!!

If you haven’t subscribed to the blog yet, why not do it now?! That way you’ll be first to know when our latest musings have been hatched!

It’s a question of validity

I’ve noticed lately a few really interesting and exciting surveys are circulating the philanthropic sector, trying to track how much and where Australian philanthropy is giving.  I’ve enjoyed seeing an increasing research presence in the sector.  It feels in many ways that it’s the next phase of sector growth and maturity, as we attempt to learn more about our giving practices as a nation.

Last week I attended the Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network (AEGN) 2011 Conference.  The AEGN is a great organisation supporting environmental philanthropy in Australia and the conference was a special day focusing on Indigenous environmental granting. Sitting at the conference among a committed band of environment funders I was reminded that it was not long ago that the AEGN launched the 2010 Green Philanthropy Report. The report, supported by a survey filled in by a a touch over 50 funders, demonstrated to the Board of the AEGN that they needed to up the ante in trying to attract philanthropists to environmental grantmaking. That is what capturing this basic information should do, it should inform our practices, our approaches and our priorities as a sector. We should be looking at areas to improve and grow but data is critical to understanding the current landscape.

It is this need for data that has got me thinking. What is the quality of the information philanthropy is currently capturing?  Sure, it’ easy to talk broad figures e.g Foundation X distributes $1million in grants annually. But what if  we wanted to scratch the surface of that giving a little more, is philanthropy in Australia currently equipped to provide accurate data genuinely reflective of its giving practices? I work for a Foundation that has spent the better part of the last 3 years trying to better ‘code’ or ‘categorize’ the grants we make.  I can tell you it’s not been an easy process, there have been a lot of staff hours poured over what information we should capture and still we are left with the reality that the coding process is ultimately subjective. One persons ‘Youth’ program is another persons ‘Education’.

Thankfully Philanthropy Australia (PA) has provided an outline for a grant classification system that encourages funders to capture data using a common sector language. PA’s website states that The intention (of the classification guide) is to standarise the terms used across the Australian philanthropic sector as far as practical, so that grantmaking can be documented and useful statistics on philanthropy collected in ways that contribute to shared understandings. I highly recommend this document as a starting point for those philanthropists or trusts and foundations looking to better capture their data.

While I know the process that my organisation has undertaken to record and capture basic data, I am less clear about the practices and consistencies across the rest of the sector.  And this is, in a lot of ways, the source of some of my discomfort. We as a sector need to be able to rely on the validity of the data that is being captured.  Equally, if we want researchers to continue to take an interest in where and who we are funding, then it’s important that they too feel that foundations aren’t working to a guesstimate. Again and again I feel it comes back to the issue of philanthropy needing to invest in itself to improve it’s value and credibility to the not-for-profit sector.

I’d love to hear your views on how the sector might better capture its basline data.  The work of organisations like the AEGN and Philanthropy Australia in undertaking membership surveys, is slowly helping to shape and influence practice. I just hope the we can provide them and our research partners with increasingly better quality data.

You can follow the musings of Caitriona Fay on Twitter via @cat_fay

The complex ecology of philanthropy

On Wednesday I attended the ever-inspiring Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network conference.  The conference is an annual event, and brings together a passionate bunch of environmental grantmakers to discuss meaty issues relating to the whats, whys and hows of environmental philanthropy.  This year’s theme was environmental and indigenous philanthropy.  We were lucky enough to hear from inspiring speakers such as Joe Morrison from NAILSMA, Kerry Arabena from the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, and  Diane Christensen from the Christensen Fund.

As much as I love hearing from the speakers, what I really love about AEGN conferences, and, well, any conference, is the conversations in the breaks.  It always makes me feel like I’m part of something big and exciting.

Something I’ve been thinking about lately is the diversity of the philanthropic sector.  Like any healthy ecosystem, I think the sector’s strength is in its  diversity.  I’m talking about the diversity of organisations we fund, the diversity of scales we fund at, and the diversity of tools we use to affect change.   We often trumpet our own grantmaking decisions as being the ‘right’ decisions, but actually, all grantmaking decisions are ‘right’.  And if a grant turns out to be ineffective, that’s just an opportunity to learn, and do more of the ‘right’ stuff and less of the less ‘right’ stuff.

A really good example that comes to mind is two organisations who work to use surplus food (which would otherwise be bound for the bin) to feed hungry people.  FareShare and  SecondBite both have a healthy list of supporters.  And so they should – they’re both doing fantastic work.  Supporting one and not the other is not wrong or right, it’s just a decision the funder has made, for whatever reason.  It might be that the funder has a closer relationship with one of the organisation’s staff, or likes the management structure of one better than the other, or their model of program delivery.  Whatever it is, if there’s a bit of due diligence and a bit of heart involved, you can’t go too far wrong.

I think the same applies to scale as well.  My $10 donation is valuable, particularly when there’s lots of ‘me’ equivalents supporting the same cause.  Equally, the $10 million donation is quite valuable (obviously!) too.  But each donation will meet a different sort of need in a different way.

The tools we use are also important.  Speaking with a handful of funders on Wednesday, we talked about the ability for some funders to support the capacity development of not for profit organisations.  We all acknowledged this takes a particular skill set on the part of the funder, and is not for everyone, but nobody would dismiss the value of the work.  To me, the funders that do the hands on capacity development work are crucial in making organisations sustainable and (cash) grant ready.

In the same way that genetic diversity allows populations to adapt to changing environments, funding diversity will allow not for profits to adapt to the ever changing pressures in society.   And thank goodness for that.  I hope the conversations continue to foster, encourage and support the many and diverse views and approaches.

The economics of altruism

I like trying to understand what it is that motivates people to give.  On a personal level, I find it deeply satisfying to hear stories from philanthropists like David Hardie, who shared his journey to becoming a philanthropist on this blog over last two weeks. With so much pessimism about, stories like David’s provide a little dose of inspiration. But can we ever truly understand what it is that motivates some to give and others to accumulate wealth?  Is it as simple as some people having an altruistic spirit and others being, well… greedy? We could look to philosophy, psychology (as Claire Rimmer did in her blog last week),  sociology even anthropology for the answers, but it’s actually economists who appear to have done the most work in this space.

Economists believe humans act rationally with our actions influenced by incentives. This point is important and at a surface level feeds the assumption that most people are, at their core, simply out for themselves. But what a crappy thought!  After reading David Hardie’s blogs I find this really hard to believe.

Economists have developed a series of ‘games’ to experiment with what exactly drives a person to act altruistically.  Using the Dictator Game initially, economists found results that seemed to indicate that people were hardwired for altruistic behaviour. If you’re not familiar with the Dictator Game, here’s the breakdown of the experiment to assess people’s altruistic behaviours:

  • volunteer 1, let’s call her Jane, is given $10 and is told that she can divide the money with volunteer number 2, let’s call her Barb, in any way she likes.
  • Jane is also told that Barb has no idea that she has been given the money or the option of dividing it. The anonymity bit is important because it means that Jane is neither rewarded or punished for her actions (it also means that the ’emotional’ pulls, evident when we give money to disaster relief or charities we are connected with, are removed)

Regardless of where the experiment was conducted, in the USA or Mongolia, the ‘dictator’ Jane tended to hand over about 20% of her money to the unknowing Barb. Wow! Giving away 20% of your money without any potential of reward seems to indicate that people act without any consideration of personal incentives. But, of course, the optimism around this amazing altruistic spirit didn’t last long. Enter John List.

John List, a Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago, is the person who really stepped up altruism experimentation. List devised a form of the Dictator Game that once again provided Jane with some cash, this time $20, and gave her three options whereby she could either:

  • keep all of the $20
  • give away any percentage to Barb or
  • take $1 from money that had been provided to Barb.

If you have 10 mins to spare it’s definitely worth checking out this RSA animation based on the List experiment by ‘Freakonomics’ and ‘Superfreakonomics’ co-authors, Economist Steven Livett and the Wall Street Journal’s Stephen Dubner. Alterntively, if you’d like to read the excerpt of the chapter from Superfreakonomics on which it is based you can check it out via The New York Times.

What List found was that in his version of the game only 35% of the people in the Jane role gave any money to Barb, 45% didn’t share at all and remaining 20% took the $1! As List played with the experiment and increased the amount Jane could take from Barb he saw a drop in the number of people who gave any money at all.  In fact when given the option of taking all of Barb’s $20, 60% of Janes took every cent.

List did run another important experiment whereby volunteer Janes and Barbs needed to earn their cash, usually through filling out a long survey.  Once again Jane was given the option of taking Barb’s hard earned cash but this time only 28% (a big drop from 60% in the original experiment) took the money and ran. Apparently it does matter how the person came into having the money (windfall v earned altruism experiments are fascinating and for another blog).

These experiments have since taken on a life of their own.  The percentage of money Jane gives to Barb changes drastically if Jane is told that Barb is aware of the choice she has.  Equally and definitely the topic for another blog, is that if Jane is actually a John the giving percentages change again (gender is a factor in how and why we give).

There are so many external factors in how we give and the amount we give that List and other economists came to a bit of startling conclusion.  We are not hardwired for altruism.  In fact, many economists concluded that when we give we are simply responding to incentives.  Perhaps its to feel good, or less bad.  Perhaps it’s because of social expectation (which might explain the recent media around high net worth individuals not giving enough), even to fit in or gain access to a social group (The Giving Pledge perhaps…) or in some instances to impress someone. For many, it’s simply the tax breaks they get.

Now the idea that you give because you get something out of it might not appeal to most.  But think about it carefully, list the reasons in your own mind as to why you give, if you give at all. Ultimately, incentives might form a reason as to why or whether we give at all, and frankly, that’s fine with me. Whether it’s for the tax breaks or that warm fuzzy feeling you get in your stomach, I just want to see more people give.

Giving is sexy!

Following all the chat among 3egg and co recently about the lack of giving in Australia and the offering of thoughts on what might be done to encourage it, I have something to throw into the mix!

What would you say if I said giving is sexy? Would it appeal to you? Would it make you grimace? It made me snigger – philanthro-geek that I am – but it did get me thinking. It’s definitely not the sort of language that is normally used around philanthropy but a UK report written for the Philanthropy Review in April 2011 suggests that this small but significant change in how we frame giving could be the key which unlocks all those “hidden” AU philanthropic $$ that we keep talking about.

The study, The Aha: Why donors give, why non-donors don’t and what to do about it, written by Carol Fiennes (CEO of UK Climate Change Charity, Global Cool Foundation) suggests that the reason some people don’t give is because they simply aren’t motivated to: that the way that giving is generally talked about only appeals to a certain group within the population.

The study draws on the outcomes of research carried out by the UK company, Cultural Dynamics, Strategy & Marketing, to determine what drives people to do what they do. CDSM surveyed more than 8,000 people with over 1,000 questions and, with the data gathered, was able to identify a series of fundamental psychological needs that we as people are trying to satisfy – the needs which drive our behaviours and the vision of the person we want to become – and segment them. They called this the ‘Values Modes’ segmentation.

The segmentation identifies that there are three types of people:

  • Sustenance Driven (SD)
  • Outer Directed (OD) and
  • Inner Directed (ID)

In a nutshell:

  • SDs are socially conservative – they’re wary of change, keep to the rules and want to be directed by authority. Their key need is to feel safe and secure;
  • ODs are driven by needing the esteem of others and want to be seen to succeed. They are a higher energy, fun-seeking group and are instinctive rather than analytical; and
  • IDs are always questioning and looking for ethical and intellectual stimulation. They don’t find change worrying and see global issues as their issues. They’re more analytical than instinctive.

The ‘Values Modes’ segmentation’s been used successfully for over 30 years in over 30 countries – for purposes which range from selling soft drinks to determining voting behaviours – and has predicted Value Modes with over 97% accuracy. For more info on CDSM’s work, click this link to their website. CDSM

If you hadn’t guessed already, us Philanthro-niks (Fiennes’ word for us philanthropeeps and my favourite to date!) are defined as Inner Directed people. I did the survey and despite giving answers that I was sure would lead to me bucking the trend and being an OD, surprise surprise, I was categorised as an ID.  If you’d like to do the short survey and find out which of the segmentations you are, click here: Value Modes Survey

Apparently much of the thinking in The Aha draws on Fiennes’ work at Global Cool, which is a charity that aims to get more people to adopt a lower-carbon lifestyle. Global Cool was looking into how to “sell” green lifestyles to people and realised that the way that they’d been doing it had resulting in them preaching to the converted: with campaigns developed by IDs which only appealed to IDs. They realised that their challenge was to make low-carbon living attractive to the OD and SDs of the world who they knew, generally speaking, were less interested in the issue. So they developed a series of campaigns to get people to make green lifestyle choices based on the things that motivate them. For example, one campaign works to entice people to turn down the heat in their homes by “turning up the style” instead – wearing beautiful, fashionable woolly jumpers to combat the cold with the added benefit of keeping their skin from drying out! Through the campaigns they seem to be capturing the broader imagination.  Brilliant!

I have to be honest when I first read the report, I found myself curling my lip and rolling my eyes at the suggestions it makes to encourage broader giving (maybe that‘s because I‘m an ID….and a bit of a curmudgeon?!). It all sounded kind of patronising….“make giving fun & social“, “make giving easy“, “avoid people feeling that giving is a loss“, instead of promoting giving at music festivals or in a serious newspaper, do it at a yacht club or a glitzy event with business leaders. Essentially, diamond encrust the carrot that’s dangled and make the promise of a feature story in Grazia magazine (for the ODs at least). But with a track record as strong as the segmentation’s in terms of determining motivations and behaviours, I did a 360 and started to think it’d be well worth trying it. If this is all it might take to increase and broaden giving, why not?!

One thing that stood out when I read the report, which worried me a bit given all the negative press here just now around giving, is that rather than talking about the lack of giving we should instead celebrate giving: to normalise the notion of doing this rather than exacerbate the trend to not give. It makes sense, I think. Talking about a wealth of giving creates the feeling that there is a scale of investment which makes problems tackle-able, rather than making them feel too big and too hard to deal with, creating a desire to sweep them under the carpet.

So…the question is….what do you think?  Should giving be “sexy”?!

So…I guess I’m one of those philanthropist wankers. (Part 4)

In part four of this special four part series, David Hardie looks ahead and thinks about what needs doing to take his philanthropy to the next stage.  You can and should check out parts one, two and three of David’s wonderfully honest story about his philanthropic journey.

A set of values is a good start but as I’ve been reading through the Annual Reports and websites of various Foundations I have noted that the vision and mission thing features prominently. Now I suspect it’s a result of sitting through a few too many strategic planning sessions in the government sector, but I’ve traditionally been a bit of a cynic when it comes to visions. So I initially decided that what would work for me was capturing how the Foundation would work – the things that would help define our approach to grantmaking. This may have been a ‘vision avoidance strategy’ but it kind of worked! I again just started writing down some words and phrases that are important to me, some of which are certainly borrowed from others and some that come from my own observations. Now I first wrote these down a few weeks back but reading them through again as I write this has made me realise that I’m still pretty happy with them. So here they are:

  • Open, honest communication in all its relationships
  • Listening with an open heart
  • Fun and laughter
  • Supporting good people with good ideas
  • Trust and mutual respect
  • Collaborating with and learning from others
  • Acknowledging and alleviating the power imbalance in the grantmaking relationship
  • Enabling grantees and communities to steer the work.

Now like a set of values, this is just a bunch of words and until they get tested by the complex realities of the grantmaking relationship, a bunch of words (albeit nice words!) is all they will be.

So that was where I got to over a few days and I was pretty happy with it. But when I revisited it after a break and after a bit more reading of some of my philanthropy journals, I did realise that there was something missing and that the ‘v and m thing’ did need to make an appearance.  So I sat back down and I eventually came up with this Slingsby Foundation vision and mission:

Our Vision:  A just and caring society that embraces difference.

Our Mission: To fund initiatives of the not for profit sector that strengthen the lives of those who are marginalised or experiencing disadvantage. We support organisations and projects that build on people’s strengths and help equip them with the capabilities to overcome disadvantage and lead happy, fulfilling lives.

And you know – I finally got to see what these things can do – they help set out what I’m aiming for and how I might go about helping to achieve this. I think they also will help the organisations and people that the Foundation will eventually support to get some insights into the type of Foundation that we want to be and why we might want to support them.

So that’s where I’m up to in June 2011. A little over ten years since my grandad passed away and approaching the year that will represent the 100th anniversary of his birth. And much to his surprise (and I suspect wry amusement), I’m finally interested in the share market. The Foundation has recently made its initial investments and I’m actually really enjoying the process of tracking them and learning about the vagaries of such things. Week one was looking great, week two not so great!

Of course it’s all about purpose and for me, the purpose of sound financial investment and wealth generation is related back to that vision and mission of the Foundation. And yes, a wider purpose of celebrating the life of someone (my grandad LindenLittle) whose hard work and commitment to excellence enables others to share the benefits of a life well led.

David Hardie recently worked as a Program Manager and Intern at the Myer Foundation and Sidney Myer Fund. He is the Founder of the Slingsby Foundation and strongly believes that those Australians who are financially well-off should grow Australian philanthropy and help build the social fabric of the nation that has provided their wealth. 

So…I guess I’m one of those philanthropist wankers. (Part 3)

In part three of this special four part series, David Hardie looks at challenges faced when you want to take your philanthropy to that ‘next level’. You can learn more about David’s journey into philanthropy in parts one and two of his story.  The final instalment will be posted tomorrow, so make sure you pop back to check it out!

Stepping into the world of philanthropy, gradually feeling comfortable with my place in it and then establishing a private ancillary fund has led to the next big question. What do I do with it?

I’ve recently sat down and started to think about what this opportunity provides, what I’d like to achieve, who I want involved and what success and failure might look like. It’s been an interesting exercise and one that I’ve struggled with. Part of me wants to leap straight to developing really specific grantmaking priorities and program areas and just get on with it. I know that I want to support refugees and asylum seekers and to help tackle homophobia and that these are some of the issues that resonate with me. But I’ve also realised that while I might be ready to get on with it, there are others who I want to bring with me and that perhaps the most important thing in the initial few years is actually providing the space for their learning to take place. There’s also the reality of having very limited grantmaking capacity in the first few years!

I want this to be fun and for me, fun involves having my family and friends alongside me. So I’ve decided that a defining theme of the initial years of the Foundation will be its commitment to learning – for family and friends to gain experience in grantmaking practice and to learn about related issues. I want these learnings to shape the development of our longer term grantmaking strategies and processes. I want to make sure that I bring others with me and that it’s not just about my issues and my priority areas.

Nonetheless, I also really want to get some things down on paper now. I’ve always been a bit more of an implementer than a strategist but over the last year I’ve had the opportunity to listen, capture some learnings and really see the importance of having a strategy to guide your grantmaking. A key part of my learning and my own personal development in recent years has been taking the time to write stuff down – it’s amazing the power that the written word has when you really take the time to capture what’s going on. Over the last year there have been a few things that people have said that have resonated with me and that I didn’t want to lose. Stuff like this:

You need to find the people and the organisations you want to work with – not just the project or the issue

You should be risk welcoming

Never forget about the power dynamic between philanthropy and those that need the funding

Your decision making will often be subjective- accept this but keep analysing why you make the decisions you do

Most philanthropists try and do too many things

Don’t be scared to be eccentric and to support what others won’t – collaboration is fine but sometimes you just need to go it alone

Remember to keep asking the ‘so what?’ question

Guidelines and strategies are really important – and it’s also great to ignore them occasionally

It’s about heart and head – and heart is allowed to win.     

When I sat down with a blank piece of paper in front of me entitled Grantmaking Strategy these were some of the things that I started to think about.

I also started to think about the words that I wanted to be associated with the Slingsby Foundation and those words came to me very quickly – words like inclusion and diversity and justice and strength and compassion. I also knew that it would be a Foundation about people and that I wanted it to be values driven. So I started with this set of values:

Inclusion – Diversity – Strength – Compassion

I see these as the core or the heart of the Foundation and I’ve explicitly stated that they are to guide all Foundation activities. How will that play out in practice? No idea. But I certainly have learnt that when something doesn’t fit with a set of values you soon recognise that.

David Hardie recently worked as a Program Manager and Intern at the Myer Foundation and Sidney Myer Fund. He is the Founder of the Slingsby Foundation and strongly believes that those Australians who are financially well-off should grow Australian philanthropy and help build the social fabric of the nation that has provided their wealth. 

Too much or not enough?

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about the funder-grantee relationship.  Working in philanthropy, the issues of power imbalance, the burden of responsibility and questions around ‘how much support is too much’ come up daily.  And when I talk about support I’m not talking about financial support, but about helping organisations to apply for grants.  About encouraging and supporting them to ensure they’ve got the best shot at getting the dollars.

Obviously the question of how I allocate my time is a daily proposition, and so I read with keen interest (and rising frustration) a recent blog from Deep Social Impact.  In the blog entitled Three strikes and then what? Joanne Duhl talks about the dilemma of how we know when we’re asking too much of our potential grant recipients.  In Joanne’s blog, she tells the story of an organisation that underwent significant changes, including the appointment of a new director.  The funder decided it was essential to meet the new director before renewing the organisation’s grant.  Fair enough, I reckon.  In my view it’s essential to meet the director to ensure commitment to the project, organisational stability and so on – it’s just good due diligence.  After a few failed attempts at arranging a meeting, and no  demonstration of commitment from the grantee organisation, the funder decided to pull the pin.

In reading the story and the list of excuses of the grantee organisation, I sensed Joanne’s frustration.  And I recalled a number of similar experiences I’ve had, again, with frustration.  But reflecting on the lessons learned from CEP’s findings on relationships between Foundation staff and grantees, maybe I need to be a little more lenient.  I get to choose how to allocate my time in my day, so I have to accept that grant seekers get to make that exact same choice.  Returning a call from a funder might not be at the top of their list of priorities.

My question, and Joanne’s question is, how far do you go?  At what point does coaxing a potential grantee become harassment?  We might think that those who don’t have capacity to return our calls (because they’re putting out fires and are just too stretched to take on the extra work of a grant proposal) need our money the most.  But really, if we’re not running the organisation, who are we to decide?

I guess this makes the point again that relationships are so important in the funder/grantee relationship. If we know the organisations and sectors we support well enough, we have a better chance of understanding what sorts of pressures they are under.  And then I guess it’s just a case by case basis.  And maybe sometimes persistence is worthwhile, and other times it’s better to dedicate your time to another worthy organisation.

So…I guess I’m one of those philanthropist wankers. (Part 2)

In part two of this special four part series, David Hardie takes us on his initial journey into philanthropy and explains how important personal connections are when starting to give. If you haven’t already, you should check out part one of David’s story, which gives you the low down on how he came to be a philanthropist.

The personal connection I formed with the Founder of the Sydney Community Foundation led me to make the decision to establish a sub-fund as part of the Foundation. This model appealed to me – it enabled me to have input into the areas the sub-fund might support but meant that I did not need to concern myself with the grantmaking and investment logistics – but knew that these were being well managed. That felt right and so in 2005 my sub-fund (named after my nephew Jack) was established and I started to allocate my annual proceeds from the family investment company into the sub-fund. The initial project that was supported through the sub-fund was one that had a deep personal connection for me. It was a project to support grandparents raising their grandchildren- being administered by the NSW Council on the Ageing. The connection was that this reflected my personal story as I had been raised by my grandparents from the age of seven. When I heard about the project it was a no-brainer that this would be my first sub-fund project!

The community foundation model has worked well for me – governance and investment decisions are sound and I’ve been able to have a level of input that has been appropriate for me at the time. I’ve also been able to diversify the areas I support. An area of growing interest for me over many years has been the challenges facing refugees and asylum seekers. I volunteered for a few years providing hands-on settlement support to newly arrived refugee families and also worked as a program coordinator for a project supporting refugee kids in schools (part of a massive career change but that’s another story!). Increasingly I have also despaired at the quality of political and public discourse on this issue. The most recent organisation supported by my SCF sub-fund has been the NSW Asylum Seekers Centre – a small organisation doing excellent work with very limited resources.

So my engagement in formal philanthropy has progressed in a slow but considered and increasingly structured manner over the last ten years. Alongside this I’ve also supported a couple of other initiatives – again they have a personal connection – and that does seem to be the consistent theme that drives my personal giving. The first was setting up an annual scholarship to fund a place for an individual from the not for profit sector to undertake the Sydney Leadership Program. That was a pivotal experience for me and one that I wanted others to share.  Secondly, I’ve provided three years of support to fund an annual student bursary (in the name of my niece Tara) in the recently established School for Social Entrepreneurs Australia. This came about because I was working alongside two amazing women who were involved in the initial establishment of SSE Australia back in 2008. I wanted to support their work and also wanted to help support the initial set-up of a program with huge potential.

That brings me to the here and now and the recent set up of a private ancillary fund. How did I get to this stage? Well, again it took a personal experience to show me the way. In 2010 I took up a role working at The Myer Foundation. When applying for this role it had become abundantly clear that I really wanted this experience (you know that rare moment when you can just feel that something is the right thing for you to be doing). Fortunately I got the job and apart from learning a lot about good grantmaking I also learnt about other formal forms of philanthropy such as private ancillary funds. Quite quickly I decided that this was the next step for me to take and so the Slingsby Foundation was founded in 2010. The name comes from the name of my grandad’s company – after all it only exists because of him. It’s a very small PAF at the moment but it will continue to grow during the remainder of my lifetime.

When I was signing the Trust Deed for the Foundation I did feel like it was the culmination of a journey that began with my grandad sitting me down with the financial section of the newspaper very patiently trying to share his knowledge with his disinterested grandson. It took almost 40 years from that time, but this Foundation will be a legacy of not just his work but also the very different work that I have undertaken during my life.  His and my skills are very different but this Foundation brings the best of both of us together. Now, it’s up to me to develop its strategy and I’ll share some of my early work in this area with you in parts three and four.

Before that, I should provide some final reflections on the key things that have helped me to finally embrace my inner philanthropist!

  • I’ve realised that there are lots of different ways you can take part and that all of them (personal donations, sub-funds, PAF’s etc) have an important role to play
  • Personal connections and relationships have been critical
  • My values have driven my actions
  • My level of interest, engagement and involvement has progressively increased as I’ve learnt about myself, my skills and developed my own confidence to participate in this field
  • I see this as my opportunity to lead good work in the world.

David Hardie recently worked as a Program Manager and Intern at the Myer Foundation and Sidney Myer Fund. He is the Founder of the Slingsby Foundation and strongly believes that those Australians who are financially well-off should grow Australian philanthropy and help build the social fabric of the nation that has provided their wealth. 

So…I guess I’m one of those philanthropist wankers. (Part 1)

In part one of a special four part series, David Hardie explains how it is he came to be a philanthropist. You can follow part two of his journey tomorrow.

I’ve been an interested observer of the world of philanthropy for a few years now and in particular, the increasing efforts to encourage a greater sense of giving amongst wealthy Australians. I’ve nodded quietly to myself when reading the assessment that Australians just don’t like to go public about such things (the tall poppy syndrome and all that) and I’ve heartily laughed when noting a recent observation that many ordinary Australians equate the word philanthropist with wanker.

Although I suspect I’ll never fully embrace the philanthropist job title I also firmly believe in the importance of de-mystifying and challenging labels, especially through the power of personal stories.

So I thought why not use the Three Eggs musings to share some of my insights drawn from what has been a ten year, (umm, yep I’m going to use the dreaded ‘j’ word)…journey, to get me to my recent milestone of establishing a private ancillary fund. I’ll do it in four parts. The first two will provide some history on what has got me to this stage and in parts three and four I’ll share some thoughts on the strategy I’m putting in place for this PAF.

To deal with the obvious question first…where did the $ come from? The money is an inheritance from my beloved grandfather – an unassuming man who through sheer hard work and a great mind for smart investments managed to establish and build a small family investment company during his lifetime. We’re not talking massive wealth here – but it is more than I or my other family members need to lead the type of lives we want – again, pretty unassuming ones. I realised from a young age that one day there was a good chance that, as an ‘only grandchild’, I’d end up with responsibility for the company. To say that this didn’t particularly excite me was an understatement. Despite my grandad’s best efforts to get me engaged, I just could never get interested in this world. Money and finances have never been my thing, I’ve always liked words not numbers and I’ve never once (until very recently – but more on that in part four!) got a thrill from reading a balance sheet or shares portfolio, no matter how positive they might be. I also really liked my life and didn’t want the acquisition of wealth to change it. So the idea that one day I might be responsible for this seemed quite a burden. My grandad passed away in 2001 at the age of 88 and he was still overseeing his investment portfolio right till the end…proudly reflecting on what he had built ‘for his family’.

For quite awhile the family just let things continue on as they were (with the assistance of sound investment advisors). I just put all this to one side and continued on with my life as it was. I didn’t really consider that the wealth was mine and didn’t even want to think about it too much. So things stayed like that for a few years. With one exception. I established a memorial scholarship in my grandad’s name to provide an opportunity for a student from a disadvantaged background to undertake an undergraduate engineering degree. Having pursued a HR career and been responsible for a large public sector trainee and graduate recruitment program this was an area I knew something about. So I guess that this scholarship (which continues to this day) was my first act of traditional philanthropy.

Then, in 2004, I met someone who was in the process of setting up the Sydney Community Foundation and shared an intense and challenging time with her and 30 others on the eight month Sydney Leadership Program – a social leadership program that tends to turn your world upside down (in a good way!). I had undertaken this program because of a growing realisation that I was interested in social issues and that while money wasn’t my thing as such, that people certainly were – especially people who were marginalised in some way. I’d been volunteering as a telephone counsellor for a few years and slowly developing more self-awareness about what mattered to me, what my values were and had started to consider those simple questions like ‘what’s your purpose in life?’ And creating the space for those questions led to some clarity about what I should do next.

David Hardie recently worked as a Program Manager and Intern at the Myer Foundation and Sidney Myer Fund. He is the Founder of the Slingsby Foundation and strongly believes that those Australians who are financially well-off should grow Australian philanthropy and help build the social fabric of the nation that has provided their wealth. 

Why we need to build a culture of giving in Oz and how to do it

The true test of a civil society is how we treat those less fortunate. A clear indication of this, of course, is how we treat those entities that are trying to assist those that are less fortunate i.e. our community organisations. Do we build up their organisational capacity so that they can thrive and achieve their mission? Or do we let them languish, grossly undercapitalised, with only a few months’ salary in the bank? We need to grow a strong and vibrant philanthropic sector for the benefit of our community. If we build the philanthropic sector to a material size it will have the ability to be a powerful change agent in this country to tackle the ills in society. We have the wealth and intelligence to resolve most of the issues in our community. Do we have the desire?

The giving stats are clear: we only give 0.36% of our income p.a. to NFPs, 62% of us make no gift to NFPs and 37% of the 6,500 Australians who earn over $1m make no gift to NFPs. (2008/09 ATO giving analysis.)

The BRW Rich List was recently released, indicating that the aggregate wealth of the ‘top 200’ was $167b. And this is just the top 200. Whilst there is little transparency in the philanthropic sector, we know that the aggregate annual giving of the top 10 family foundations, all PAFs and all foundations managed by trustee companies is under $400m p.a. Accordingly, despite our significant wealth, I would suggest that the philanthropic sector is distributing little more than $500m p.a.

There are several reasons for the lack of generosity of Australians. I think the major reason is the wealth is new – most of the wealth in our country has been created in the last 40 years. Accordingly, we are yet to build a culture of giving; a culture of sharing our success. “Give it away? Hang on a minute, I’ve just made it!”

I believe there are 3 clear ways to build a culture of giving in this country:

1.) Implement a ‘Giving Campaign’

We need to implement a ‘Giving Campaign’ as done in the UK in 2001. We need to put our poor giving stats up in ‘neon lights’ for all to see. This will stop the constant perpetuation of the myth that Australians are generous. Then we need to set a giving target. I would suggest we start with 1.5% of our income. I recognise that not everyone can do this, however, many can do it without impacting their lifestyle. If we each individually start measuring our giving it will have a material impact. We need to celebrate our giving. Simon McKeon was an outstanding choice as ‘Australian of the Year’. I suggest that in the future the next award on Australia Day after this announcement should be the ‘Philanthropist of the Year’. Other categories of giving awards should be determined. We need an education campaign for financial advisers on giving options including community foundation sub-funds and Private Ancillary Funds. We need an education campaign for affluent families on the incredible educational tool that a family foundation can be. Learnings including: responsibility of wealth, community engagement, vision setting, implementing a giving strategy to achieve the vision, investment strategies and board and governance issues. This is all done within the family, resulting in richer and deeper family conversations.

We need to establish the first $1b foundation in this country and talk about it. We then need to encourage families with wealth of, say, $10m to slice off 10% of the family wealth and put it in a family foundation and talk about it to encourage others. We need to publish a book/brochure listing the ‘Top 100 Grants in Australia’s History’ to remind and inspire people about the number of iconic institutions that have been seed funded (or continually propped up) by the philanthropic dollar. We also need to assist NFPs better tell their stories to inspire donors into action.

2.) Establish an independent Charities Commission

This will not only better and more efficiently regulate the community sector, it will better promote public trust in the sector. This is critical to building a culture of giving. This is looking promising given the announcement in the recent Federal Budget. However, the devil will be in the detail. Hopefully we can learn from the successes overseas and get this right.

3.) Endorse Philanthropy Australia as a deductible gift recipient

The vast majority of P.A. members can only give to DGRs. Therefore they cannot give to their peak body to assist it in growing its organisational capacity to better promote the sector. Isn’t that odd! We must inspire families to give via outstanding case studies of philanthropy being a powerful change agent. We must get affluent families giving more consideration to the disadvantages of leaving significant income streams to their children. I love Warren Buffet’s saying: ‘Leave enough to your kids to do anything in life, but not enough to do nothing’. As a father, it’s hard to argue against that!

We must encourage donors to talk about their giving. Giving needs to become the ‘norm’ in this country. I know it will. I’m just impatient!

Peter Winneke is the Head of Philanthropic Services at The Myer Family Company.

Peter is a qualified Chartered Accountant. Upon completion of his degree, he spent eight years working in the insolvency and corporate recovery division at Andersen, followed by eight years of media acquisitions at Southern Cross Broadcasting (Australia) Limited. Over many years of overseas travel he developed a passion for philanthropy’s ability to address some of the world’s inequity.

He joined The Myer Foundation in 2003 as Finance Manager. Motivated by a desire to drive the growth of the philanthropic sector, in 2004 he founded the Philanthropic Services division of The Myer Family Company.  In recent years he has established over 60 foundations and assisted with the implementation of their strategic giving programs. He is Secretary of the Sidney Myer Fund and The Myer Foundation and other foundations.

There’s one in every crowd

Last month I was in Boston for the Centre on Effective Philanthropy’s 10 year anniversary conference, Better Philanthropy: from data to impact. Lovely city, stimulating conference! Debra recently blogged about CEP’S report on exemplary program officers, which was the basis for a fascinating panel session at the conference. Key note presenters at the conference included Geoff Raikes, CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, who spoke with Nadya K Shmavonian, CEP board member about the challenges of foundation strategy. Susan Parker has blogged about that and you can also see the full video of the conversation here.

Geoff spoke about a range of issues and made an almost offhand comment about his view of philanthropic dollars as definitely not public money, but private money. The room seemed fine with that, no-one rose up in outraged disagreement, but in a later session David Hunter of Hunter Consulting expressed, rather forcefully, exactly the opposite view, one that we here may be more familiar with. That view was that philanthropic dollars most definitely are tax dollars foregone, and that therefore it is in effect public money. Hence, in David’s view the absolute imperative for assessing the impact of grant making.

Which brings me to my main train of thought. David was a panel contributor on a session entitled Driving Toward Impact: what funders can do to support nonprofits’ performance management. What I heard as the challenges to philanthropy thrown out by David during this session really made the conference for me. He started by saying that we, philanthropy, should be looking more at what we are doing wrong, in terms of support to nonprofits, rather than focusing on what the nonprofits are doing wrong, in terms of their own effectiveness. Moreover there’s a mindset issue among funders regarding their own accountability.

Increasingly philanthropic trusts and foundations are engaged in working with NFPs to improve their capacity. In the US this seems to be particularly the case, where many foundations, even those with relatively modest grant making, seem to have sizable staff, much of whose time is devoted to working directly with NFPs to develop their capacity. In David’s view, many of these foundations are not a good source of advice to NFPs and should stay out of that particular kitchen. Why? Because they lack clear domains of change for their own grantmaking – that is they are not clear about what it is they actually want to achieve as a foundation; they have no clear metrics of success; and while they may be gathering data from their grantees, they are weak on the use of that data.

David spent many years at the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, which is very clear about what it is it wants to achieve, and places a very strong emphasis on its grantees measuring their performance. This is very clearly expressed on the foundation’s Results page, as follows:

“Since 1999, the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation has concentrated on increasing the number of low-income youth served by programs with proof or persuasive evidence that they help economically disadvantaged young people [my italics] make the transition to healthy, productive, independent adulthood. To accomplish this, the Foundation devotes much of its resources, efforts and time to assisting grantees in building their evidence base.”

In an earlier session David asked a question of a presenter regarding a foundation’s detailed logical framework for a program aiming to strengthen the field in a particular sector. In his question David pointed out that none of the expected outcomes resulting from strategies in the areas of leadership development, organisational strengthening, network building and so on actually referred to changes or improvements in the lives of the people whom the grantee organisations serve.

Good point I thought, and it’s one I’ll be keeping in mind. I guess it’s summed up as the “so what” question: so we’ve supported this organisation to become strong, well managed, well governed and all the things funders value. But what difference is the organisation making in the lives of those with which it works?

Caitriona has referred earlier to the doco “Saving Philanthropy”. This was shown in its entirety at the conference. It too features David Hunter (he gets around) and it speaks to the very question of the difference that programs and organisations make (or not), and the importance of tracking, reflecting and learning.

Someone in the audience during Geoff Raikes’ conversation referred to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as “the fat boy in the canoe”. That may be so, but you know how there’s “one in every crowd”? Well for me David Hunter was that one in the crowd at the CEP conference and I thank him for it. I’ll be thinking about his provocative contribution for some time to come.

Kirsty Allen is a Program Manager with The Myer Foundation and Sidney Myer Fund. Kirsty came to the philanthropic sector in 2007 following nearly ten years working in international development with a focus on women and gender issues. During this time part of her role was to seek funds from philanthropic trusts and foundations and sometimes she was successful. 

The paucity debate that won’t go away

Another week, another story in the news about Australia’s wealthy being miserly when it comes to their giving. In Saturday’s Age Newspaper, Simon McKeon, 2011 Australian of the Year and philanthropist, led the charge against a paucity of giving from our high net worth individuals.  He was ably supported by more regular proponents of the debate in Daniel Petre, Dick Smith and Peter Winneke. Expect more to come with McKeon stating his intention to ‘elevate’ the issue over the coming weeks (perhaps we should invite him to blog?).

The McKeon focused article raised and addressed some of the myths around the ‘quiet code of giving’; if Australia’s wealthy were giving quietly surely it would show up in annual tax statistics? Or at the very least we could expect to hear more from charities about generous gifts from anonymous donors? No concludes Dick Smith, “I believe it’s a myth, I believe they don’t give”. The naming and shaming (and a couple of billionaires were highlighted) appears to be stage 1 of an attempt to develop an Australian culture of giving.  By increasing our community expectations of giving by high net worth individuals, we start to chip away at the tall poppy syndrome that keeps so many of our genuine philanthropists from speaking openly about their giving.

As I flipped my way through The Age on Saturday I came to the sports section where Australian NBA star Andrew Bogut was profiled, discussing his hopes for his business life after basketball and his philanthropy. It was easy to be impressed by Bogut’s business nous, discussing the need to grow his brand and business ventures at the ‘peak’ of his career, minimising risk and maximising his ability to recover should things go wrong.

Bogut then goes on to talk about his philanthropy and an interesting contradiction occurs.  He initially discusses the $25K he put up as reward for information on missing Melbourne teenager Jesse Densley. What Bogut recognised was that while the reward money would help, throwing his name behind the hunt for the teen would add to public awareness and ultimately might help to get Jesse home.  That’s masterful leveraging and it worked, with Jesse found hours later. Cash + Leverage = Impact. Bogut then goes on to tell of his new approach to giving – he follows world events and gives in a vein similar to the ‘secret millionaire’.  Much of the fundraising he did for the Victorian Bush Fires and Queensland and Victorian floods was without public attention or media, “that’s the way I like it” he notes.  So what we have is one article with a combative Dick Smith calling the myth of Australian ‘quiet giving’ rubbish and then just  few pages later we have Andrew Bogut espousing the value of it. The irony however is that Bogut provided the perfect example of the power of talking about giving via his donation to the reward for finding Jesse Densley. Here he acknowledges that the power of talking about his gift generated more impact than cash alone could. I wonder then what drove him to approach the rest of his philanthropy quietly?

Reading about Andrew Bogut’s business ventures and what drives him you get the feeling he has the potential to be a part of a new generation of philanthropists in Australia. They’re the ones that bring their business nous and clout to their giving, but critically, don’t mind talking about giving money away. Perhaps Simon McKeon needs to get on the phone to Andrew and encourage him to keep using his ‘brand’ to highlight issues that are important to him and to throw his giving into the spotlight. One thing that is clear about Andrew Bogut is that he is not a part of Australia’s miserly high net worth individuals, so ten more of him would be very nice.

You can follow Caitriona Fay on Twitter via @cat_fay

Crowd funding

I was on a panel recently chatting about funding with Rick Chen from crowd funding website Pozible.  Crowd funding is described (on Wikipedia, the font of all my knowledge) as “the collective cooperation, attention and trust by people who network and pool their money and other resources together, usually via the internet, to support efforts initiated by other people and organisations”.  Pozible is specifically for creative projects and ideas.  Creative types can load a project on the website for which they are seeking support, and anybody on the planet can give the project a small or large amount of money, or anything in between.

I was pretty excited about the Pozible model, and impressed by its success in its first year.  Rick said there’s been a 60% success rate, which means 60% of the people who’ve put projects up for support have successfully reached their fundraising target.  Not bad.

The first time I heard about this type of funding was at the Grantmakers in the Arts conference in Chicago last year.  There are a few different types of crowd funding.  Some sites house projects which have the capacity to offer tax deductions and others provide a ‘gift’ in return for your support.  At the conference I heard about some really amazing examples.  United States Artists was seeded with $22 million from a coalition of foundations (FordRockefeller, Prudential and Rasmuson) and in 2010, launched the first “micro-philanthropy” site for artists.  I also love the thinking behind Community Supported Art.  Combining my two loves – food and art – CSA was inspired by the increasing trend of consumers buying seasonal produce directly from local growers.  They’ve applied that same theory to the arts.  Community members can buy a ‘share’ which gives them three ‘farm boxes’ containing art works from local artists.  I may be getting away from crowd funding a bit here, but I think it’s a really innovative way to get a collective of funders to support an artist’s work.

I was excited about Pozible because I see it as part of a new wave of philanthropic initiatives.  It was pointed out during Rick’s presentation that the ‘donations’ are not really donations because, in Pozible’s case, you get something in return (called ‘Rewards’ on Pozible and ‘Perks’ on United States Artists).  In the legal sense, that’s absolutely correct.  You’re getting something in return for your dollars and therefore you’re not entitled to a tax deduction.  But philosophically, it sort of feels more like philanthropy to me.  What you’re getting in tangible terms is usually something small like your name on a website or a signed copy of a book or CD.  What’s far more valuable to the giver is that warm fuzzy feeling that you’ve been part of something.  Knowledge that you, along with many others, have contributed your small part to actually make something happen.  Given the sense of community it brings, I think there’ll be a lot more crowd funding, and models like it, to come.

When the philanthropist met the filmmaker

I’ve been learning a little bit about Documentary Australia Foundation (DAF), an organisation bringing together philanthropic grantmakers, charities and filmmakers.  I love the concept, perhaps because I love the power of documentaries. Storytelling appeals to my Irish nature.

Documentaries today are helping to educate and advocate.  Yes, they can be controversial, but that’s why documentaries and philanthropy are potentially a really good fit. Like or loath, the water cooler power of films such as An Inconvenient Truth, Bowling for Columbine or Autism the Musical cannot be denied.

A really great example here in Australia is the Choir of Hard Knocks.  Established as a choir consisting of homeless and socially disadvantaged people from around Melbourne, the group came to public prominence as part of a five-part ABC documentary series in 2007. The choir, with the help of the series, brought the issue of homelessness into Australian homes, helping people to better understand how it can happen and the need for greater services and housing for those doing it rough.

All this thinking about documentaries and the power of the philanthropy/filmmaker partnership led me to an inevitable question – could a documentary about philanthropy increase the numbers of people giving in Australia?  Better yet, could a documentary about philanthropic partnerships and approaches improve the way the sector works?

In 2009 a number of US funders supported Kate Robinson in creating Saving Philanthropy a documentary profiling diverse organisations doing great, measurable and impactful work with the support of philanthropy. While I haven’t seen the full film, the trailer gives you a glimpse of some of the issues and questions that could get philanthropy in Australia talking. Check out a clip below.

Would Australian philanthropy be willing to open itself up in a similar way?  I can imagine that there are a number of philanthropists and trusts and foundations who would be willing and able.  All we need now are the funds….perhaps it’s time for a chat with the good folks of Documentary Australia Foundation!

For the record, the documentary that sits at the top of my top ten list is Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father. What about yours?

You can follow Caitriona Fay on Twitter via @cat_fay

Giving like Herb and Dorothy

They weren’t born rich. They didn’t get rich either. Quite the opposite in fact. But they are major American philanthropists. They’re Herbert and Dorothy Vogel.

I hadn’t heard of the Vogels until a couple of weeks ago when I was scanning the shelves of my local video shop for something to watch (why do we still call them video shops?!) and a title caught my eye: “Herb and Dorothy. The incredible true story of a postal worker and a librarian who built a world-class art collection”.

Using Herb’s salary alone (they lived on Dorothy’s) the Vogels managed to amass what is described in the film as “one of the most important contemporary art collections in history”.  They did this using just two selection criteria:

  1. they had to be able to afford the work, and
  2. it had to fit into their rent-controlled one bedroom apartment in Manhattan!

While the artists represented in the collection now reads as a who’s who of major Minimalist, Conceptual and post-1960s artists, the Vogels bought the works when no one else was interested, which meant they were able to buy them for virtually nothing. They bought passionately and compulsively for almost 30 years and by the early 90s their apartment was busting at the seams with works of art estimated to be worth millions of dollars.

In 1992, after being courted by some major art museums and made many lucrative offers for their collection, the Vogels gifted it to the National Gallery of Art in Washington. But what motivated them to do this? Why did they gift it? They may have been asset rich but in real terms they had no money!  They explain it as being because they’d both been government workers and they liked the idea of giving it to the American people.  Gorgeous!

Amazingly, they then went on to continue to collect art…..mainly using the small annuity the National Gallery had given them as a token of thanks for their gift (I love their story!!). Once again, the artworks outgrew the Vogels’ capacity to properly look after them and they decided to make another major gift to the American people. Unfortunately the National Gallery was unable to accept any more works, so instead they brokered an initiative which in the last couple of years has seen the distribution of 50 Vogel collection art works to 50 art museums around the US.  NY Times Vogel 50×50

Clearly it was all about the art and giving others the opportunity to gain as much from it as they had: learning from it and getting a huge amount of pleasure out of experiencing it. It’s such a human story and it’s so inspirational!

In the last week Australia has celebrated two major philanthropic gifts – one from John Kaldor and one from The Felton Bequest. The Kaldor Family Collection of 200 international contemporary art works was unveiled in its new home at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. The collection, which John Kaldor gifted to the Gallery in 2008, is valued at AU$35 million and is the single largest donation of art to an Australian public gallery. John says that his benefaction was driven by the fact that he sees art as an essential part of life and that he felt selfish having the art in his own home where only he and family were able to see it. As he has demonstrated via his commissioning of major public art works in Australia since the 1960s, he has a deep commitment to enabling public to learn from, have access to and enjoy art. It’s a hugely important gift.  ABC Kaldor Gift feature

The Felton Bequest was left to the National Gallery of Victoria by Alfred Felton on his death in 1904. He left £378,000 in trust (about $30 million in today’s money) for the NGV to use for the purchase of works and objects judged ”to have an educational value and to be calculated to raise and improve public taste”. Hmmmm. Since his death over 15,000 works of art valued at over $2 billion have been purchased, accounting for 80% of the NGV’s collection, and growing….the purchase and commissioning of a further 170+ art works was announced yesterday on the Gallery’s 150th birthday! It’s such a shame Felton didn’t give in his lifetime, so he could have seen the very value of his benefaction. In fact with such a categorical goal to improve public taste, I’m surprised he didn’t want to be around to know if he’d achieved it!  NGV at 150/Felton Bequest

It is these gifts and those of the Rockefellers, Guggenheims, Besens, D’Offays and Duffields to name but a few, that give so much to the public in terms of their capacity to create opportunities to learn and give enrichment and pleasure. Long may they continue! The Vogel’s story makes it feel possible that it could be any one of us that can give a gift which makes all the difference. I wonder if I have it in me to “do a Vogel“?!

If you want to see the trailer for Herb and Dorothy directed by Megumi Sasaki, click here: Herb and Doroth 2008 movie

Advocacy – not as naughty as you might think

Advocacy is a pretty divisive issue in philanthropy. For tax, legal or ideological reasons some people believe very strongly that philanthropy should not be in the game of supporting political campaigns. But there are some big name philanthropists who have plenty of skin in the advocacy game.  Gates, Soros, the Rockefellers and Feeney are all backers of major political advocacy in their areas of interest. But the cynics will tell you that individuals with big cheque books have always been good at influencing policy.

Many philanthropists here in Australia, who fund for charitable purposes, will argue that supporting advocacy is political and therefore fails the basic charity means test. But thanks to the brave souls at Aid/Watch that might all be about to change.

Changemakers Australia has recently released the results of their Charity Law Reform project that examines the barriers to advocacy under charity and tax laws. The report, which you can find here, is called Freedom to Speak – Capacity to Act. The low down is this –  while the Aid/Watch decision paves the way for more ‘political’ in our charity, we’ll have to wait for the ATO Tax Ruling for Charities before anything is set in stone.

For me, the really fascinating bits in the Freedom to Speak report come from the series of ‘hypotheticals’ put to the ATO.  The responses they provided to the hypotheticals appear to indicate that if philanthropy does its bit to make sure the organisations they are supporting have the appropriate tax status, then there’s not a lot to fear around the support of advocacy. Could it be that advocacy has been philanthropy’s bogey man, all fear without substance?

There’s a lot for funders to like about the opportunity to support advocacy. The return on investment is estimated in some circles to be over 100:1.  So to celebrate the potential, I thought I would highlight a few resources around funding advocacy. Here’s a list of four of my faves:

  1. Are we allowed to claim Atlantic Philanthropies as one of our own?  Probably not, but Chuck Feeney is a very generous honorary Australian, he’s also a big believer in the power of advocacy.  Here’s Atlantic Philanthropies report Investing in Change: Why Supporting Advocacy Makes Sense for Foundations
  2. The Harvard Graduate School of Education interviews four foundations around evaluating their advocacy funding.  The article called Pioneers in the Field: Four Foundations on Advocacy Evaluation examines why grantmakers choose advocacy and how they go about establishing whether their funding has had impact
  3. Ashley Allen a partner at the Endevor Group (who are definitely worth checking out) gives us a run down on some important philanthropic supported campaigns for change in her article Catalytic Philanthropy: Investing in Policy Advocacy 
  4. And finally (with thanks again to Atlantic Philanthropies for the link) the Chronicle for Philanthropy hosted an online discussion about advocacy campaigns, you can check out a reply of that chat with Tom Novak of the amazing M+R Strategic Services, Antha Williams, the Advocacy Exec at Atlantic Philanthropies and Dan Cramer of Grassroots Solutions

To make this list a nice round number at five, it would be great if you could share any additional resources you might know of via the comments section of the blog (go on, don’t be shy).

You can following Caitriona on Twitter via @cat_fay

How to make friends and influence philanthropy

A colleague has just returned from the Centre for Effective Philanthropy’s (CEP) conference Better Philanthropy: From Data to Impact in Boston.  The CEP provides data to philanthropic funders so they can “improve their effectiveness – and, as a result, their intended impact”.  She’s buzzing with new ideas, and was inspired by the people she met.

One of the areas CEP looks at is the funder-grantee relationship, or, whether we’re “working productively with our grantees”.  My colleague raved about the report Working with Grantees:  Keys to Success and Five Program Officers Who Exemplify Them. The CEP has looked at grantee survey data since 2004, and has tweaked their survey along the way to glean new insights.  Through this process, CEP has looked at over 9,600 suggestions from grantees on how foundations can improve.  That’s a lot of feedback…

In the introduction to the report, Paul Beaudet  from the Wilburforce Foundation says “At the very basic level, solid relationships with grantees are critically important because grantees are a very good source of information for us.  They are the ones doing the on-the-ground work.  They’re likely to have a much more nuanced and deeper understanding of the context for the work that needs to be done in the particular places that we care about.  If we have high-quality, long-term, trust-based relationships with grantees, we believe that we’ll have better knowledge around which we can make smart investments in their organizational and programmatic capacity, helping them to achieve their outcomes more efficiently and effectively.”  Yep, couldn’t have said it better myself.

I’ve been thinking about Caitriona’s recent blog on transparency, and I think a lot of the ‘how’ in transparency comes down to relationships.  And I mean relationships at all levels.  From the high level – for example the philanthropic sector’s relationship with government, and the perceptions of the philanthropic sector from the point of view of the not-for-profit sector – right down the nuts and bolts end – the relationship between the giver (whether that be the philanthropist, Foundation board director or philanthrocrat) and the asker (development manager, Board member of the NFP or fundraiser).  What Paul is talking about is transparency.  And a transparency that has a real benefit for both the Foundation and for those organisations it supports.

The CEP had four key findings of factors that contribute to a good relationship between Foundation staff and grantees.   Firstly, that Foundation staff understand the organisation they’re funding, including its goals and strategies.  Secondly, that the selection process of the Foundation helps strengthen the grantee organisation’s work.  Thirdly, that Foundation staff have expertise in the area they’re funding, and finally, communication between the grantee and the foundation staff, both who initiates it, and how often.

It sort of seems obvious, but I think there are still some take home lessons for us philanthrocrats.   For me it’s about keeping the door open, saying ‘yes’ to opportunities to learn, and doing my best to be engaged in sectors of interest.  In my experience, that’s where I’ve learnt the most.  And watching my peers, I think it’s also where the best projects are born.  So cheers to transparency.  May it make our sector stronger.

Arts funding – Federal budget follow-up

Well despite all of the doom and gloom, the Federal budget wasn’t as dire as we were led to believe it would be. Included in the Government’s key pledges to the Arts were:

  • $10m in new funding to the Aus Co to distribute (over five years) to artists across all artforms
  • continuation of funding to support its Contemporary Music Touring Program to the tune of $400,000/yr (bad pun!!) and;
  • $56m in support of TV and film production.

In terms of the new $10m funding, this will be used to support artists to produce new works, undertake fellowships and give additional presentations of their work to audiences around Australia. Grants of up to $80,000 will be made available for new work and up to $50,000 to support presentations. For a government with stretched resources to find an additional ten million dollars to support this kind of work is testament to the community value of the Arts in this country.

The shift in funding focus away from arts organisations towards individual artists appears to be a response to Aus Co’s 2010 Artist careers research. The research identified that for artists to create inspiring new work they need time, space and financial support. It also responds positively to the  New Models New Money paper, launched in early 2010 by the Queensland Government and the Centre for Social Impact, which highlighted the value of the arts in Australia and the importance of the individual artist to the growth and health of the sector. For funders with an interest in supporting artists the New Models New Money full discussion paper is well worth a read.

This provides a good segue to an interesting recent development in philanthropic funding of the Arts in Australia…. the new Sidney Myer Fund Arts and Humanities funding model. Full details aren’t due to be announced until later in the year, but what the Fund has revealed is that from 1 July 2011 it will give about 15 artists from around the country $80,000 per year for two years, seemingly with very few ties and binds. For a funder that has for so long supported Arts orgs via commonly used grant-making protocols, this is a huge change in direction. It’s great to see a big philanthropic taking risks and changing direction. I’m sure many artists, arts organisations and grantmakers will be watching with great interest.

Going back to Government funding of the arts in general, though, this time looking to the longer term. I mentioned in my last blog ( Arts Funding: England vs Australia ) that in April this year Harold Mitchell was tasked with leading a major review of private sector support for the Arts in Australia. The review will report on current Government arrangements for encouraging private sector support for the arts, consider potential new models for encouraging private sector support and develop policy options in the context of the long awaited National Cultural Policy. It doesn’t sound too dissimilar to the type of stuff happening in the UK that I talked about last time, where government is trying to leverage greater private support to try to take financial pressure off itself.  There’s been a broadly positive reception of their actions, and no doubt the same will be true here too.  The review is scheduled to be reported on in late October 2011.

It looks like there are some interesting times ahead!