Philanthropy and Ethics Debate: Mind the Gap: Philanthropy, Social Policy and Government

Image The fourth annual Philanthropy and Ethics debate was entitled: Mind the Gap: Philanthropy, Social Policy and Government.  This topic floored me a little and I felt I was playing catch up listening to the four speakers, Mary Crooks from the Victorian Womens’ Trust, Terry Moran, the former Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Miriam Lyons, Executive Director of the Centre for Policy Development, and Sayajit Das, writer and economist.

Mediated by Peter Clarke, the discussion hovered quite a lot around comparing philanthropic giving in Australia with the US, which is always problematic, and whether Australia is moving in the direction of philanthropy dictating social policy.

Sayajit Das quoted Peter Buffet, (son of Warren Buffet) who has labelled philanthropy “a charitable industrial complex” noting that with more than $300 billion USD in charitable giving last year, this does create space for philanthropists to influence policy.

Mary Crooks preferred to speak about “small p philanthropy”, noting it plays a critical role in the formation of civil society, but often flies under the radar and does not get the credit or recognition it deserves.  Mary is in favour of growing the role of philanthropy. She gave examples of foundations which have championed community rather than government policy, such as the Reichstein Foundation, Stegley Foundation (which is now wound down) and Victorian Womens Trust in the 1990s through their work on the Purple Sage Project.

Terry Moran spoke about the differences between the US and us, and how Australians give less as a proportion of gross domestic product, but that Americans use philanthropy to leverage relief from tax much more than here.  He doesn’t believe that philanthropy here “leaks into the political madness of the US”.

Miriam Lyons spoke about how and what philanthropy funds, noting her view that right wing interests fund ideology and left wing interests fund practically.  Her key example was the Koch brothers, who fund research refuting climate change.  While stating that it is philanthropy which allows civil society to exist, but that donations in Australia are only 1% of GDP, she championed the fact that philanthropy can be risk taking, localised, personal and fund advocacy.  However, she questions this structurally, noting that it would be unusual for philanthropists to want to change the system which has brought them their financial success.

Terry Moran disagreed with Miriam’s views, saying that philanthropists do not influence academic research here, and pointing to several think tanks which are not right wing, such as the Grattan Institute, Lowy Institute, the recently established Mitchell Institute for Health and Education Policy at Victoria University, counterbalancing the views of organisations such as the Institute of Public Affairs.

Mention was made of The Patriots by David Frum, a novel which outlines how politics is manipulated by money in the US, but there was general consensus that we are not yet in that space here.

I have to say I felt a bit like a kid having dinner at the adults’ table – so if you were there, or have some comments about this, I would love to have further discussion for clarification.  I partly felt that I hadn’t really got the topic straight in my head, but also that not every one was speaking the same language.  My view of philanthropy is probably similar to Mary’s small p philanthropy, many people in the community supporting issues and causes they feel passionate about.  The idea that there is a conspiracy of ultra-high net worth individuals creating agendas through their giving is anathema to me.  It does remind me though of some of the debates I had with colleagues earlier in the year over the mandate of philanthropy to direct policy and social change through the very act of choosing what to support.  But I feel that the scale considered in this debate was quite different.

to continue: and perhaps to revert to the question of philanthropy and ethics in itself – there was mention of the Oxford Business School turning down a large gift due to the affiliations/behaviour of the donor, and Sajayit Das mentioned his view on the hypocrisy of George Soros in destroying the British pound through short selling in 1992 and then gave away his proceeds through his foundation.

Terry Moran believes that how taxes work is what underpins philanthropy.  There are many views on how tax deductibility is or isn’t a motivator for philanthropic giving.  Again, this discussion was around the larger donors.  Terry also pointed out that our system is very different to the US as we don’t have death duties and wealth taxes.

Miriam Lyons agreed we are not like the US but voiced concern we could be heading in that direction and that we are becoming a more unequal country and that our taxation system is pulling the fabric of society apart (for example schools are financially unequal) and that we are becoming vulnerable to a narrow group having undue influence.  I don’t believe that it is philanthropy which is creating inequality or philanthropists who are unduly influencing policy.

Mary Crooks noted that the UK Commission on Social Justice stated that “communities are not strong because they are rich, but are rich because they are strong” and that she prefers the term “social investment” to philanthropy, and that this is about investment of time, skills, and resources along with money.

Miriam Lyons agreed with Terry Moran in wanting philanthropy to grow but she again stated her concerns about the growth of inequality (I don’t see a direct correlation there myself, but I am happy to hear more arguments for this).

Terry pointed out that one should not confuse the tax system and rebates with philanthropy (thankfully), and Mary Crooks pointed out that tax deductibility is not a key motivator for giving.  Mary noted that philanthropy occupies a unique place in our social work and is not subject to the same constraints as the market place.  Philanthropy can be innovative and can fail.  Mary said that while its uniqueness is its power, perhaps trusts and foundations here do not yet understand this.

The question of distortions was raised and there was some discussion of the struggle for support for the arts.  Mary Crooks suggested that philanthropy could be more targeted, more gender-wise and less homogeneous.

In response to some questions from the audience the following points came up:

Society is more than dollars and cents

Q: Why is philanthropy only interested in medical research – what about social research? A: it exists but is untrumpeted

Q: Risks of being above the radar
A: not enough time or resources for self promotion (I would add that the press is also not that interested in stories of philanthropic achievement – in my experience): and there are risks in not being able to communicate the social impacts brought about by philanthropy in a nuanced enough way.

Q: Difference between Labor and Coalition
A: Coalition’s stated objective to close the Australian Charities and Not for Profit Commission; Coalition’s interest in UK Big Society terminology.  Mary Crooks noted the 2013 election result for the seat of Indi, currently held by Sophie Mirabella, and the campaign to present an independent opposition candidate has been a kitchen table community consultation process hearkens back to the work of the Purple Sage project mentioned above.  Mary said this was a model which was invigorating democracy (supported by philanthropy).

Were you at the session?  Share your thoughts.  Do you think philanthropists are taking over policy development? Do you think that this debate was about Ethics in Philanthropy – or is it time for a new title to cover the broadening scope of the discussions.  I look forward to hearing  and sharing your views.


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4 events in three weeks

Tom DawkinsIt’s going to be a busy second half of August.

A few events for your consideration:

Next week my workday organisation, the Inner North Community Foundation, hosts Tom Dawkins, social entrepreneur and crowdfunding specialist, co-founder of Start Some Good (Dream Big, Raise Funds, Do Some Good) Director of the Australian Changemakers Festival and before that Social Media Director at Ashoka: Innovators for the Public, the world’s leading organisation supporting social entrepreneurs with a presence in over 50 countries.

Tom has a wealth of experience in identifying, articulating and enacting good ideas for social change, and a great perspective on fundraising and developing support.

Come and hear him at a free impromptu PLuGIN at the Inner North Community Foundation on Thursday 29 August at 10am (Level 2, 192 -198 High Street Northcote).

Please rsvp to as seating is limited.

At the end of this week and early next week, the Australian Women Donors’ Network hosts Colleen Willoughby, often described as is described as the ‘mother of giving circles in America’ in Melbourne and Perth.  If you are quick you can catch her tomorrow 21 August in Brisbane.   Colleen will be giving a fundraising masterclass, philanthropy masterclasses and talks on collective social impact.  It is my understanding she was one of the inspirations behind Impact100 WA and its southeasterly neighbour, Impact100 Melbourne.

The Australian Communities Foundation is gearing up for their annual Philanthropy and Ethics Debate at the Melbourne Writers Festival on Sunday 1 September. Panellists include Mary Crooks from the Victorian Womens Trust, (ozphilanthropy reviewed the 2010 and 2011 events.)

and finally, Monday evening 2 September, the Maimonides Society (Swinburne Philanthropy Alumni) presents Catherine Brown, Chief Executive Officer of the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Fund at Westpac’s BT Centre Level 24, 367 Collins Street at 6pm.  Incidentally, Catherine has a wealth of knowledge on community foundations, and developed the community foundations handbook that many of us used as an essential reference in early days of development.

So much to do, so much information so much to learn, . . . .

Hoping to see you at some of these events.


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Bermuda Community Foundation


Dr Myra Virgil (Photo by Akil Simmons)

Just a shout out to my colleague, Myra Virgil, who went through the Senior International Fellows Program with me last month – congratulations on your story highlighting the establishment of the Bermuda Community Foundation in the Royal Gazetteonline.

The article is by blogger and writer Jessie Moniz who has graciously granted me permission to give you a teaser.  Thanks also to editor, Jeremy Deacon.

“Dr Myra Virgil is using lessons learned from a prestigious American grantmaking fellowship to create an organisation that will provide an enduring source of funds for local charities — many of whom are currently locked into a life or death struggle for survival due to the current economic climate.

Read the rest of the article here.

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A tale of two community foundations



Once upon a time there was a community foundation dedicated to a large vibrant and bustling city (let’s call it Gotham).  Its focus was on supporting the wishes of donors in their philanthropic goals through donor advised funds (donors advise where they would like their gifts to go).  The community foundation was established 90 years ago, and over time had accumulated large assets, all the while supporting the intentions and interests of their many donors.

The city also grew, and in time, one of its boroughs was in itself large enough in population, that in any other situation it could have been considered a city itself (yet it remained a borough, one of five).  brooklyn-bridge

People in the borough felt that they needed more specific support for their community, and that they had a particular identity of their own, their own community spirit, and a desire to focus their work within their own geographic boundaries, and to have more say and direction in where philanthropic funds were being directed.  So, just a few years ago they set up their own community foundation, but instead of just putting funds where the donors told them to, they set up “fields of interest”funds like  Arts for All,Caring NeighborsCommunity DevelopmentEducation & Youth Achievement, and Green Communities after exploring where the needs of the community actually lay, and invited donors to contribute specifically to these areas.

One of the questions which has been the source of recent  impassioned discussion , has been about what the role of philanthropic organisations, particularly community foundations, really is.

Should donors who have money be able to dictate what social needs should be addressed, simply because they have money? Does this give them more authority in determining the future direction of our communities?  As one of my colleagues says, donors are not elected, they do not have a mandate to create policy, so how is it that they can wield such power over our communities? (even if this is for the perceived good of the community).

Or should the community and community need be the driving force for philanthropy – in that the needs and problems should be identified first, and then the means to address and resolve them?

Bernadino Casadei from the Italian Association of Foundations believes that people have a moral imperative to give and that this is what makes one human, and that his role is to facilitate philanthropy, while remaining neutral in the distribution of philanthropic largesse.

Another view is that the needs of the community must be paramount, and the absolute starting point for any discussion about giving and philanthropy.

This is all particularly interesting for me, as the community foundation where I work started with an idea around community need (particularly employment), while our next door neighbour community foundation, has a donor focussed approach, highlighting parallels between the fable this post started out with (albeit on a much smaller scale).

Is one approach better than the other? What is the role of philanthropy?  How can we balance two seemingly diametrically opposed starting points in order to work better, and perhaps more collaboratively?

This is of course, just a simple exploratory exposition of some of the ideas flowing around me at the moment, which will require deeper reading, discussion and thought.

It would be great to hear your thoughts on this, as it seems to speak to a key question of what is the role of philanthropy, particularly in a community foundations setting.

tbc . . . .

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Senior International Fellows in Philanthropy

Image A little quiet lately as about to embark on some professional development at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center, Center for Philanthropy and Civil Society.  They run a Senior (as in old(er)) International Fellows Program for people in the community foundations sector and take only 6 or 7 participants each year (all from outside the US), so I will be joined by colleagues with vast and varied experience from Bermuda, Italy, Czech Republic, South Africa, India and New Zealand.

It’s four weeks of seminars, site visits to not for profits and philanthropic leaders here, as well as the development of a paper which will hopefully be relevant and useful to our own organisations.  I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime – there are a couple of things happening you should try to get along to – such as Kevin Murphy (who will be the keynote speaker at the Philanthropy Australia AGM on 16 April) – from the Council on Foundations and president of the Berks County Community Foundation, but will also be speaking at an event hosted by the Australian Communities Foundation at Macquarie 101 Collins Street Melbourne on 16 April at 6pm, on Global Giving and the Australian Leadership Challenge:Global Trends, Local Challenges, Better Giving – together with another international guest speaker Roberta d’Eustachio of Ambassadors for Philanthropy,  Hosted by Simon McKeon AO, Executive Chairman, Macquarie Group, Melbourne.  RSVP to Australian Communities Foundation.

Another event which may be of interest is being hosted by the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation in early May and of course, not being at my desk -I don’t have the details on me.  It’s not the Lady Mayoress’ Garden Party – so if you think you want to find out more, give them a hoy to ask about it (even if I suspect it might be invitation only).

That’s all for now,

Let me know if things are coming up which might be of interest to others and I will endeavour to record them.



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Philanthropy, Old, New and Enduring

Chris Baker

Dr Christopher Baker

Last week I attended a forum entitled Philanthropy, Old, New and Enduring presented by Swinburne University’s Asia Pacific Centre for Social Investment and Philanthropy in conjunction with O’Keefe and Partners. 

Julie Johnson, Managing Director at O’Keefe Partners, presented on giving trends research which they undertake annually, evaluating changes in performance and perceptions from not for profits.  It was apparent from much of the information presented that perceptions are radically different to performance and I don’t know how valuable that is in practical terms when one is trying to implement a fundraising plan. But what was quite interesting was to see that corporate sponsorship had increased in 2011 – 2012, and differences in donor segmentation.  By that we mean – who are the most philanthropic amongst us as ranked by age.  The research presented indicated that people aged 40 – 59 are a new part of the population who are giving now, joining the 60 – 74 year olds, and that their charitable emphasis is on social and family welfare and education (which probably reflects where they are in their lives and their focus on family).

One key change in perceptions which I did find useful, was in the challenges faced by not for profit organisations.  Apparently, for the first time, charitable competition is a key factor, or something that organisations are taking into consideration, joining issues such as the economy, acquisition costs (ie costs of fundraising) and the global financial crisis.

The good news is that the research indicated there will be growth in the philanthropic landscape in the next 3 -5 years with an increase in the giving pool, and that people want to put money where it will make a difference, but also want to see accountability and transparency.  Key motivations seem to be wanting to invest in society and making it a better place.

Dr Christopher Baker from Swinburne then spoke on his research on Inheritance and Charitable Giving, which involved a long search into Victorian probate records from 2006 to see where, if any, charitable bequests were being made.

The data showed that inevitably, immediate family are the main beneficiaries of wills and that 9/10ths goes to children.  Only 1 in 20 wills make a charitable bequest which make up 1% of the total value of the testamentary trusts, and the wealthy do not give more proportionally than the less well off.

The data represents a snapshot of the intentions of people who were mostly born before 1930, giving weight to Dr Baker’s assertion that he has concluded that “it is indeed older people who tend to die” and therefore people who had a particular life experience including living through the depression, World War II and the norm of nuclear families. Dr Baker points out that in 2006 Australia had experienced its 15th consecutive year of growth in net wealth (with 55% of wealth held in houses and 70% home ownership), so that when these over 80 year olds passed away, they were mostly relatively comfortable and their children would arguably be in their 50s and no longer necessarily economically dependent (thus perhaps leaving space for a charitable bequest without this being to the detriment of the family if only one had thought of it at the time of amending/updating one’s will).

Probate is a record of personal assets held at time of death and excludes superannuation.  Apparently there are 35,000 deaths each year in Victoria.  Of the probate records sampled by Dr Baker, out of 1700 final estates (with no surviving spouse) 91 bequests were made to charities and 75% of the records viewed were of estates less than $500,000.  The value of total bequests studied was $11 million, but the typical – ie median bequest was $20,500.  Dr Baker’s studies showed that smaller estates left a larger proportion to charity.  However, he notes that the probate data under-represents the very wealthy who may well have other vehicles for investment (such as trusts etc) outside their personal estate.

What was interesting is that 80% of estates of people with children left nothing to charity, but people without children were 10 times more likely to leave a charitable distribution.

A national study (excluding Queensland*) will be undertaken by Dr Baker next year, and it will be interesting to see if there are state differences.

As an aside, Include a Charity is a new campaign aimed at increasing people’s awareness about making charitable bequests and providing more information to financial and legal advisers.

The session ended with a short panel discussion.

Does your organisation have a bequests strategy?  On the basis of this data, one might be discouraged from even considering chasing bequests – is it too hard? or is it a blue-sky opportunity?

How do you feel about bequests in your own situation?    Is an argument for “giving while living” a contradiction of the benefits of giving through bequests?

Let me know what you think – I look forward to your comments.

* Apparently the Queensland Government has denied a request to waive search fees on probate records for Dr Baker’s research, so they will be excluded from the study.

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Season’s Greetings

for those of you who know I love both classical music and flashmobs. . . . . . and to all my ozphilanthropy readers, a happy new year.

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Philanthropic Investing in Aboriginal Women & Girls


Guest post by Carolyn Munckton

Last month, I had the great pleasure of attending the AMP Foundation’s launch of an outstanding new research report called The Best of Every Woman:  An Overview of Approaches for Philanthropic Investment in Aboriginal Women and Girls.

It’s a long title and a reasonably long read (hence it’s taken me a while to write this blog piece), but it is worth it for current and potential funders of Indigenous programs and organisations.

The research report was put together for the AMP Foundation by leading philanthropy research consultancy Effective Philanthropy.

The facts and statistics on the challenges and disadvantage faced by Aboriginal people in Australia are stark and confronting.  The report includes a lot of this illuminating detail that shows how Aboriginal people are the most socio-economically disadvantaged group in Australia.  “Many families and communities are caught in a cycle of poverty, with poor health, high levels of single parenthood, low education, high rates of unemployment, low incomes, poor access to essential services and high levels of involvement in the justice system.” 1

The Best of Every Woman report advocates investing in programs to assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, who can then act as catalysts for social change in their local communities.

This is powerful stuff and also pretty obvious.  Maybe I’m biased because until recently I was a board member of the Australian Women Donors Network and was involved in getting the network established. For the past four years, I’ve been helping to spread the word about the need for philanthropic investment in women and girls to overcome disadvantage and to fulfill the potential of women and girls.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women play a critical role in leading improvements in the health and wellbeing of their families and communities.

The report presents a number of case studies that demonstrate this.

The AMP Foundation should be congratulated for commissioning this report to determine how social investment might best support Aboriginal woman and girls.

As well as discussing the challenges that Aboriginal women and girls can face the report importantly identifies a framework for philanthropists and policy-makers to identify programs that can support the next generation of Aboriginal women and girls to reach their education, career and life aspirations.

Key findings of the report include:

  • A non-linear education pathway is common amongst Aboriginal women.
  • The availability of culturally appropriate childcare has an important role to play in an Aboriginal woman’s decision to defer taking up further study or work.
  • Facilitating access to information and networks can have a significant effect.
  • Supporting and strengthening cultural identity is important.
  • Leadership support and growth capital could drive future successes.

There is plenty of detail in the report that will help funders better understand the current barriers for Aboriginal women and girls and the potential they have to achieve and create positive life outcomes for themselves, their families and their communities.

The report identifies the types of programs that can support Aboriginal women and girls to overcome the barriers and importantly, the key success factors that can be used when designing, funding and/or delivering those programs.

The report’s Foreword has been written by Professor Kerry Arabena, Director of the School for Indigenous Health, Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, Monash University, who also spoke at the Melbourne launch that I attended.  Professor Arabena said that young Aboriginal people are positive about the future and have moved away from seeing themselves as disadvantaged and are ready to take advantage of Australia’s profound opportunities.  She was extremely positive about the potential for change and she urged the audience to take the opportunity to affect and support this change.

I think the next generation of philanthropists and philanthropic funders will accept this challenge and tools like The Best of Every Woman report will guide and support the change.

Effective Philanthropy consultants Regina Hill and Louise Doyle have done a great job in pulling all of this research together and consulted with a wide range of organisations and people involved with delivering programs and services to Aboriginal people right across Australia.

There are a number of philanthropic trusts and foundations that currently fund Indigenous programs and many of these were also consulted.

This report will be very useful for current funders and for those who want to get involved and help make a difference.  It is a daunting area of philanthropy and one were mistakes can easily be made.  This report can be used to inform future program design, funding and delivery so that support for Aboriginal women and girls can effectively contribute to social change and improvements for many Aboriginal people – men, women, boys and girls.

[1] The Best of Every Woman, page 23

About Carolyn Munckton

Carolyn was an inaugural board member of the Australian Women Donors Network (2009-12) and recently became a director of the Inner North Community Foundation because she loves the idea of local people supporting their local communities.  She has so far waded through two units in the Masters of Social Investment and Philanthropy at Swinburne University.

You can find her semi-regular thoughts and readings on philanthropy and fundraising in Twitter handle @carolynmunckton.

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Giving Circles and Impact100 WA

James Boyd from artsupport Australia was the guest of Swinburne Philanthropy Alumni at the final Maimonides Society event for the year.

James has been involved in the establishment of Impact100 WA which is a giving circle based on the 14 highly successful Impact100 giving circles in the United States, originally established by Wendy Steele in Cincinatti in 2001.

James gave a highly entertaining presentation which clearly posited the benefits of giving circles – as opposed to donor circles – and how to set them up successfully to ensure sustainability. While Impact100 WA is only in its first year, James spent some time last year as one of the winners of the 2010 FIA Perpetual Scholarship visiting and studying giving circles in the US.

James stressed that some of the language is interchangeable – collective giving groups or collaborative giving groups – but that the importance is on them being giving groups and not donor groups – with the main difference being that they are set up by people who choose a cause – not a cause or a not for profit which then mobilises its donors.

Here’s the giving circles guide for dummies which James shared with us which you might find amusing and instructive: How to start a Womens’ Giving Circle, aka the Barbie video.

From James’ interviews and study in the US it was clear that while giving circles are more popular with women (participant gender ratio is 80% women to 20% men) there are several other common attributes to successful giving circles:

they have at least 5 participants
an agreed minimum donation amount and time frame
clear decision making processes on how to distribute to agreed charities
money in/money out – ie the giving circle does not create an endowment – gifts are spent in the year they are pledged
the circle is donor driven – not cause driven or fundraiser driven or organised by a charity or not for profit.
encouragement of donor participation and education
a social element
formality varies depending on size.

James spoke about Colleen Willoughby from the Washington Womens Foundation and how their ideal was to mobilise womens’ interests to give them knowledge about their community. That group now has 500 donors contributing $2000 each which gives them $1,000,000 to distribute each year. Their keys to success: donor education, learning and leadership. They make very few grants of less than $100,000 because they want to see real impact within their community. This highly professionally organised giving circle was contrasted with the Portland Giving Circle which has 12 women who contribute $500 each. They give one grant of $6000 to a women rising out of poverty in Portland through the Portland Community Foundation – and have now created an alumni of the women they have supported. Although organised in a more ad hoc manner, the impact on the community and benefits back to the women donating through their satisfaction and pride in participating are equally valuable.

Giving circles demonstrate other long term benefits such as a high number of members contributing additional funds to programs supported, high percentage of giving circle donors participating in not for profit boards, high level of support for charities’ fundraising efforts, pro bono support and increased volunteering through their experience of close engagement with the organisations supported through the giving circles. In addition members share their learnings through speaking engagements on community issues, philanthropy and giving.

James talked about both intrinsic and extrinsic advantages of giving circles:
power by numbers – they make you feel like a major donor as you are part of something bigger
they create an engaged, enhanced and shared giving process
enable less wealthy people to be involved
informal and flexible
create enriched community involvement
can support “risky” projects
suit hard economic times
are ideal for rural or remote communities
create scope for advocacy
appeal to men and women
success breeds success
they bring new money to the philanthropic sector.

While there are many models for giving circles, ranging from the very large to the very small, some of the key elements remain the same:

Some of decisions needed to be made in setting up a giving circle include:
What do you want your impact to be – and where do you want your impact to be?
What causes are you interested in?
What size do you want to aspire to?
What are your short and long term objectives?
What is the donation level? (hint – most common in US is $1,000 with the average being $2,500)
What is your communications strategy?
What’s the giving process – ie through a central point or directly to the non profit
What is the application process, assessment process, reporting process for recipients?
What is the circle’s commitment to education and social engagement?
Are there admin costs? What will they be?
Workload – how much and who will do it?
Sustainability – the big question.

Impact100 WA determined a cause area – youth at risk, and used this as the hook to find more donors to join the circle. There is an emphasis on equality of all members, so people who might contribute more dollars still only have one vote when it comes to determining recipients. Impact100 WA decided to incorporate as an entity, but not to seek DGR, so they have all funds directed to the Australian Communities Foundation which then provides tax deductible receipts to all donors.

This year Impact100 WA distributed their first $100,000 to an organisation which made it through from 28 applications and a several tiered shortlisting process. According to James, the keys to success for Impact100 WA are: leadership, visible impact, member equality, 100% distribution of funds, education and learning, professionalism and excellent communication.

Seri Renkin also presented on her experience of being part of a giving circle, initially through Social Ventures Australia‘s Angel Network, and then through an informal extension of this. Seri’s group targeted financially independent women wanting to support women, children and young people in Victoria. Her group of ten participants contribute $5000 per year and have had to evaluate how they can create impact and support organisations without being a drain on them. They initially undertook a large amount of due diligence and research, but realised they were being overanalytical and have now moved to a more flexible approach. They particularly wanted to invest in capacity rather than programs. Seri spoke with great passion of their commitment to social change, the importance of evaluation and reflection, the need to understand how far your money is going, and the impact it makes on the sector.

Both Seri’s and James’ examples demonstrate that great impact can come even from smaller contributions – in passing Seri mentioned a local group which contributed funds towards an air conditioner so that women in a prison could spend more time making tee-shirts, (which they enjoyed doing), in a room which had previously been overheated and thus restricted the amount of time they could spend there.

Another example of a giving circle is the Awesome Foundation, also based on an international model, where ten people contribute $1,000 per year and have an open process for applications from an “awesome” project. Still growing strong in Melbourne, their most recent grant has been recently awarded to a project alleviating street poverty in Burkina Faso.

Further reading:

What do you think of giving circles? Are you aware of any that work in a different way? How likely would you be to join one? What do you think the drawbacks might be?

I look forward to your comments.


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