ISTR not the Ishtar Conference


istr

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

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

Foundations
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?

AlexWilliamson

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: ak.williamson@connect.qut.edu.au

 

 

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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.
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Civil Society, Digital Democracy?


Perpetual

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?

 

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Have we travelled far?


ContempArtI have just been reading Contemporary Art + Philanthropy, Public Spaces/Private Funding: Foundations for Contemporary Art  as I revisit the nexus (is there one?) between philanthropy, tax policy and arts policy.

This monograph was created to record a forum held by the Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation in 2007, and has a chapter by Rupert Myer (now Chair of the Australia Council) which I find still extremely relevant today.  So I asked myself – has much changed?

The chapter is called “The Austalian Art of Giving: Having Found the Way, Have We Lost the Will?”.  The focus of the forum was on private foundations supporting the arts, and this appeals to me as my current interest is Private Ancillary Funds and how they support the arts (who do they give to and what motivates them?).

The chapter begins with a reference to the long history of giving and patronage of the arts in the US (as we always seem to need to have a point of comparison), and reminds us of the importance not just of support by gifting works of art, but by funding positions for curators, professorships and departments to support the careers of contemporary artists.

We are then reminded of the generosity of Alfred Felton, and what has developed at National Gallery of Victoria through his bequest, and several other large gifts to the arts in Australian history including the Elder Conservatorium, the Power Bequest giving rise to the Museum of Contemporary Art, and support for regional galleries.

This contradicts the view that there is no culture of giving in Australia  – and yet, eleven years later, we are still hearing that philanthropy is in its infancy here, and we need strong leadership to model by example.

The Giving Australia 2005 report, which has recently been revisited as the Giving Australia 2016 report – which came out last year, notes that donors are motivated when they are   “. . .  passionate about particular causes or organisations . . .” and ask themselves “how can we add value to the community?”  This sounds very much like today’s language of creating impact and creating social outcomes.

There is a reference to the language of generosity rather than the language of obligation – “giving back” and a reflection on Australia’s tax system, and the lack of inheritence taxes or death duties (the absence of which acts as a disincentive to philanthropy).  We still have incentives such as Cultural Gifts Program, and Prescribed Private Funds – now known as Private Ancillary Funds, but many of the recommendations of the Inquiry into the Australian Contemporary Visual Arts and Craft Sector (such as making bequests tax deductible) have not been implemented.

So what is new, or what has changed in the intervening 11 years?  From where I sit, unfortunately not a great deal.  There was a moment of excitement in the arts when Labour introduced a National Cultural Policy in 2013, and then promptly lost both the Minister (Simon Crean), and the election.  There has been dismay in the arts sector at the birth of the Catalyst Fund and cuts to the Australia Council which were then reversed.  There has been a huge growth in Private Ancillary Funds (there are now nearly 2000 of them) – but who knows how to find them or what they are supporting without paying a subscription fee or purchasing a directory?

On a more optimistic note, perhaps one could say that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – the arts and philanthropy are still very good friends, and there are some incredibly generous supporters of the arts.

What do you think? How do you think we could improve relationships between philanthropy and the arts and develop better creative connections?

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.

 

 

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Funding advocacy


AdvocacyThinkstockPhotos-512883584

Image by Abscent84

A quick shout out about Philanthropy Australia’s recent publication – The Power of Advocacy: Making the Case for Philanthropic Support for Advocacy.

Published in February, this handy guide reiterates the case for philanthropic organisations’ ability to be active in the advocacy space since the AidWatch decision in 2010 and the new definitions provided in the Charities Act (2013).

The report explains “what policy advocacy is, outlines the rationale for philanthropy funding policy advocacy, sets out the law regarding funding policy advocacy, addresses some misconceptions, and presents eight case studies of philanthropy funding policy advocacy”.

Ozphilanthropy wrote about funding advocacy back in 2014, so it is great to see that Philanthropy Australia has now developed an easy to access reference which draws on some of the earlier work in this area, especially that undertaken by the Reichstein Foundation.

Congratulations to Krystian Seibert for this piece.

D’oh – I pressed publish too soon – just found the best quote in favour of advocacy in philanthropy  – “it is essential to recognise that philanthropy is inherently political and value-laden. While charity focuses on addressing the symptoms of a problem,  philanthropy tries to address root causes and advocates for policy and social change“.  This is in a chapter by Tobias Jung and Jenny Harrow entitled Providing Foundations: pilanthropy, global policy and administration in the forthcoming Oxford Handbook on Global Public Policy and Transnational Administration (edited by Stone & Moloney).

 

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.
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Women & Philanthropy


PressforProgress-IWD2018 There is a buzz happening around women and philanthropy.  Whether someone’s capacity to donate is $100 or $1,000,000, there are opportunities to contribute individually or collectively to support charitable causes and organisations focussed on women and girls.

The Victorian Women’s Trust (VWT) was one of the first philanthropic organisations in Australia to focus on women’s’ needs, advocate for women and girls, and work towards a more equal future.  They have a range of sub-funds where donors can contribute to investing in women and girls in areas ranging from support for indigenous women fleeing family violence, understanding respectful relationships, women’s choirs, to assistance for vulnerable older women.

VWT’s Gender lens for inclusive philanthropy written in 2009 is still a relevant read describing the gender lens as “helping us see more clearly the role gender plays in shaping our male and female lives, our work, experience and choices. When gender differences are identified and responded to in grant making, philanthropy becomes more inclusive. When the complexities of gender inequality are understood and addressed, philanthropy becomes more potent. And when those issues and circumstances are identified where it makes sense to invest directly in women and girls because of the flow on effects to children, families and communities, philanthropy has even greater impact.”

The Australian Women’s Donors Network also advocates for greater investment in women and girls and their gender lens toolkit provides a snapshot of the existing disadvantage experienced by women locally and globally and maps out a step-by-step guide for donors and funders on how to review and apply a gender lens to giving.

The Giving Australia 2016 report notes a growing awareness among philanthropists and donors of the gender lens, and its usefulness in developing greater sophistication and understanding of issues in grant making, showing how people are differently affected by issues, stronger program design, and better outcomes for families and communities when women are supported.

The Melbourne Women’s Fund is a collective giving circle which encourages women to pool financial, intellectual, professional and personal resources to benefit groups and organisations dealing with issues that undermine the quality of life and futures of women and families.  Each member commits $1000 per year and has a vote on where the funds are distributed.  In four years they have granted $500,000 to organisations dealing with issues such as supporting older women struggling with poverty, early intervention for women in the criminal justice system and breaking the cycle of disadvantage for young girls.

Capital Giving in Canberra (formerly ACT of Women Giving) enables members to increase the impact of their individual donations through the multiplier effect of being part of a group.  Capital Giving has supported initiatives such as micro-finance support for women, and a mentorship program for girls, trans and non-binary young people aged 10-17 years.

Other collective giving initiatives focussed on women include Women and Change in Queensland, which encourages 50 women to contribute $1000 each towards one major grant each year and  100Women WA has given out 13 grants in four years totalling more than $400,000 and sums up what most of the above-mentioned organisations are doing as “enabling everyday people to be involved in creating a world where all women and girls can live safely with access to health, education and economic freedom.  This is achieved by combining donations and knowledge to provide impactful grants.”

While not specifically female focussed, the Funding Network community of donors who use a live crowdfunding model to pledge support for highlighted organisations will hold a women and girls focussed event in Melbourne this year.

Australia is connected to the international growth in support for women and girls through Women Moving Millions which was introduced by the Australian Women Donors Network in Melbourne and Sydney. This international women’s funding network encourages donors to commit $1 million over 10 years to projects and organisations focused on the advancement of women and girls.  There are now eight donors based in Australia, and this has directly led to the establishment of the Women’s Leadership Institute Australia which aims to catalyse and inspire innovative partnerships, action and system-changing solutions to achieve gender balanced representation in Australia.

And finally, the peak body for philanthropy in Australia, Philanthropy Australia has recently established a Women and Girls Funders group as one of their peer network groups.

The range of support for philanthropic initiatives and support for women is growing, but still only makes up a tiny portion of philanthropic granting.  As of 2011 only 7% of the philanthropic dollar went specifically to women and girls* so while there is growing awareness and more visible activity, there is still room in this space for amazing things to happen and for everyone to #pressforprogress.

*Women Moving Millions – All in for Her, A Call to Action

PS: check outGiving by and For Women: Understanding High Net Worth Donor’s Support for Women and Girls by the Women’s Philanthropy Unit at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy

NB: This piece was written for QUT’s Business Insights for International Women’s Day 2018.

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Gillian Triggs at Melbourne Women’s Fund Forum


Gillian Triggs

Emeritus Professor Gillian Triggs was the keynote speaker at the Melbourne Women’s Fund inaugural forum held in Melbourne.

Professor Triggs spoke of having grown up post-war, as a baby-boomer, given a free legal education and becoming a practising barrister at 22.  This was an optimistic age and she was influenced by Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own which with absolute clarity and no weasel words stressed the importance of financial autonomy for women. (Financial autonomy and independence – and especially superannuation, was to be a key theme throughout the Forum).

Professor Triggs believes that economic empowerment is crucial for strong societies and strong communities, and sees health, housing and employment as legal rights.  She also believes that human rights for women, children as well as men are good for business.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Index measures where countries stand in relation to these rights.  Australia has dropped from 15th place to 46th (behind Rwanda, Burundi and Nicaragua).  The Index compares economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival and political empowerment.  It is not just that in Australia only 25.4% of board members on the ASX200 are women and that women retire with on average 46% of the superannuation balances of men.  What is striking is that Australia ranks No 1 for educational attainment for women yet the highest growing poplation of homeless people here is women over 55.

Professor Triggs noted that the spirit of equality, non-discrimination and equal opportunity of the early 1960s has been lost. There had been a view that if women had education they would be able to resolve all other problems, but even this week, a report by Plan International on the attitudes of young women has shown a growing loss of confidence, a drop in ambition and declining mental health.  98% of the young women and girls surveyed believed they are treated differently to boys.

Professor Triggs referred to the high standards of “evidence” required to support advocacy for “women’s issues”, noting the criticism of the recent Human Rights Commission report on sexual assault on university campuses.  Despite having been approved by 39 Vice-Chancellors (in itself no mean feat) and with more than 39,000 respondents to a survey and 2,000 submissions provided in writing, parts of the press doubted the methodology of the findings and in doing so attempted to diminish the report’s significance.

For Professor Triggs, the optimisim of the1960s has not delivered what her generation had hoped.  Society ignores the productivity supported by women through unpaid caring responsibilities, has imposed high costs of child care and reduced women’s career opportunities through the development of casual, contract and gig economy employment.  Structural issues such as changes in penalty rates will further penalise women who had been its main beneficiaries.

Occupational and industry segregation still exists and barriers such as non family-friendly workplaces also prevent women’s full economic participation.

The phenomenon of “post truth” is a concern.  While there has always been spin and propaganda, for Professor Triggs, the issue now is that we are starting to believe it. “Alternative facts” is an absurb proposition, yet false news is increasingly pervasive and informing people’s positions.  Professor Triggs referred to Jennifer Hochschild’s Do Facts Matter which posits that the danger of post truth is that you get political benefit by muddying the waters (eg – by mixing the issue of religious freedom with the same-sex postal survey).

There is also the strange phenomenon of raising an issue, proposing a solution, and then accusing women of manipulating the process (the maternity leave double-dipping fiasco).  The result of this is that women have now lost 18 weeks paid maternity leave – due to lies.

Professor Triggs spoke about domestic violence and the clear link between social disadvantage and vulnerability to violence.  While the government is now rolling out a $100 million package to stop violence against women, this is not enough for structural change, particularly while the government is cutting funding for refuges and defunding community legal centers.

Professor Triggs views these issues through the prism of human rights (not surprising given her background), and referred to the Beijing Platform for Action. A difficulty in Australia is that although Australia is a signatory to many international human rights treaties, these have not been passed into Australian law. This then affects women, children and families in many ways.  Professor Triggs noted that it was fortunate that we at least have the Sex Discrimination Act of 1984.

Other issues still to be addressed include the UN sustainable development goals, which call for gender equality by 2030.  While aspirations are important, strategies, plans and leadership are also needed.

There are also initiatives for women’s economic empowerment championed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.  The IMF recently published research Banking on Women Leaders and wants to double its lending to women from $1billion to $2billion as well as develop new financial tools for women in emerging markets.  (Consider this – in Myanmar, less than 10% of women have a bank account).

And progress is happening in Indonesia, where the country is considering allowing working women to file tax returns independent of their husbands.

So what is happening in Australia?  According to Professor Triggs – not very much.  We have no national action plan for women in relation to finance, only abstract and high level objectives.  Although we have an Office for Women, there is no dedicated Minister at the Federal level, and the Office for Women has a miniscule budget of $3million which is trivial if it is to address major problems.

There’s the Women’s Money Tool Kit as part of ASIC’s MoneySmart website, but we need to do more to work more closely with women.

The conservative press considers women’s issues to be “identity politics” (I could include a link here, but don’t want to give the Hun more web hits).

So while there is a bit of doom and gloom, and there is a challenge to bring work down to a level where it will have an impact – there is something we can all do.

Professor Triggs took us back to the other literary influence of her earlier years – Germaine Greer.  She suggests we should be more aggressive and bolder, speak up more clearly and push back against “alternative truths”, present our arguments with evidence, and even be more vulgar -because “we have played the game for far too long“.

Who is with us?

A couple of questions from the audience:

Q: from the Australian Women Donors Network: “Where are we on progress vs pushback?”

A: there is real pushback in the media and manifest in the statistics – we need to produce strong statistics and spokespersons to speak up in these dangerous times where civil society is retreating from advocacy – especially in the case of community legal centres who are no longer able to stand up and speak.  Our freedom of speech is being curtailed and there needs to be accurate, measured balance.  Attention to detail in research methodology is important or the media will refute it.

Q: from Sisterworks: from the perspective of an advocate for women dependent on welfare and working in the social sector, there is a gap where people are struggling to do their best, but they don’t have the means.

A: Women need higher levels of economic stability and women need to have public voices (like Anne Summers, Liz Broderick and Rosie Batty). How have we allowed things to get to this point?  Professor Triggs made the point that if the 70 women killed by their partners each year had instead been killed by terrorists, the government would be throwing money at the issue.

ozphilanthropy attended the Melbourne Women’s Fund Forum as a guest of the Melbourne Women’s Fund.

 

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American Vertigo: Philanthropy & Democracy in Uncertain Times


MaeHong

Mae Hong, from Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisers (whom she calls the “poor cousins of the Rockefeller Foundation”) was in Australia for a second tour with Australian Executor Trustees (who brought her out last year).

She gave talks in Melbourne and Sydney on how philanthropy is adapting to the
new regime in the US – hence the title of her talk and this post – American Vertigo: Philanthropy & Democracy in Uncertain Times.

Mae feels that the biggest surprise of the US election was that so many people were so surprised, even though Lewis Lapham predicted that the US was moving towards populism and its simmering malcontent thirty years ago. The idea that since the end of the Cold War, greed and hedonism have taken such hold as to secure favourable tax benefits, policies and concessions for the wealthy few is still not widely held. Yet, in Mae’s view, the country has become a plutocracy where the poor have no power or influence, the government has been weakened fiscally and has no legitimacy, and the system works against the people.

There is chronic under-investment in the public good and inequality is the new global threat. (The eight richest people in the world have the same wealth as the bottom half
that is $3,600,000,000 people).

So where does that leave philanthropy and civil society? Mae says that civil society and the voluntary sector are now the new guardians of the public good while the very wealthy are exercising their own agendas. Big philanthropists like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Bloomberg Philanthropies, and the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation set their own policy priorities (but who voted them in?).

Mae sees philanthropy’s role as a counterbalance and talked about the democratisation of philanthropy and new ways to give (yes giving circles), crowdfunding and ordinary citizens exercising their voice. There has been a seismic shift in the relationship between money and power – and also an inverted meaning of public and private. Remember when public was inherently good – the public service & public hospitals? But in the 80s this was inverted and private became the new beautiful (private planes, private personal trainers, private schools).

So what does this mean for democracy? This talk took me back to the recent presentation by Lucy Bernholz and Rob Reich on Philanthropy and Democratic Societies and last year’s presentation by the Reichstein Foundation on the Imperialism of Economics with Dr Edward Nik-Khah. There seems to be a bit of a theme developing. Is protest the new brunch?

Responses to changes in the political climate have invoked new terms like “rage giving” – where people voice to their disapproval by supporting causes which have been downgraded or derided by the government, such as Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and the SPLC (Southern Poverty Law Center) who raised $100s of millions of dollars after the US election – (think of the recent boost to Dress Like a Girl after the comments from Cory Bernardi). Foundations have redirected $700 million to respond to Trump’s policies creating rapid response funds and critical response funds. They want to be nimble, and some companies(Paypal and Apple Pay) are blocking funds to hate groups. No platforms are neutral anymore. “If you aren’t against something you are for it – and silence is consent”.

The military developed a term – VUCA – which stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity – and Mae says this is the new normal. Everything is connected – in unpredictable ways – the 2006 “Tortilla Riots” apparently sparked by corn being produced for ethanol rather than food following 3000 oil wells being taken out of commission by Hurricane Katrina (and making the price of corn in Mexico jump 400%), Walmart selling cashmere sweaters for $20 leading to more goat farming in China leading to sandstorms.

So we need to build better shock absorbers, better resilience and maintain who we are when conditions are radically changed. Mae suggests we replace VUCA with VUCA – vision, understanding, clarity and adaptation (resilient design).

Mae concluded with a quote from Maya Angelou’s essay The Sweetness of Charity, in which she says that charity “liberates the soul of the giver” and that with each gift, we strengthen the pillars of the world.

What do you think?  Does philanthropy need to be more accountable?  How can we best deal with the new disruptions in society and the economy?  I look forward to your thoughts.

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A bit more on collective giving


impact100wa

Just in case you missed it, the Prime Minister’s Community Business Partnership commissioned Creative Partnerships Australia to write a report on collective giving.

I am thinking that this is more because James Boyd, the report’s co-author, is an expert in collective giving, having established the first Impact100 group in Australia – in Western Australia, rather than it being something particular to the arts community.

It has an overview on the state of collective giving in the US, UK and Asia as well as here, provides some insight into the demographics of current members, and discusses some of the issues and challenges giving groups are facing.

It discusses motivations for joining, operational and structural differences, and reports on positive feedback from the charities involved.

You can read Collective Giving and Its Role in Philanthropy here and don’t forget that several of the collective giving groups are still recruiting members for this year, and will be distributing their grants in November, so it’s not too late to become involved.

 

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Philanthropy & Democratic Societies


democracy.jpgPerpetual Ltd presented a session on Philanthropy and Democratic Societies at the State Library of Victoria with a panel comprised of Krystian Seibert from Philanthropy Australia, Lucy Bernholz, philanthropy and data expert, Bill Birnbauer, investigative journalist and Rob Reich, Faculty Co-Director, Stanford Centre on Philanthropy and Civil Society – hosted by Caitriona Fay, National Manager, Philanthropy and Non-profit Services, Perpetual.

Lucy and Rob are two of the co-editors of a new publication: Philanthropy in Democratic Societies: History, Institutions, Values.

Caitriona introduced the session with the story of Perpetual’s oldest charitable trust – coming in at 128 years – the Edith Campbell-Walker Trust – which was set up to provide housing for women – especially those who had been in “house service” and which now supports women moving away from domestic violence.  With a nod towards the dead hand from the grave, she noted that this Trust had a deed  which enabled it to adapt to the needs of the times, while still honouring the intent of the donor.  That said Caitriona acknowledged that there can be a difference between “good philanthropy” and “bad philanthropy”, especially given the power imbalance which exists between donors, bequestors and grant applicants/supplicants.

Rob commenced the session started with a “provocation” around what he considers “bad philanthropy”, and for me, raised more questions than answers – though in a good way.

Rob gave a couple of different definitions of philanthropy.

a) the direction of private resources for some public benefit (ie money, time, blood, organs, data) and referred to Peter Singer’s moral argument that what most people give is far less than they should (see The Most Good You can Do: How Effective Altruism is changing ideas about Living Ethically).

b) considering the array of public policies which champion or hinder philanthropy from contributing to healthy democratic societies such as tax incentivisation of a liberty we are already free to take with our own money, and the legal codification of private foundations.

Rob then put forward several arguments as to why we should be very skeptical and suspicious of private foundations (in the spirit of provocation).

Consider:

The Rockefeller Foundation – which in order to be established, required its own Bill from Congress, which was variously described as a “menace to democracy“, in its desire to use private wealth of influence public affairs.  Rob noted – large philanthropy is an exercise of power and deserves our scrutiny – not our gratitude.

The Gates Foundation – in funding schools – Bill Gates has been called the unelected “nation’s schools’ superintendent“.  Rob notes – large philanthropy is an exercise of unaccountable power (and deserves our scrutiny – not our gratitude).

George Soros’ Open Society Foundations – on an anecdote where staff couldn’t set priorities for the Foundation, it is said that George Soros said – “it’s my money, so we’ll do it my way”.  He was not happy to be reminded that but for the tax concessions available, 40% of the funds would belong to Treasury.  Rob calls this tax subsidised unaccountable power (and deserves our scrutiny – not our gratitude).

So his question is – why do democratic societies think that big philanthropy is a good idea?

Given this rather devastating critique of institutionalised generosity, Caitriona attempted to seek a view from the panel that would redeem philanthropy.

Rob noted that if philanthropy takes a long-term view with risks which were presented to the public for evaluation and approval (such as Carnegie’s experiment with public libraries), then the vice of big philanthropy can become a virtue.  He also suggested that perhaps there should be a minimum size for foundations – if one wants to put away an endowment of $500,000 – why not just write cheques to one’s charities of choice.

Another question – how does data fit into the future of philanthropy?

Lucy talked about how when you give money away – you have given it away, but that if you give data away, you still have it.  She mentioned the Digital Public Library of America and how being surrounded by digital data is a new resource which can affect our understanding of philanthropy in civil society.  However, despite the benefits of the digital space creating an opportunity to share information, Lucy seemed to be giving a warning about the platforms and infrastructure on which the information depends – which is held in private hands (of corporations) and subject to government scrutiny and monitoring.  Her question in relation to this is – where is the independent space for philanthropy?  She reminded  us of the ubiquitous park bench in spy movies where the protagonist meets someone for the purpose of an unmonitored, private conversation and noted that there are no park benches on the internet. Lucy tells us that today, the only unmonitored spaces in the digital world are public libraries.  (Net neutrality is not an area I have any understanding of, so I will leave it to you to look into this).

Moving from the park bench to the fourth estate, Caitriona asked about the role of philanthropy in journalism.  Bill talked about the move of mainstream journalists to work in the nonprofit sector following the market failure of journalism and its devastation by the internet, and wondered why journalism doesn’t fall under the Charities Act.

This led to a  reflection and a question about the current Treasury discussion paper on DGR and the government’s view of activist nonprofit organisations as disruptive, and its suggestion that advocacy should be limited.

Krystian noted that we haven’t really had a discussion about the power and influence of nonprofit organisations and recommended David Callahan’s The Givers: Wealth, Power & Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age.  Krystian noted the rather cynical view presented by the Treasury discussion paper, that environmental charities should limit themselves to work “downstream” – such as cleaning up environmental spills and damage to wildlife and plants, rather than addressing the causes of pollution to a river, which may relate to legislation, emissions guidelines and disposal of waste regulations.  He reminded us of the Aidwatch decision in 2010 which protects the rights of charitable organisations to undertake advocacy activities.

While democracy is a sign of a healthy civil society, Krystian also raised the tension between democractically elected government and organisations which may be encouraging democracy (even if they themselves are not democratically elected).  The example of LGBTQI rights in some countries, where the government and the general public wish to support the status quo (ie lack of rights) but foundations (such as Open Society) wish to challenge the democratic will of the people (for their own good, perhaps).  Thus demonstrating that philanthropy in a democratic society is a complicated issue.https://wordpress.com/post/ozphilanthropy.com/2648

A question from the audience on the ability of corporations to act as lobbyists without limitations, contrasted with the scope available for nonprofits.  Rob responded with “is expressing a political position a philanthropic act?”  He noted the work of Civicus which tracks the health of civil societies – particularly noting then there are changes in tax privileges and reporting requirements for nonprofits – and banning of international funding.

A question on the power of crowdfunding – the response is that the jury is still out – it is insecure and voluntary.  Rob suggests that people having to crowdfund in order to meet their own medical expenses is unacceptable (our taxes should pay for this) – but that raising funds towards arts projects is ok. (I think that this borders on a market deciding what is valuable argument which is always problematic because I don’t believe the market knows best).

Krystian cited Getup  which is not charitable but successful, and the Climate Council (abolished by the government, but reborn and refunded by the people) as examples of successful crowdfunding and demonstrating powerful case studies of what crowdfunding can achieve – the converse (cynical) argument is that if the Climate Council can be funded by crowdfunding – why did the government need to fund it in the first place?

An ethical dilemma question from the audience – if a donor for a particular charity could have solved the problem in question by not engaging in particular corporate action – and thus the donor is part of the problem – how can we work with them when we consider them to be responsible?  Rob talked about how people can make money legally, but perhaps not ethically and that charities should be aiming to make themselves redundant by preventing issues, rather than remediating them (as has been charity’s traditional role).

This is a long post – but I think that it was all worth recording.  It would be great to have feedback, comments, corrections and refutations to any positions taken as all too often many of us working in the philanthropy area carry on with our doing good – without stopping to look at the bigger picture.

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