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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What the?!

When the news broke a few weeks ago that Deborah Seifert, CEO of Philanthropy Australia, had resigned after being in the post barely two years I was really surprised.   I was even more surprised when it was announced more or less simultaneously that the Director of ArtSupport Australia, Louise Walsh, would be stepping into her shoes.  After initially being a little bit puzzled at the seamlessness of it all, I began to think about the possibilities that having Louise at the helm might represent and things felt quite positive.  Interesting, even.

But what has unfolded this past couple of weeks has left me a little cold.  I really don’t know what to make of it all.  Which is not being helped by the fact that PA is revealing nothing to its membership.  Where is the communication?  Where is the transparency?  Consequently the rumour mill is running wild and people are not happy about the whole situation. Certainly, if the rumours are true there are big changes on the horizon which, if they are to be accepted, need to be managed (which they haven’t to date).  And so, what was an air of possibility has now become a distinctly bad smell.

All this and then the Opposition’s opposition to the ACNC.  Obviously I can’t pretend to know the whole of the NFP sector, but what I can say is that I haven’t heard the same wide-ranging doubts and concerns that Kevin Andrews, Liberal spokesman for families, housing and human services was recently quoted by Fairfax Media as having heard. However if there are doubts and misgivings, it’d be great to hear them….

 


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


Gonski calls to philanthropy

In the 24 hours since its release the public response has been mostly positive to David Gonski’s comprehensive report on the funding of Australia’s schools. The independent and catholic school systems, state education proponents and unions are all urging the Gillard Government to act on the recommendations of the report. With 5 billion extra dollars being earmarked by Gonski to fund his reforms it’s not all together surprising.

One of the big surprises falling from the report was the focus on the need for greater partnerships between schools and philanthropy. The recommendations equally acknowledge the role philanthropy plays in our communities and the need to better equip schools to access that funding. We’ve raised some of the issues facing philanthropists wishing to support schools in a previous post and it was great to see some of the important voices on the issue, Ros Black, Michelle Anderson, Philanthropy Australia, Brian Caldwell, Myles McGregor-Lowndes et al, referenced in the Report.

So let’s take a quick look at the recommendations the Report makes on philanthropy and school partnerships.

1. A fund to encourage philanthropic giving to schools in low socioeconomic areas

The report outlines this fund as a DGR entity focused on assisting schools to develop philanthropic partnerships. As a staffed organisation, the fund would be responsible for facilitation of school-philanthropy partnerships while also building the capacity of individual schools to better partner with philanthropy. We have seen a number of organisations working actively in this space. For example, The Australian Council for Education Research (ACER) has established the Tender Bridge with the specific intent of assisting schools to develop the skills and knowledge required to better access and work with philanthropic and corporate partners. ACER and Tend Bridge have also been the key drivers behind the Leading Learning in Education and Philanthropy (LLEAP) initiative that is investigating the impact of philanthropy in education with the aim of building knowledge and improving outcomes for schools and their philanthropic partners.

2. Capacity building

Access is a critical issue for many schools when attempting to interact with philanthropy and other potential donors.

  • Access to philanthropy – understanding who is out there, how to approach donors and what a suitable partnership looks like
  • Access to individuals – building and growing alumni with a view to keeping former students connected to their school communities for longer
  • Access to DGR status– limitations around DGR funds, particularly for state schools means community partnerships must be developed with the non-profit sector
  • Access to knowledge – understanding different types of grantmaking and sponsorship partnership and what reciprocal obligations, if any, they create

Building the capacity of schools to improve their access to all of the above is imperative in allowing school-philanthropy-business partnerships continue to grow.

3. Increase taxation incentives for donations to government schools

Seen by some as a soulless altruism, tax incentives have been highlighted as a potential means to increase donations to government schools. Debate is still hot on whether these incentives actually work but as highlighted in the Report they could at the very least be an important conversation starter between some donors and schools.

There is a good deal to do before the vision and potential of  a more active philanthropy-schools collaboration is realised. Senator Jacinta Collins has been tasked by the Government with examining the Report’s philanthropy recommendations further and to continue a consultation process with the key stakeholders. The great thing however is that philanthropy has been slowly moving towards more sustained engagement with the school sector for some time. Organisations like the former Education Foundation and the Foundation for Young Australians have a wonderful history in this space. The development of the Business Working with Education Foundation is a further example of this movement as is the wonderfully engaged interaction of so many philanthropic funders with the Leading Learning in Education and Philanthropy (LLEAP) research project over the past 12 months. All of this serves as a reminder of the commitment many funders already have to finding better ways of working with schools. Let’s hope Senator Collins engages with them all.

You can follow the musings of Caitriona Fay on Twitter via @cat_fay or the blog via @3eggphil.


It’s a question of validity

I’ve noticed lately a few really interesting and exciting surveys are circulating the philanthropic sector, trying to track how much and where Australian philanthropy is giving.  I’ve enjoyed seeing an increasing research presence in the sector.  It feels in many ways that it’s the next phase of sector growth and maturity, as we attempt to learn more about our giving practices as a nation.

Last week I attended the Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network (AEGN) 2011 Conference.  The AEGN is a great organisation supporting environmental philanthropy in Australia and the conference was a special day focusing on Indigenous environmental granting. Sitting at the conference among a committed band of environment funders I was reminded that it was not long ago that the AEGN launched the 2010 Green Philanthropy Report. The report, supported by a survey filled in by a a touch over 50 funders, demonstrated to the Board of the AEGN that they needed to up the ante in trying to attract philanthropists to environmental grantmaking. That is what capturing this basic information should do, it should inform our practices, our approaches and our priorities as a sector. We should be looking at areas to improve and grow but data is critical to understanding the current landscape.

It is this need for data that has got me thinking. What is the quality of the information philanthropy is currently capturing?  Sure, it’ easy to talk broad figures e.g Foundation X distributes $1million in grants annually. But what if  we wanted to scratch the surface of that giving a little more, is philanthropy in Australia currently equipped to provide accurate data genuinely reflective of its giving practices? I work for a Foundation that has spent the better part of the last 3 years trying to better ‘code’ or ‘categorize’ the grants we make.  I can tell you it’s not been an easy process, there have been a lot of staff hours poured over what information we should capture and still we are left with the reality that the coding process is ultimately subjective. One persons ‘Youth’ program is another persons ‘Education’.

Thankfully Philanthropy Australia (PA) has provided an outline for a grant classification system that encourages funders to capture data using a common sector language. PA’s website states that The intention (of the classification guide) is to standarise the terms used across the Australian philanthropic sector as far as practical, so that grantmaking can be documented and useful statistics on philanthropy collected in ways that contribute to shared understandings. I highly recommend this document as a starting point for those philanthropists or trusts and foundations looking to better capture their data.

While I know the process that my organisation has undertaken to record and capture basic data, I am less clear about the practices and consistencies across the rest of the sector.  And this is, in a lot of ways, the source of some of my discomfort. We as a sector need to be able to rely on the validity of the data that is being captured.  Equally, if we want researchers to continue to take an interest in where and who we are funding, then it’s important that they too feel that foundations aren’t working to a guesstimate. Again and again I feel it comes back to the issue of philanthropy needing to invest in itself to improve it’s value and credibility to the not-for-profit sector.

I’d love to hear your views on how the sector might better capture its basline data.  The work of organisations like the AEGN and Philanthropy Australia in undertaking membership surveys, is slowly helping to shape and influence practice. I just hope the we can provide them and our research partners with increasingly better quality data.

You can follow the musings of 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


Time for Open Philanthropy in Australia?

I hinted in a recent blog that there was growing talk in the philanthropic sector about the need for increased transparency. At the recent Philanthropy Australia AGM, President Bruce Bonyhady AM, ended his yearly review asking philanthropy to look more closely at the role it plays in society.  Two things stood out to me in Bruce’s speech, first was his belief that philanthropy could play a greater role in the advocacy space and second was that the sector needed to find more ways to be transparent. Both issues, that of advocacy and transparency, are important areas for consideration in Australian philanthropy today. We’ll be tackling both in upcoming blogs and today I’ll kick us off we a few thoughts on transparency.

The timing is right for Philanthropy Australia to push the need for greater transparency among trusts and foundations and not simply because so many are working to solve the same problems.  With the announcement of the formation of the The Australian Charities and Not-for-Profit Commission (ACNC) it is likely that we will see increased government interest in way the philanthropic sector is distributing its funds. Already established are minimum distribution requirements for private ancillary funds and a move to see the same placed on all their public ancillary counterparts. But to be honest, if the extending reach of government is the only incentive driving philanthropic transparency in Australia then we as a sector should probably be a little concerned.

The concept of ‘Open Philanthropy’ in the United States has been driving forward some interesting thinking and incentivising transparency in unique ways. The wonderful Lucy Bernholz (you must follow her blog) shared her modest manifesto on open philanthropy early last year and it really struck a chord with me at the time. Transparency improves our ability to address problems through the sharing of data, successes and failures but like all things in philanthropy the ‘how’ can be the really important bit.

The ‘how’ of transparency is something that the Foundation Center in the US has been looking closely at via the Glasspockets Initiative. The principle behind Glasspockets is, in the words of Janet Camarena, the Foundation Center’s  project lead, “all about creating a culture of transparency within foundations”. But in this digital age transparent philanthropy is no longer simply about sharing how much we fund, it’s about how we communicate openly with each other and the broader public. Glasspockets is a true resource for the community and grantmkers alike, providing functions such as a Heat Map showing the frequency with which information is shared by foundations and a tool allowing foundations to submit and post grant data electronically in near real-time (called eGrant Reporting).  Both functionalities are potentially important tools for grantmakers and the broader community, actively informing and mapping where philanthropy is working, who its engaging with and how engaged that conversation is with people at the coalface.

When I see the potential of initiatives such as Glasspockets for grantmaking I get a little excited.  Imagine the possibilities.  Imagine the potential for real collaboration and informed giving! We need to move away from a belief that transparency in philanthropy is simply about better reporting to government and the public via tax returns and annual reports.  I get the feeling that if the incentives are right for increased transparency in Australian philanthropy then the results could be game changing. But an investment needs to be made by philanthropy into itself, and the capacity of the sector, in order to undertake these initiatives and really drive them forward. I hope that this active transparency model is something the ACNC and Philanthropy Australia encourage among funders.

You can follow Caitriona on Twitter via @cat_fay