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.

HOW WILL IT WORK?

  • 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.

WHAT DOES ‘TOP’ MEAN?

  • 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.

 

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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.


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 tenderbridge@acer.edu.au.

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 www.legacy10.com  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 (www.includeacharity.com.au) 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


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