Philanthropy? Musings from Caitriona Fay

Philanthropy, or at least the word, is starting to get some press in Australia. And mainstream press to boot. In the very recent past philanthropy in Australia has been so poorly received and understood  that the former Head of Philanthropy Australia, Gina Anderson, spruiked the idea of calling philanthropy something else all together! Desperate measures indeed.

I’ve worked in philanthropy for a number of years and more specifically in grantmaking in one form or another all of my professional life. After a stint in the UK I now find myself in my fifth year here in the philanthropic sector in Australia where I work as a Senior Program Manager for The Ian Potter Foundation. I still draw blank looks from people when I tell them what I do but increasingly I am noticing less awkward silences and more genuine interest. Perhaps I’m just explaining myself better. Or maybe the sector does have a genuine growing profile.

In the spirit of growing Australia’s philanthropic profile I was personally delighted to see Peter Winneke on the front page of The Age Online (4 April2 011) suggesting that more wealthy Aussies needed to ‘Cough Up’ money to good causes. Pete like Daniel Petre is passionate about the need for those who can give more to start doing so. I agreed with most of what Pete had to say in his article (check it out here), so I was a little shocked to see the level of vitriol dispensed at the notion of ‘giving’ via the comments section below the article. Surely the concept of philanthropy is not all that controversial?

What concerned me most upon reading some of the comments posted on The Age website was that there appeared a real level of distrust about the performance of the charitable sector in Australia. There also appeared a genuine belief from many posters that giving money to ‘good causes’ was akin to throwing money into a deep dark hole. After some thought and a bit of a debrief with my fellow philanthropy egg heads I came to a concerning realisation. What if what I took for trolling from a misinformed public is actually a true reflection of the concerns of not only the community, but those within the third sector? The question of who to fund, how to fund and how to measure impact is the stuff we in philanthropy grapple with daily. These conversations happen within board rooms and offices. The challenges of ‘giving’ are rarely discussed publicly and even if they were do,  people even care?

The lack of public conversation around the role of philanthropy in the Australian community is one of the reason I’ve signed on to contribute to this blog. There are already a few great blogs and bloggers in Australia working in this space. We’re not here to add to the noise. Instead we hope that together with other blogs and bloggers we can build a beautiful crescendo that helps to keep pushing the issues and ideas within philanthropy forward. I see this blog as a great opportunity for those people working in philanthropy or interested in the space to have a conversation about the challenges and opportunities the sector is facing. Feel free to be critical and challenge the concepts and ideas we put forward. We’re here to start the conversation, not dominate it. We’d also love to hear from people who would like to suggest topics or act as contributors to the blog.

You can follow Caitriona Fay on Twitter @cat_fay