Faith in Philanthropy

How time flies! I was going to write this post in late May after attending the Archbishop’s Conversation on Volunteering and Philanthropy at BMW Edge, but somehow couldn’t get all my thoughts together. The event was actually called “It is better to give than receive” and was hosted by the Archbishop of Melbourne, Dr Philip Freier, in conversation with Australian of the Year, for 2011, Simon McKeon and Founder of the Summer Foundation, Di Winkler, and Michael Traill the CEO of Social Ventures Australia.

I won’t give you a recap on the conversation as you can find one here, but what I wanted to ponder was the importance of faith in philanthropy. That’s not only because I am writing on Christmas Day, but because the statement which stood out for me the most from this conversation was from Di Winkler, saying that she undertook good works because she had been inspired by the example of Jesus in working with the “marginalised and disadvantaged”, and Simon and Michael also acknowledged the importance of their family and religious upbringings in how they view their participation in the world as philanthropists and activists for social change.

This got me thinking about what does motivate philanthropists – as I think that we don’t talk particularly openly about our religious views in Australia, being such an outwardly secular society. We are all familiar with the idea of the collection plate at churches, or the Jewish tradition of Tzedakah (a religious obligation to perform charity, and philanthropic acts) and the Moslem tradition of tithing, Zakat – but does this really influence philanthropists, foundations and the NGO sector?

Personally, I don’t credit my religious education (which was a very thorough one in the Jewish tradition) as being a key motivator for my philanthropy and my work, but I would strongly credit the values and beliefs of my parents and family – which could perhaps be extrapolated from their Judaism as the way my approach to life and my place in it has been shaped. That may sound like a paradox as they are so intertwined – but I suppose I would say that my non practising or non observant (or dare I say, lapsed) approach to formal religion as an adult has not been a major influence on my life choices. How do you reconcile what you were taught as a child with what you have learned as an adult?

At this “time of giving” what do you think about the importance of faith and religion in philanthropy? Does it motivate how you act or conduct your life? Do you think it is an important motivator for your donors and supporters? Have you ever done a survey asking if this is a motivating factor for your donors?

I look forward to your thoughts on this as I feel it is not something we discuss enough.

Happy holidays!


About ozphilanthropy

#Philanthropy. #arts Posts by Sharon Nathani, PhD candidate at the Centre for Social Impact, Swinburne focussing on philanthropic funders of the arts. Sharon's study is supported through an Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship.
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