Apologies for the long gap between posts. Tonight I ventured out to the Swinburne Philanthropy Alumni to hear a talk in their Maimonides Society series – and the guest speaker was Clare Brooks, the new CEO of the Australian Communities Foundation, who has just arrived in Australia from the Community Foundations Network in the UK.
Clare had been asked to speak on the topic of Community Foundations – Global Reflections, Local Opportunities.
In her previous role Clare had been responsible for the Beacon Prize which recognised individuals for their philanthropic efforts.
She gave a quick potted history of community foundations starting from the establishment of the Cleveland Foundation in 1914 which has led to the creation of 850 community foundations in the US, 120 in Canada, 630 in Europe and 35 in Australia and she talked about the six key characteristics of community foundations:
1) they are grantmakers
2) they have broad purposes to improve the quality of life in a community (and thus are “cause neutral” and can be flexible in where they direct their funds
3) they have a broad range of donors ie at different levels of personal wealth
4) they are independent entities
5) they are geographically defined
6) they can build a capital endowment. This last is very important – community foundations do not pay out all of their funds but grow their capital so that it can be used later when the community might have greater need – Clare referred back to the Cleveland Community Foundation which in the 60s saw the decline of Cleveland when it was no longer wealthy from steam, oil, coal and railroads (I think she called it a rustbelt city) and how the community foundation was able to help the city to better times.
The growth of community foundations started later in the United Kingdom, but a system of accreditation of the sector there has made it an even more important part of the philanthropic landscape.
One of the key elements of community foundations is their ability to establish what in Australia we call sub-funds, overseas are referred to as “donor advised funds” – where donors state their interest area and the community foundation facilitates grants on their behalf. Apparently 20% of the top grantmaking foundations in the US are community foundations and 15 of the top 100 US foundations (in asset size) are community foundations – and the appeal of the donor advised fund is significant there. (My aside – I know that with the community foundation I work with subfunds are only fledgling – it is an area we need to work harder at).
Here are some more key features of community foundations:
1) they are enablers of philanthropy offering a variety of vehicles for giving, (in particular geography, time, money)
2) they provide quality of life – have local intelligence, can identify needs and convene and connect people
3) community foundations are there for the long-term.
Clare sees community foundations as an essential part of the “tool kit” of philanthropy and a mainstream way of giving.
She shared her perceptions of the difference between the global north and the global south in terms of philanthropy mainly being that in the north there is a large asset base (of $US50 Billion collectively), leadership in philanthropy, the ability to influence major civic change and develop initiatives and a favourable legal and fiscal environment. She contrasted this with the south which is young and creative, demonstrates trust, leadership and responsibility, delivers more than money and has the potential for diaspora giving (an example was Egyptians outside Egypt who have been galvanised by the Arab spring to support local organisations inside Egypt).
The talk was peppered with introductions to people in the philanthropy world – such as Lance Fors who has has a great impact on social investment and social ventures, Marwa El-Daly who has revitalised philanthropy in Egypt through examining the differences between how Christians and Muslims give, Justin Sargent CEO of the Somerset Community Foundation and Park Won Soon, Mayor of Seoul and founder of the Beautiful Foundation in South Korea.
These brief snippets reminded us that “people give to people” and that the world is full of people striving to make their communities better.
In relation to philanthropy in Australia Clare noted that the wealth axis of the world is shifting to Asia and Australia needs to decide if we want to be a global player in philanthropy.
Clare showed a tag cloud which represented key words about philanthropy used in the UK – and I’m sorry I don’t have the reference to it. The words which stood out the most were “giving”, “donor”, “encourage” and “education”. Clare noted that there was no reference to legislation, transparency or administration costs, and she encouraged us to embrace the new Australian Charities and Not for Profit Commission and get it working for us. (She also noted that she didn’t understand the difference between DGR 1s and DGR2s which might be a good discussion for another time).
Donors are attracted, according to Clare, to people having a good time, and it is important for us to learn to tell stories of philanthrop and give philanthropists their own voice. She feels we should forget about our tall poppy syndrome. She also said it is very important for donors to meet other donors which leads to them having greater confidence in telling their own stories. A very simple statement she made right at the end of her talk was “if you want things to succeed which you care about, you have to talk about them”. So she then went on to highlight some other people and their stories in philanthropy – such as Dame Stephanie Shirley who had been appointed Britain’s first “Ambassador for Philanthropy“.
One of Clare’s messages was that we have to keep talking about philanthropy despite the ambivalent views of the press towards it, and the perceptions some people have of the wealthy in relation to how they might have made their money.
This was a very interesting talk, especially to be reminded about the strength of the community foundations network overseas, and I found yet again, that the Swinburne Philanthropy Alumni are to be congratulated for organising another great speaker.
Here are some things Clare referred to which might be of interest:
Kent Philanthropy – Beth Breeze’s blog at the University of Kent
What do you think the role of community foundations is in Australia?