The paucity debate that won’t go away

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

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

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

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

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

You can follow Caitriona Fay on Twitter via @cat_fay