Catherine Brown – Community Foundations – A journey of discovery


catherine-brownThe Maimonides Society talks presented by the Swinburne Philanthropy Alumni, hosted Catherine Brown, the CEO of the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation.

Catherine reflected on her career working in and with community foundations since 1999 when the Myer Foundation came up with the idea for a foundation for rural Australia and for philanthropy to engage community in rural development.  Based on some work undertaken by the Ford Foundation and the Aspen Institute, Catherine worked to set up the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal (known as FRRR) and to work with rural communities assisting them to set up their own community foundations.

Catherine drew attention to several publications, tools and studies, such as the community foundation kit based on a Canadian model, Diana Leat’s Development of Community Foundations in Australia: Recreating the American Dream, and resources provided by the CS Mott Foundation which has been instrumental in the development of community foundations around the world.

Catherine gave examples of some of the rural community foundations she has worked with and the different models that can be adopted – either with an endowment focus or a community development focus.  She noted that community foundations are not yet well understood in Australia, but that they are part of a global movement which has been developing for a century, since the establishment of the first community foundation in Cleveland in 1914.

Catherine believes that community foundations are more stable where there are denser populations and that they adapt to the culture of their own countries.  Key characteristics of community foundations as defined by WINGS (WorldWide Initiatives for Grantmaker Support) are that they are flexible, engage civil society, use their own money and assets and are values based. (Also see Eleanor Sacks Current Issues for the Global Community Foundation Movement).

According to Catherine, the time for community foundations in Australia is still coming and will strengthen.  (While she mentioned several rural foundations and the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation, there was little mention of the other urban community foundations, such as the Australian Communities Foundation, Sydney Community Foundation, Inner North Community Foundation and the Fremantle Community Foundation which are working on building endowment and grantmaking.  I found this interesting as Catherine had consulted with at least one of these assisting in its establishment).

Catherine noted the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation’s support of other organisations promoting philanthropy and grantmaking, such as Australian Community Philanthropy, the Australian Women Donors Network and the Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network, and of having the funds available to look at social investment.  She anticipated a new financing model for the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation.

She spoke briefly about how the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Fund (which has been going for 90 years and has a corpus of $170 million) is focusing on affordable housing, youth, ageing in a multicultural community and food security, as well as working with Greek, Italian and Chinese communities, refugees, pathways to education and employment and youth philanthropy in schools.

What do you think about the potential for community foundations in Australia? (I have strong views on this as it is my professional area, but I would love to hear your thoughts).

Thanks again to Swinburne Philanthropy Alumni for organising.

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About ozphilanthropy

#Philanthropy. Posts by Sharon Nathani. Consultant, blogger, speaker & committee member/grantmaker @Impact100Melb. Sometime pianist & knitter. Learning more to share with you in philanthropy studies @acpns_qutozphilanthropy through Masters in Business in Philanthropy and Not for Profit Studies. Former Executive Officer Inner North Community Foundation.
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