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.

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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


More than money

Each year since 2009 The Myer Foundation has offered a six month internship to a graduate of the  Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies (CPNS) at Queensland University of Technology. The internship provides an opportunity for the graduate to get their hands dirty at one of Australia’s largest family philanthropic foundations. While learning the ropes, the intern is also expected to undertake a piece of research that examines contemporary issues in philanthropy and the nonprofit sector.  The result is an experience that is valuable for the intern and the broader philanthropric and Not For Profit (NFP) sector alike (check out some posts from 2010 Myer Intern, David Hardie, on this blog).

The Myer Internship Program is a form of value-add philanthropy.  It’s no wonder then that the 2011 Myer Intern, Lesley Harris, decided to focus her research piece on what other value-add activities philanthropy in Australia was undertaking. Her report, An Exploration of Non-Grantmaking Activities in Philanthropy, explores the activities philanthropic organisations in Australia are currently undertaking beyond the provision of grants. There is a surprisingly diverse range of capacity building, policy and practical support currently being offered to NFPs by trusts and foundations.

While Lesley has been pulling together her report, counterparts in the UK have been doing the same. There, a group of funders commissioned some research around what the sector in the UK refers to as Philanthropy-Plus activities. The report, called Beyond Money: A study of funding plus in the UK, makes for fascinating reading. It captures the pros and cons of funders taking on a more engaged and hands-on approach with their grantees.

On the surface you might think funders bringing more than cash to the table is a good thing.  Great funders can help their grantees leverage extra dollars, negotiate policy outcomes and collaborate and connect like-minded organisations. This approach is best harnessed by those trusts and foundations who, rather than seeing themselves as being outside the NFP sector, consider themselves as a mission driven piece of its complex tapestry.

There are however important considerations for philanthropy to make before jumping into this ‘more than money’ approach. Equally, NFPs who are offered more than grants by funders need enter into the arrangement with their eyes wide open.

The UK study into philanthropy-plus activities lists capacity building as one of the primary activities undertaken by grantmakers beyond their financial contributions. I’ve previously posted about the challenge funders face when trying to support capacity building in a way that respects the power-dynamic that naturally exists between grantor and grantee. There can be just a subtle difference between a funder enabling and a funder encroaching on the work of their grantee. Being aware of the existence of that power-dynamic is important. Being respectful of it is essential.

It’s important that funders remember the diversity of grantee organisations they are working with. Not all will want, or have the time, energy or need, for the non-grantmaking support the funder can bring to the table. A standardised approach to non-grantmaking activities can be counter productive and result in poor outcomes.  The authors of the UK philanthropy-plus research encourage a bespoke approach that recognizes the different needs and resource requirements of each grantee .

The ultimate challenge for those funders wishing to add non-grantmaking activities to their service provision is the ability to recognise their own strengths and weaknesses.  Further, it is essential that the funder has a clear understanding of why they want to engage in non-grantmaking activities and what value it will bring.  If you are going to do it, then know why and, while you’re at it, measure whether or not you are having the intended impact.

This engaged approach can be resource intensive, it’s important therefore to be sure that you are adding value. When measuring, be realistic, the delicate power dynamic means sometimes your grantees won’t feel like they can say no to the extra support you are offering.  You’ll need to provide mechanisms for anonymous feedback and empower your grantees to be honest.  Better yet, resource the evaluation so a third party can ask the difficult questions.

Done well and with purpose, these non-grantmaking contributions can be incredibly valuable.  Done poorly, they can be harmful and deflating for all involved. The funders of the UK report into philanthropy-plus activities perhaps best sum it up in their foreword to the report:

Our work is our work. Their work is their work.
Our joint achievements are joint achievements. Our job
is to enable where we can and stand back, except where
we bring things to the table which only we can. Where
that is money, it should be given without expectation of glory.

Sara Llewellin, Barrow Cadbury Trust;  Sioned Churchill, Trust for London; Andrew Cooper, The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund

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


Two little BIG words

I hate it when people don’t say thank you. Maybe it’s my upbringing? Whenever we were given anything Mum would always go – “what do you say?” – and me, my brother and sister would chime, “Thank youuuu“. After Christmas, birthdays, or any other occasion which involved us receiving a gift from someone, we’d be sat down to write thank you letters to let people know we’d got and liked their gift. The importance of saying thank you was instilled in us to such a degree that these days if I hold the door open for someone, for example, and am not thanked, it’s not entirely uncommon for me to say slightly sarcastically “no, problem, it’s my pleasure”. Or maybe it’s nothing to do with my lovely Ma and it’s just Curmudgeonly Claire rearing her head again?!

One of the things I love most about my job is when I get to tell someone they’ve been awarded a grant. If I’ve been in contact with an applicant during the review process, they’ll know when a decision’s being taken on their application and they’ll be expecting a call. There’s usually a nervous, anticipatory silence at the other end of the phone which, if I was sadistic, I’d draw out before letting them know the decision, but I’m not so I try to cut to the chase as soon as possible (and because I’m excited to tell them!). It’s so lovely when you hear a delighted “thank you!”. Makes all the hard work so worthwhile.  I can’t tell you how disappointing it is to call someone to let them know they’ve been given thousands of dollars if I get little reaction and no thanks.

I’m not saying grantee gratitude is the be-all and end-all in the decision making process. Of course it’s not. A poorly conceived project isn’t going to be supported simply because an organisation said thank you for a grant in the past. But it is important, and it is remembered. It comes back to that all-important grant maker/grant seeker relationship again (How to make friends and influence philanthropy and Too much or not enough?).

And it seems I’m not the only one that notices when someone says thank you. The June/July edition of Fundraising and Philanthropy Australasia had a story about a donation of $1m to Queensland University of Technology, recently gifted by Peter and Heather Howes.

The Howes’ have a long association with QUT: both are ex-QIT students (QUT’s immediate predecessor) and have a daughter who graduated from QUT; both were lecturers at QIT; and Peter was a member of QUT‘s School of Management Advisory Board.  They first contributed financially to QUT in 2009 and 2010 in its annual alumni appeals, when they gave relatively small amounts of money in support of the Learning Potential Fund – an endowment fund to support bursaries and scholarships for QUT students in financial need.  They began discussions with the University about the potential for them to make a larger gift after July 2010 when they sold the very successful human resources consultancy business they had jointly founded in 1982 (the sale giving them greater capacity to consider giving more significantly to QUT).  Before the year was out, these discussions came to fruition in the form of The Howes Family Gift: a $1m donation which was added to the larger LPF endowment, but to be used to fund discrete Howes Family Learning Potential Scholarships for disadvantaged students.

One of the factors behind the Howes’ decision to increase their philanthropic engagement with QUT was the phone calls they received from LPF fundraising staff thanking them for their 2009 and 2010 appeal gifts. Apparently this was the first time they’d got such personal thanks from an organisation they’d given financial support to.  As a consequence of this very simple gesture, the very neediest of QUT students can now apply for annual scholarships of $5,000 to support the cost of their study (more than standard LPF scholarships and bursaries offer), and there is also talk of the Howes contributing more money to QUT in the future to enable more scholarships to be offered. I wonder if LPF fundraising staff had any idea how powerful those two little words would be?!

While we’re on the subject of saying thank you…. thank you!!  Since we launched 3eggphilanthropy back in April, we’ve had almost 2,600 views of our site and enjoyed some fantastic thoughts and opinions on the blog site, and on Twitter and Facebook. We’ve also had some amazing contributions from fabulous guest bloggers which added so much to the conversation. It’s been a fantastic first couple of months and we look forward to everything that’s to come.  Scrambled, boiled, or poached….  Thanks again!!

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