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.

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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


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….


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


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!

  


Philanthropivot

In a recent blog post, Jennifer Barry, CEO of Footscray Community Arts Centre ponders “how useful the multi-year business plan is as a management tool in a super-charged, fast changing world”.  While acknowledging that business planning is essential to understanding where you’re headed as an organisation, she questions whether our obsession with KPIs and outputs is necessarily the best use of our time.  Jen suggests a middle ground, “an intelligent and intuitive balance between Control and Chaos”.

As Jen rightly says, the need to find the balance between control and chaos is not just true for arts organisations, but across the entire spectrum of the not for profit, and for profit, sectors.  And I think it’s something particularly pertinent for philanthropic funders to consider.

I’ve been pondering the same questions as Jen recently, but from the other side of the fence.  While Jen talks about the reporting requirements of government funders, I’ve been thinking about the reporting we expect as philanthropic funders, and wondering if we could look at things differently.

When we’re assessing grants it’s necessary to do the due diligence.  We look at an organisation’s business plan, the leadership, the financials, and the nuts and bolts of the project we’re being asked to support.  While I think this is perfectly reasonable – we want to be sure we’re supporting good organisations – I think we could perhaps be a little more flexible when the project is actually in funding, and in our expectations at the completion of the project.

At the Grantmakers in the Arts conference in Chicago last year, Joi Ito, soon to be Executive Director of MIT Media Lab, gave a presentation entitled ‘Living the Pivot’. Pivot is the capacity to change direction when things aren’t working out as you’d planned.  And more than that, it’s the ability to use the things you’ve learnt along the way to inform your change of direction.  The Pivot concept is currently hot in techno-land.  Some well known techno-pivots include Flickr, which was originally an online game, and YouTube, which was originally a video dating site.

I like the thought of applying the Pivot idea to philanthropy.  Much of the time we expect our grant recipients to report against the objectives stated in the funding proposal.  But what if we encouraged the organisations we support to be creative?  What if we said that it’s ok to fail, or ok to change direction?  What if we allowed for the possibility of a Pivot mid-grant?  Both Jen and the Pivot-geeks acknowledge there’s a much bigger risk of failure when you don’t stay on the prescribed path, but that’s the beauty of it.  As Jen says, “the failures aren’t a waste of time… they just bring us closer to a better solution.”  If we allow for, and even encourage, creativity and flexibility, there’s a possibility we might stretch some boundaries.  We might start to think about things in different ways and create new possibilities.  And we might fail more often.  But isn’t philanthropy the perfect vehicle to take some risks..?

You can follow Debra Morgan on Twitter @debmorgan22