The Budget and Creative Partnerships Australia

Hello friends and arts philanthropy readers. I haven’t posted for a while as I have been doing a long research project. But, I noticed this week that there was not much commentary on one of the Budget items affecting the arts which is that Creative Partnerships Australia is to be subsumed into the Australia Council.

As a former staff member at the previous incarnation of Creative Partnerships Australia, the Australia Business Arts Foundation, I have an interest in how this plays out. In the past the Australia Council hosted ArtSupport Australia – which connected artists and arts organisations with philanthropists and Private Ancillary Funds (PAFs), while the Australia Cultural Fund sat with AbaF and now Creative Partnerships Australia – for artists to seek their own direct funding from individual donors while offering a tax deductible receipt.

Interestingly, the Australia Cultural Fund has its own deductible gift recipient status (DGR1) and can therefore be transported relatively easily to another governing entity. But what about the research, mentoring and matched giving which Creative Partnerships Australia has been providing? These aren’t functions which the Australia Council has historically engaged in with the wider arts community – and – will the Australia Council keep a representative or office in each state as Creative Partnerships has done, thereby maintaining a closer connection to the arts community?

While there are pros and cons for making changes in this space, to me, the idea of returning a national and relatively accessible organisation back into a centralised – and originally single purpose organisation – ie giving out grants based on a peer review process will raise some difficulties for an already under resourced sector.

Have a look at Jo Caust’s comprehensive coverage of this here.

and let me know your thoughts.

Posted in arts, philanthropy | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Giving Trends – PA’s most recent report (2022)

Cover of the Philanthropy Australia Giving Trends and Opportunities Report

Philanthropy Australia has recently published a Giving Trends and Opportunities Report which demonstrates that while there are more dollars going into philanthropy in Australia, there are less individuals contributing and claiming a tax deduction.

You can read it here.

Posted in philanthropy | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Philanthropic funder networks in the arts . . . .

image: Tony Fankhauser

Hello ozphilanthropy readers,

It’s been a while since I have posted here, because I have been taking a very long study break, to do a PhD by Practice at the Centre for Social Impact at Swinburne.

I have been looking at the topic of institutional philanthropic funders – that is, trusts and foundations as opposed to individual donors – and the arts sector. In particular, whether the development of networks amongst foundations leads to a form of influence or “curation” of the arts.

As I am just about midway through the research, having completed more than 30 interviews online during Melbourne’s lockdowns, I recently presented draft findings for ANZTRS, Australia New Zealand Third Sector Research and was subsequently invited by Philanthropy Australia to write a short piece on where my work is up to.

You can read that here

I look forward to your comments, and to giving you more updates on what conclusions I uncover.

Posted in philanthropy | 2 Comments

Love (your arts) in the Time of Cholera


It has been a very long time since my last post and there are many reasons for that – the simplest being the massive growth in short form online communications and news and information about the arts and fundraising on social media and news platforms such as ArtsHub and Probono since I first started rambling in about 2010.

However, with nearly every arts organisation in the country in some form of closure, cancellation, shut down or “hibernation”, and many artists, writers, performers, dancers and actors seeing work and income evaporate for the next year and a half I thought I would try to put together some of the news and information that might be of some use.

The arts is not a small, niche sector.  According to Senator Sarah Hanson Young, the Greens spokesperson for the arts “over 600,000 Australians are employed in the creative and arts sector and the industry contributes $112 billion to our economy.  AMPAG puts this even higher – at $4 billion.

The arts are also not elite – anyone who likes a pop song, watches Bluey with their children, knows the words to Up there, Cazaly or One Day in September, reads a book, visits a library or enjoys Netflix is participating in the arts (whether they are conscious of this or not).  I don’t think I need to argue the underlying premise for this blog has always been based on a strong appreciation of the value of the arts to society and community.

And especially as the Australia Council has just announced four year funding recipients leaving quite a few well loved and long established organisations without support, particularly in the youth arts sector (see here for some reaction),  here’s what else seems to be happening in terms of support for the arts at the moment in these (insert synonym for unprecedented) times.

Firstly – at the Federal Government level there has been a very disappointing re-allocation of $5 million at the Australia Council from other programs in its “Response Package to COVID-19

whereas the City of Melbourne has announced $2 million in support for local arts organisations and a freeze on rent for arts organisations in Council owned properties.

Creative Victoria directs people to the State Government general support page.

Create NSW is adapting its grants by:

  • Removing requirements to meet audience KPIs
  • Varying the purpose and outcomes of funding
  • Extending timelines for projects
  • Allowing grants to be repurposed to pay essential bills such as rent, wages or utilities

In Western Australia, all arts and cultural institutions have been closed down, but the Government has declared a freeze on household fees and charges until July 1.

The ACT has announced $500,000 in arts funding.

Tasmania has an arts and screen stimulus package.

Arts Queensland has announced a boost to their current funding and an extension of closing dates.

Many philanthropic trusts are easing their reporting deadlines and criteria in the current environment as well, but we are yet to see major announcements around extended funding.

Donors and arts lovers can help the organisations they hold dear as ticket holders are being invited to donate the value of tickets for shows which have been cancelled back to arts organisations rather than receiving refunds. Donations too are always welcome and particularly now.

What’s still there to see, do or experience?
We can stay connected with our favourite arts organisations who have been developing new ways to connect with audiences with the Melbourne Digital Concert Hall and MTC’s digital archive including a Virtual Tour of their facilities.  Sydney Dance Company is offering a Virtual Studio and Melbourne Symphony Orchestra is livesteaming once a week with MSO Live and Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra has its daily dose.

The Sydney Biennale has moved online and many galleries are providing online access to collections (in fact, you can tour most of the galleries in the world through Google Arts).

Isol-aid has already had two outings to support musicians, and smaller organisations are also moving their events and offerings online.

and finally – Artshub has probably summarised what’s available best here.

Let me know if I have missed any key funding which would be good to share, or if you have some special digital content coming out soon – and correct me on any errors.

Stay safe, stay well – and stay home!










Posted in donate, Government funding, grantmaking, philanthropy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Who is talking about philanthropy?


At the Philanthropy Australia conference earlier this year one of the panel discussions featured former Premier of Victoria, Jeff Kennett.  ozphilanthropy found him startlingly funny and he asked some of the difficult questions about philanthropy and charities that people are usually too polite to voice.

These included: “who is really talking about philanthropy?”

“When did we last see something on the front page of the paper, on radio, or “god forbid” on television putting philanthropy front and centre?”

Mr Kennett bemoaned the lack of vision in the country – and that we don’t know where we want to be in 2050.  He feels you can only develop trust if leaders know where they are trying to take the people.

He questioned the role of philanthropy in society – is it to educate the people of Australia in prioritising things that will matter in 2050 or 2100 – and what is the role of Philanthropy Australia?

Joy Anderson from the Criterion Institute responded to this with the notion that the role of philanthropy is to protect pluralism and foster space for dissent.

Mr Kennett countered this by saying that there is less dissent if more people know what you are trying to achieve.  He questioned the role of advocacy of Philanthropy Australia and implied much more should be done.

Questions from the audience:

Q. Does erosion of trust hamper our ability to make change?

A: Our common objective is social cohesion.  Philanthropy has a role in shaping the questions that democracy and society should answer – we need to understand what it takes to be a civil society.

Q: Many people don’t know what philanthropists do.  How can we help people understand what philanthropy can be?

A: We need an organisation which is recognised and empowered to advocate for philanthropy – and this should be Philanthropy Australia.

Q: What role should philanthropy play strategically?  What do we need to do for philanthropy to take a leadership role?

A: There is a need for “translators” as everybody is in their own silos.  We say as a good level of trust, but standing still won’t preserve it.

Rob Reich discusses philanthropy, democracy and pluralism here – it’s an interesting debate which we could well explore more deeply in order to explain philanthropy in Australia to those people who have no idea what it is about.

What do you think about what the role of philanthropy in society truly is?



Posted in philanthropy | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Research and Practice at ANZTSR

By Alexandra Williamson and Sharon Nathani


Ozphilanthropy and I recently attended the ANZTSR Conference in Sydney.  What the blazes is that? we hear you asking – it’s the Australia New Zealand Third Sector Research conference (as no one has yet decided on a definitive name for civil society, the voluntary sector, the nonprofit sector or the third sector).

We note that there is often a shared frustration at the lack of bridges between academia and practitioners, so we thought we would present what we saw in an attempt to address this.

Of course, there is much more depth and diversity to third sector research than is hinted at here.  The benefits of conferences such as ANZTSR are that they can lead to better research, through critique, sharing of expertise, and building relationships and collaborations.

For example, a small-scale pilot study by researchers at Murdoch University in WA around whether charity board members are paid was prompted by an ACNC guide released in July 2017.  Following discussions at the ANZTSR conference, the researcher is considering an expanded multi-state study for 2019, with the possibility of including philanthropic foundations in the data collection which would provide baseline data for the philanthropic sector for the first time on charitable and philanthropic board remuneration.

Local conferences give PhD students and early-career philanthropy researchers a chance to meet and have informal conversations with mentors and senior academics in their fields.   This is important given as so much philanthropy research comes from the U.S. where the culture, regulation and structures around giving are significantly different, and findings may not be relevant or need translation.

Here is a brief overview of each of the papers presented that were specific to philanthropy/foundations:

Elizabeth Cham University of Technology Sydney
What contemporary philanthropists think about public accountability for their philanthropy?
Elizabeth Cham Elizabeth is known to many of us for her former role with Philanthropy Australia.  Elizabeth analysed the 114 submissions to Treasury in 2008-2009 responding to the Discussion Paper on Private Ancillary Funds (PAFs) and examined the Commonwealth Budget Papers for 2001-2009 as a case study of public accountability.  Elizabeth writes about how powerful groups circulate and promote their own values and norms so that they become the “common sense” values of a society.  This is based on an academic theory by Gramsci who was an Italian philosopher and communist, imprisoned for many years under Mussolini.

Matthew Hall, Monash University
Donors’ views on charities and role of accounting information in donation decisions

Matthew Hall Matt’s research examines the importance of accounting information about charitable organisations when people make decisions about donations.  He conducted 20 interviews with small donors, using vignettes about a fictional charity to see how their donation decisions changed when the amount and content of the information available to them changed.  His research found that donors do not act like investors but prefer to give to charities that they are familiar with and that they trust.  There was a reinforcement of the importance of narrative and story-telling in influencing and connecting with donors.

From Ms Ozphilanthropy herself, currently at Swinburne University of Technology
Private Ancillary Funds supporting arts: networks, decision-making and discretion

Sharon Nathani Sharon’s PhD research aims to look into the grantmaking decisions of PAFs (and the broader philanthropy network), in particular in relation to supporting arts and culture.  She will use a social network analysis approach drawing on interviews and data available in public reports and documents to explore whether PAFs use advice and recommendations from networks of peers, mentors, professional advisers, and regulators.

Hopefully mapping the networks of PAFs will demystify their role in arts and cultural funding in Australia.

Krystian Seibert, Swinburne University of Technology
Regulation of community foundations in Australia: change is needed, but there are challenges on the road to reform

Krystian Seibert Community foundations are restricted in their work by complex tax and regulatory structures.  Krystian’s research examines the idea a separate, dedicated deductible gift recipient (DGR) category for Australia’s 38 community foundations, and the tax integrity issues this might raise.  At the moment PAFs can not give to PubAFs and grantmaking of community foundations is limited to certain organisation types.  This can create problems in regional areas where there are not enough currently eligible recipient organisations.

Alexandra Williamson, Queensland University of Technology
Accountability and identity in dyadic Public Ancillary Funds

AlexandraWilliamson.jpg Alexandra’s PhD research on accountability in Public Ancillary Funds (PubAFs) such as community and corporate foundations led to the unexpected finding that 19 in a small sample of 28 existed in dyadic or two-way relationships, or strong, long-term, near-exclusive partnerships with another organisation.

In interviews, managers and trustees of PubAFs characterised these dyadic relationships both negatively (as restrictive) and positively (as supportive).  In both cases, dyadic partnerships dominate the accountability and identity of the PubAFs that work within them.

How do you connect with research?  Does it make a difference for your organisation?

The conference also included a lively panel on the Impact and Engagement of Family Foundations featuring Sarah Benjamin from the Keir Foundation with a focus on the arts, John McKinnon from the McKinnon Family Foundation supporting climate change, and Mary Crooks from the Victorian Womens Trust.

Sarah Benjamin   Sarah’s key message was that funds go further when leveraged with other organisations or presented as matched funding.  Her foundation was keen to invest in underfunded areas such as dance, and to collaborate with other organisations to extend the life of the works created, so they have created the Keir Choreographic Awards in partnership with Dancehouse in Melbourne and Carriageworks in Sydney.  The funds they contribute are matched by the Australia Council and the program enables choreographers from overseas to come to Australia as jurors which in turn introduces Australian dancers and choreographers to overseas audiences.

Sarah talked about the benefits of having a small family foundation as being that they are not risk averse, have zero overhead costs and can partner with other organisations and cover administration costs if necessary.  They can be quick to act, flexible and enjoy providing multi-year funding.

John McKinnon John agreed with her that you can create big impact with small budgets if you choose wisely.  His foundation has no website and doesn’t take unsolicited grants, and intends to spend down within one generation.  He sees their role as being an agent of change and the role of philanthropy as being uniquely placed to challenge power.  Gifts with no strings attached are rare and he prefers to preserve their grant capital by providing loans where feasible and to grant where others can’t (or won’t) – often in relation to advocacy.  He says “charity can move millions, advocacy can move billions

Like the Keir Foundation the McKinnon Foundation doesn’t just give and forget but likes to be involved with the boards of some of the organisations they grant to and facilitate introductions and bringing the right parties together.

MaryCrooksMary Crooks spoke about the formation of the Victorian Womens’ Trust (VWT) with a $1 million investment from the government and how they became an independent entity in 1992.  Her organisation is enmeshed within the not-for-profit sector as advocates, researchers and participants as well as grant-makers.  They run a sub-fund model for a variety of purposes and are working to make their grant-making for women sustainable.  Mary talked about several VWT projects such as Koorie Women Mean Business, Club Respect, Credit Where Credit is Due, Who Gets the Farm?as well as the “gift that keeps on giving” – the Purple Sage project which developed their Kitchen Table Conversations which were utilised in the Voices4Indi campaign.

Academia and practice can come together for dynamic and strong conversations.  What do you think about how we can work to improve the flow of information between them?

Posted in engaged philanthropy, grantmaking, higher education, philanthropy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Splash in the shallows” – family foundations testing the waters

Snow foundation

I am fascinated by private ancillary funds (PAFs) which are generally family foundations, so was very pleased to attend the Philanthropy Australia conference‘s session which highlighted the experiences of four family foundations at various stages of maturity, expertise and development.

Four panellists talked about how their foundations started, how they make decisions, operate and network – and highlighted the importance of the experience for their family and the personal satisfaction they get from having set up this giving structure.

The newest foundation discussed how the idea of a PAF had been suggested to them at a function four years ago, and was then brought up by their financial adviser six months after that.  Now, they are 18 months into their giving journey and have found a way to connect their family in the future and provide education outside the standard education system.  A key driver for them was their accountant, finding a mentor  (Stacey Thomas – who many years ago while  with the Potter Foundation ran an informal philanthropy pop quiz), and being introduced to collaborative giving and the network of philanthropy through the Impact100 giving circle in their state.

The oldest family foundation represented on the panel was set up 27 years ago, while the two relatively “intermediary ones” are comprised of people who describe themselves as always having been givers.

One was inspired by an article by Chris Cuffe, and decided they wanted to perpetuate their giving in a structured way which would involve both their children and extended family.  They employed someone else to do the setting up and compliance of the PAF and now focus on grantmaking and engaging with recipients, particularly around music education in disadvantaged schools.

The other “intermediary” PAF was set up in about 2005.  Their previous giving had been generous but ad hoc and tended to be reactive.  As their giving grew they knew they needed to be smarter about what they were doing, so again – having seen an article on Prescribed Private Funds (as they were at the time), they spoke to some key people in the field – Peter Winneke (who then was head of philanthropy at the then Myer Family Company – since merged with Mutual Trust), and John Emerson, one of the leading experts on tax/charitable law in Australia.

What struck me this early on in the conversation was the influence of mentors and people active in philanthropy encouraging others to participate, think more deeply and get more involved.  But I digress . . .

The impetus for setting up the family foundation or PAF was that both husband and wife had individual interests for their giving, but were both very keen to support the arts, environment and indigenous issues.  They felt that a structure might help them to be more clever givers – but this didn’t happen immediately – it evolved over time.

It seems that scattergun giving – or what one of the panel members called the “sunscreen” approach – putting it everywhere is one way of getting started before learning how to pull one’s interests together and to go deeper while still honouring the family’s interests (or the interests of the founder).

For one of the panellists, the turning point was meeting with Philanthropy Australia, Sue-Ann Wallace then at the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation, and getting advice from Louise Walsh at (then) Artsupport. Again I am struck by the networks developed and the openness of people sharing their experiences and expertise. The panel reiterated the importance of finding key people in the field – even to the extent of inviting some to join their boards.

Founders of family foundations are keen to encourage the next generation to be philanthropic and for their family members to understand the responsibilities which go with running a foundation.  They recognise that they hold a limited amount of social capital, and want to drive their dollars as far as they can while also being able to respond quickly to funding opportunities.  Some don’t want to push their kids into it – as long as they are involved in giving at their own level.  One panellist was firmly of the view that their children should not be giving away “family money” before they have earned some of their own.

The level of structure and bureaucracy within family foundations and PAFs varies.  While there are the key elements of administration/compliance, investment and grantmaking, structure and flexibility both have their own appeal.  Some have very formal board meetings, others have Sunday afternoon chats or just meet to sign off on the annual accounts.

All the panellists talked about contributing more than dollars, by volunteering, and participating in experiences which enhance their understanding of the organisations and causes they choose to support. Many are  involved at board level with nonprofit organisations which further informs their giving and has led to a greater understanding of the need to fund operations or even infrastructure as opposed to projects.

They all talked about enjoying the collaborative nature of what they do and bringing other philanthropists and peers with them to leverage and grow their support.  Several work closely with Philanthropy Australia to find others interested in the areas they support.  Working with others also often alleviates some of the issues around due diligence – where foundations with staff can do some of the initial exploration of potential grantees.

A brief discussion of failures ensued – this was around jumping into areas or projects which were too complex,- rushing to distribute grants in a hurry before 30 June, or not having the dedication/commitment of a management team of a beneficiary organisation despite the eagerness of the project manager.

The panellists described their mission as:

  • more and better philanthropy
  • investing, empowering, educating (especially for their own children)
  • acknowledging that everyone can be a philanthropist because humans are kind.

While not all of the panellists are comfortable about being public with their giving (which is why I have not overtly named them here but you can see who they are in the conference program), they all believe in the importance of leadership and demonstrating what they are doing to bring more people along with them.  Some of them also noted that their philanthropy is more than them – they have a team of advisers, experts and mentors helping them.

Key tips for starting out are:

  • invest most in backing good leaders
  • make a start and be open minded
  • look for mentors
  • develop relationships with the people you fund
  • love learning
  • be curious (this deepens engagement and leads to better decisions)
  • collaborate
  • collaborate long-term.

Several questions from the floor covered whether the families were explicit about what they wanted to support when they set up, whether they do multi-year funding, why they chose the PAF structure rather than a sub-fund in a Public Ancillary Fund (PuAF), what expectations they have of the organisations they fund, and whether they felt PAFs should be able to give to PuAFs.

What do you think?  Might a family foundation/PAF be the right structure for your future giving?

ozphilanthropy was a guest of Philanthropy Australia at Day 1 of their 2018 conference.

Posted in donate, engaged philanthropy, grantmaking, philanthropy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

ISTR not the Ishtar Conference


Guest post by Alexandra Williamson

The International Society for Third-sector Research known as ISTR or “I Star” – (editor’s note: which sounds to us at ozphilanthropy like Ishtar, goddess of love, fertility and sometimes community) is an international membership association of researchers, academics, pracademics and educators.  It covers philanthropy, civil society and the nonprofit sector with a focus on Europe and developing nations.  The other main international association in the nonprofit space is ARNOVA, the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organisations and Voluntary Action based in the USA. Both hold international conferences and publish academic journals on nonprofit research.

ISTR’s 13th International Conference took place in Amsterdam.  Being co-chaired by Ruth Phillips from the University of Sydney there was a strong Australian connection.  The conference theme was “Democracy and Legitimacy”.  As with any conference, there was an over-abundance of parallel sessions so the highlights below should be seen as a ‘tasting menu’ of what was on offer.

I was lucky to attend the conference and the PhD student seminar that preceded it.  These strengthened my belief that there is excellent and very topical research being done across the world into the diverse and fascinating field of the Third Sector, charities and nonprofits.

Networks and social network mapping

Networks are often providers of services to clients or beneficiaries, so researchers can use the network as the unit of analysis in research, rather than examining organisations, institutions or individuals.  Some questions which came up included: “From a philanthropic perspective, how could funders provide resources to a network rather than an organisation?”  “Could funders accept grant applications from networks?”  New jargon alert – to “un-bubble” or to stop considering organisations as standing alone (either foundations or their beneficiary organisations).


Hybridisation refers to organisations such as social enterprises or collectives which blur the lines between for-profit and not-for-profit.  Does this blurring result in instability and loss of collective identity?  Hybrid organisations must deal with the increasing complexity that results from multiple logics.  What does that look like for those organisations?  How does it affect their identity?  One presenter took this further, calling individuals ‘hyborgs’.  It’s not just nonprofit organisations that are dealing with multiple different expectations, it’s the people who work in nonprofits too.

Food security

Food security is an emerging area for the third sector, particularly with small, grass-roots civil society organisations operating in a very local, place-based context.  Voluntas (ISTR’s academic journal) has a forthcoming special issue on food security and FoodBanks.   Nonprofit organisations working to address food security are a long-term favourite of philanthropic funders both in Australia and internationally and are increasing their visibility and presence globally.


Gerry Salole

Gerry Salole, Chief Executive of the European Foundation Centre, played a role as ‘devil’s advocate’ on a panel, making provocative remarks about challenges facing structured philanthropy such as:
i) we need to expand our definition of what philanthropy is to encompass things not captured in Western/US definitions. There is a trend for the wealthy to find new forms for wealth distribution beyond traditional foundation structures


ii) we are counting stuff that doesn’t matter and making a religion of it. If by counting you understand less, then it is both harmful and a waste

iii) as foundation funders, we count proxies for things to measure, and then we think we are answering the question about what impact we are having

iv) we are comfortable talking about where the money comes from, how much of it there is, and what we do with it. But – we don’t talk about who is making the decisions, and how they are accountable. We don’t ask how many foundations are governed by fewer than four people, or how many foundations have divested from oil?

v) another presenter spoke of foundations ‘grooming’ nonprofit organisations to carry out foundations’ chosen purposes or activities on their behalf.  This made me feel particularly uncomfortable.

Place-based, community philanthropy

Often the purview of community foundations, place-based giving was described as an ‘extended family’ with members including self-organised grassroots groups with no formal structure, citizen initiatives, place-based collectives, and participatory alliances. Presenters noted that practice is well ahead of scholarship in this field where giving is collective rather than individualistic, and key themes are vitality and commotion – rather opposed to traditional philanthropic institutions!

And a final, overarching question from the conference:

Can we convince people that data is accurate, and that it matters?  And if it’s possible, how should we best go about it?

What are your thoughts?


Alexandra Williamson is a final year PhD student at the Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane.  She is the recipient of an APA (Australian Postgraduate Award) PhD Scholarship from the Australian Government.  Her PhD research examines the accountability of Public Ancillary Funds.  Alex’s publications can be found at QUT’s ePrints digital repository.   Connect:



Posted in higher education, philanthropy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Charity Fundraising in the 21st Century

Senate-Chamber_001There is a new Senate inquiry into Charity Fundraising in the 21st Century.  Submissions close on 6 August and the committee is to report on or before 18 October 2018.

This caught my eye because one of the terms of reference refers to:

the appropriate donor-focused expectations and requirements that should govern fundraising regulation in the 21st century“.

What do you think about charities incorporating donor expectations into their fundraising practices? On the one hand this seems self-evident, but then sounds like an oxymoron unless we get into distracting arguments about costs of admin.

It will be interesting to see what comes up in this inquiry – what do you think about yet another exploration of how the sector is travelling and the myriad forms of reporting charities face?


PS: ozphilanthropy’s author is currently enrolled in a PhD as a provisional candidate at Swinburne supported by an Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship.
Posted in donate, fundraising, Legislation, philanthropy | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Civil Society, Digital Democracy?


Lucy Bernholz, Vanessa Teague and Adam Jacoby (photo: Adrienne O’Dell)

Perpetual has hosted its third installment of discussions and workshops with Stanford PACS (Centre on Philanthropy and Civil Society) with a session entitled Civil Society in an Age of Digital Democracy.

Lucy Bernholz partly deconstructed the title of the session as follows:
civil society is all the ways we come together as individuals to benefit other people
digital is that thing most of us don’t understand but are now completely dependent upon with our mobile phones and email.  We are trapped in a completely designed space which serves the purpose of organisations who sell us technology and applications.  We are overdependent on the digital environment, and cannot separate civil society from the market or government.

“We thought digital and the internet was going to be democratizing – Oh, how we’ve changed”, said Lucy.  The question for discussion was “how can we make democracy thrive in an age of these interdependencies?”

Lucy introduced Vanessa Teague from the University of Melbourne who explores how we can run elections in a secure way so that people can’t fiddle with the outcomes.

Athenian Secret Ballot

Athenian voting discs (Wikimedia Commons)

Vanessa talked about the history of voting with transparency of ballots going back to the Athenians in 300 BC and the use of carefully designed ballot boxes and prepared papers to secure the integrity of votes.

Modern elections now use software to code and count votes.  However, is this valid? Vanessa gave a fascinating introduction into how online voting is supposed to work – and how it doesn’t.  She and her colleagues discovered a bug in the software implemented in New South Wales in the 2015 election.  The verification process for checking and confirming people’s votes was shown to be fallible and the system was not designed to make failure evident or visible.  (No one discussed the hanging chad).

Adam Jacoby, more directly addressed the democracy part of the topic. Adam asked:
1) Is there an ideology that can provide a solution for every problem?
2) Does government provide access equally for everyone?
3) Does government enact the will of the people?

Adam believes that if we answer no to more than one of these questions then we are not in a true democracy. His organisation, MiVote, has created a model where every citizen can have a say through a platform in the blockchain space.  It is designed as a democratic ecosystem which runs votes to gauge sentiment on various issues.  They do not ask binary yes/no questions and believe in providing information statements that voters must read before casting their vote.

MiVote does not adopt any policy positions unless there is at least a 60% consensus on an issue.  Information provided to their voters is based on fact and usually third party peer reviewed papers.

Questions from the floor raised some interesting points:

Why now? – there is a role for technology in enabling people to be better educated.  This is an accessible model which can address “fake news” and echo chambers.  Technology can play a role in making voices heard and ensuring equality.  The idea of a voice and having agency is very desirable in many places (MiVote recently launched chapters in India and has seen large take up there).

What’s the business case for online voting? No strong rationale yet apart from access for people with disabilities or vision impairment.

How do people with power respond to MiVote (ie Alan Jones)? Some people with power are concerned, but the media does have a role to play.  Voting should be based on fact.  A US billionaire who loves the idea of MiVote declined to support it because it could lead to the loss of his own access to power and personal influence.

How can you make sure people read the information (terms & conditions)? The site is showing people are spending enough time reading and some click further to the source material.

If there were mass adoption of this kind of model it is a sentiment check and nonbinding on legislature.  How can the legislation reflect the sentiment? The answer to this focussed on the security issues which will still apply, especially as influence of this model increases.

How does it work if politicians ignore the sentiment expressed? If sentiment is made more transparent it becomes harder to ignore.  The platform allows any individual to run as a MiVote independent candidate as long as they sign on to seventeen behaviours (and agree to a hefty damages claim for any breach of conduct).

Some in the audience were left shaking their heads confused as to the connection of the topic with philanthropy, but I found it a thought provoking and stimulating discussion.  If philanthropy is truly to have social impact, philanthropists need to understand our social and political environment in order to be able to create positive outcomes.

What are your thoughts on new technologies and the democratic process?


Posted in philanthropy, social action, social media | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment