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.


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


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


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


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