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).


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.

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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DGR Reform

clock-time-to-discuss-image-nice-44612024The Treasury Department has called for submissions commenting on a new discussion paper around Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR) reform.  Read the paper here.

Submissions are due by 4 August – as per the website – the discussion paper had 14 July as the deadline but there has been an extension.


Some Background

DGR has been around since 1915 and there are 51 different categories including 4 separate registers – for overseas aid, harm prevention, environmental organisations and cultural organisations.

There are no sunset clauses for most DGR organisations and eligibility is not regularly reviewed.  Some DGRS are also required to maintain a separate public fund, which creates further compliance obligations.

Some key points

The proposed changes suggested in the discussion paper do not relate to eligibility of DGR organisations, but focus on activities rather than purpose, and perhaps distressingly, suggest requiring environmental charities to spend 25% of their budgets on direct environmental remediation.  There is also a slightly punitive flavour to the wording around advocacy.

While this may not affect all charitable organisations, I am concerned that once we start singling out sectors for special treatment or scrutiny, then there is no telling how far restrictions may go for everyone else.

I encourage anyone with a direct interest in the DGR and nonprofit sector to put in a submission – even if only to address some of the points brought up – to show solidarity and to have your say.

A few organisations have been circulating some drafts for a unified response.  You can contact me directly if you would like to know about how to access these.

I look forward to seeing and hearing your comments on this – either to Treasury or here.

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11 local giving circles – find one near you


There has been phenomenal growth in giving circles in Australia recently, so here’s a handy list to help keep track.

Capital Giving (previously ACT of Women Giving)  Membership: $250, $500 or $1,000 – supporting advancing opportunities for women & girls through education or capacity building, social connection, career development, financial literacy or sport.

Impact100 Fremantle Membership: $1,000 – supporting Aboriginal Health and Wellbeing in 2017

Impact100 Melbourne  Membership: $1,000 – supporting education – promoting learning  – in 2017

Impact100 South Australia Membership: $1,000- supported positive outcomes for the youth (12 – 24 years) and/or mental health.  The 2016/2017 grant was awarded to Youth Opportunities Association SA

Impact100 Sydney  Membership: $1,000 – supported young people at risk.  The 2016 grant was awarded to Leichhardt Women’s Community Health Centre

Impact100 Sydney North Membership: $1,000 – supporting young people at risk in 2017

Impact100 Tasmania  Membership: $1,000 – grants open to any registered Tasmanian charity

Impact100 Western Australia Membership: $1,000 – grants across 5 focus areas – arts & culture, education, environment, family & community, health & wellness

Melbourne Womens Fund Membership: $1,000 x 3 years – grant applications by invitation, in health, education and wellbeing, benefitting women and families in greater metro Melbourne

The Channel, a giving circle Membership: $25, $50 or $100 per month – 2 circles – Haring (dgr) and Hampton (non dgr).  First grants round focussed on Brave Representations – growing representations of diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and sex characteristics in Australian culture – the arts, media and beyond

Women and Change – Queensland’s first giving group.  Membership: $1,000.  2017 grant to a charitable organisation providing social welfare support to those in the community who are most disadvantaged.

So there’s no excuse, unless you are in the Northern Territory, there is a giving circle not far from you.  Check them out to join or apply for a grant.

Let us know if there are others who should be included on this list.



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Giving Australia 2016

Giving AustraliaThe Giving Australia 2016 reports, commissioned by the Prime Minister’s Community Business Partnership, and researched and developed by QUT, Swinburne and the Centre for Social Impact, has now been completed.

Bite size portions are now available together with fact sheets, background papers and literature reviews (thanks Christopher, Wendy, Jo and your teams).

You can check out philanthropy and philanthropists, structured giving vehicles, bequests, individual volunteering, individual giving, what businesses think and the perspective of not for profit organisations.

This report has some comparisons to the research undertaken back in 2005 for the first ever Giving Australia national study.  Because so much has changed (and yet stayed the same) there are some points of comparison which were more difficult to measure.

It’s great to have this resource which reminds us of what has happened, and how much scope there still is for growth in this sector.

Let’s hope that we don’t have to wait another 11 years for the next review of how we are travelling in this field.

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Social Impact Investing – Government Review

socialimpact_graphic-480x248Not a lot of time for this one.

The Federal Government has announced a review into Social Impact Investing – calling for submissions by Monday 27 February 2017.

Key areas for response are:

  • the potential role of the Commonwealth Government in the social impact investing market;
  • principles for social impact investing to guide Commonwealth Government involvement in the social impact investing market; and
  • possible Commonwealth regulatory barriers to the growth of the market.

As social impact investing is a growing field impacting on the not for profit sector, I encourage anyone with views to put in a submission.

Enquiries to :

David Crawford +61 2 6263 2757.


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Women Moving Millions

women-moving-millionsThe Australian Women Donors Network has just completed the “Power of Women” tour introducing Women Moving Millions in Sydney and Melbourne.  Women Moving Millions was started in 2005 by Helen LaKelly Hunt and Swanee Hunt, who wanted to “raise the bar on women’s giving” by making big and bold gifts for women and girls. It now has a membership of 262 women around the world who have pledged to commit $1,000,000 over ten years to projects supporting women and girls, promoting gender equality.

Carol Schwartz, one of three Australian members of Women Moving Millions,  committed to the network through the establishment of the Womens’ Leadership Institute Australia. Carol spoke of her passion for supporting projects for women and girls, which was catalysed by learning that only 12 cents in every philanthropic dollar goes towards women. When Carol first heard of Women Moving Millions, the only funder specifically supporting women in Australia was the Victorian Women’s Trust, while in the US there were around 250 – 300 women’s funds.

Carol’s pledge for Women Moving Millions is to promote women in the media, to grow women’s power, influence and decision-making over time (reminding us that just three years ago there was only one woman in Cabinet in Australia).


Ann Lovell

Carol introduced Ann Lovell, a founding director, former Vice President and current Board President of Women Moving Millions, and Jacki Zehner, their Chief Engagement Officer who were “interviewed” by journalist, Catherine Fox.

Ann told us that between 2007 and 2009, Women Moving Millions members contributed $182 million to organisations and projects promoting women, and have created a community which learns from its members through their Circles, Speakers and Writers programs.  These cover topics such as anti-pornography, anti-trafficking, refugees and impact investing.  Since it was formed, Women Moving Millions has catalysed more than $1 billion in working to change policy around women and girls.  And it is “oh so much more fun to give together”.


Jacki Zehner

Jacki Zehner was youngest women and first female partner at Goldman Sachs, where she worked on culture and leadership, thinking about why there were so few women in senior roles and what could be done about it. For Jacki the personal became political. Jacki believes in championing women’s leadership and announced a partnership between Women Moving Millions and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop a leadership curriculum around philanthropic strategies.

Ann and Jacki reflected on recent events in the United States, noting that there will be opportunities women funders can respond to and that they want to be ready to unpack the “locker room” conversation and think about how to turn that into action in men’s’ lives. They also talked about the power of creative tools to stage an intervention in particular issues, through film and projects like Good Pitch.


a visual summary of the discussion by Devon Bunce from Digital Storytellers

Questions at the Melbourne session:

Q. Why are corporates and senior figures standing up now for family violence but not other gender equity  issues?

A. When the personal becomes political people wake up, and the Rosie and Luke Batty story has been a strong catalyst.  Issues have heroes and good storytellers create echoes and ripples.  While poverty and violence have been around forever, creating a “standing ovation” effect, catching the zeitgeist, and making the personal public is key to catching the attention of the crowd. Consider the Vagina Monologues,  the Good Men Project spearheaded by Michael Kimmel, Tony Porter,  and Jack Myers, talking about what it means to be a man, and The Mask You Live In, and Tiffany Schlain’s 50/50 (there have been 50 elected female prime ministers and presidents – can we name them?).  Moving out thought from scarcity to abundance.  With awareness comes responsibility, emotion and empathy affects us.

Q. Examples of where Women Moving Millions gifts go?

A. Women Moving Millions are not funded directly by the members, some gifts are deeply personal, some support microfinance in Liberia and India, some donors support one project, some take a portfolio approach.  The issue areas cover 100s and 1000s of organisations.

Q. Is there a global map of projects being funded?

A. Resources not available to itemise and locate every gift and some donors are quite private – the best use of the network is the exchange of ideas and the importance of advocacy and its effect on legislation.  When members get together they gain value from learning from each other and are free agents to invest where they choose.

Q. Evaluation, impact, evidence?

A. Each member supports 1 to 100 organisations, the Circles programs discuss strategy and issue areas and information is shared at all levels, but not publicly.  The benefit of Women Moving Millions is in its informal leveraging of relationships.  Unfortunately, they don’t have an easy way to make what they have learned more accessible.

Q. What is the impact of small grants?

A. The level of funding needs to relate to the needs of the organisation being funded so yes, small grants are important and effective.

Q. Relationship to sustainable development goals?

A. Women Moving Millions is looking at different ways to express impact, and donors don’t always have the time, energy and resources to measure to specific targets.  Sometimes impact is a judgment call rather than statistics. When trying to change social norms, it will take a long time and you may not meet these specific goals.  While the goals are a powerful framework, they need to be relevant for smaller donors and it is a challenge to incorporate them into the conversation.

Finally, everyone in the room was asked to consider what each of us can do to make a change for gender equity, and what action we would commit to, continue or ramp up as a result of what we had heard.  This led to further discussion and ideas.

Julie Reilly concluded the session with a reminder for people to check out the genderwise toolkit, and Ann and Jacki spoke of how enlightened they had been by their trip to Australia, and how the were moved by how engaged we are here, our energy, commitment, and interest.

What do you think about funding projects for women and girls?

What are your ideas for how best to address inequality?


ozphilanthropy attended The Power of Women Melbourne event as a guest of the Australian Women Donors Network


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Giving Australia 2016 – a preview

generousThe Giving Australia 2016 report is being launched on 1 December.  It’s been just over ten years since the last major survey of generosity and philanthropy in Australia was undertaken.  Both these reports were initiated by the Prime Minister’s Community Business Partnership.

The new iteration has been painstakingly worked on for more than a year by a research team at the Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies at QUT in collaboration with the Centre for Social Impact at Swinburne University.

We were given a little taster of the report at the Centre for Social Impact Swinburne’s annual Alumni, Students & Friends Professional Development Day.  Dr Christopher Baker and Professor Jo Barraket presented some overarching findings based on more than 6000 surveys to households, 24 focus groups and 9 one-on-one interviews with engaged donors that they have conducted over the last year.

There have been some significant changes in the philanthropy landscape since 2005, not least being the growth of Private Ancillary Funds and the global financial crisis.

Anyway, here for your reading pleasure are some headline results which I found interesting:

  • Volunteering has increased
  • Business giving is greater – particularly through partnerships with not for profit organisations
  • There is a trend towards the democratisation of philanthropy (giving circles, peer to peer fundraising, crowdfunding, online technologies supporting giving) – but there is no hard evidence of the changes this is creating – the trend has been reported anecdotally and is considered “aspirational”.

The key insights from the report relate to what matters.  Here’s the list:

  • Culture matters – the underlying norms and values of our communities
  • Family and community matters
  • Mechanisms for giving matter
  • Impact matters – that is, the idea of making a difference, having agency and being able to play a part in things which matter, seeing the fruits of one’s labour and giving while living – not SROI, outcomes, evaluation or statistics.
  • Ease and access to giving matters (some PAFS commented on barriers to giving and the need for legal advice in order to operate within the regulations).
  • Infrastructure matters

and here’s a new acronym for us: EAST – easy, accessible, sociable and timely – where giving is made simpler and makes more sense, it attracts more support.

A few more thoughts on changes since 2005:

  • Capturing the diversity of giving and the giving experience is still a challenge.
  • There is more emphasis now on impact
  • Donors are more open to longer term investment
  • There is strong interest in transparency and evaluation
  • Donors want to engage with their communities in co-creating  solutions
  • Donors want to understand where their money lands.

The report has noted some perceptions of generational shifts in that younger people and retirees are more likely to volunteers while middle-aged people are more likely to give (reflecting their time availability). Younger people also want to align their giving with their careers, creating meaning with their work. (I hope to have a post on Effective Altruism up soon which pushes this idea very strongly).

There is a strong sentiment among those who do give that everyone with the capacity to do so, should do so.

There is strong support for broader accessibility to giving structures like private ancillary funds.

So what does the report tell us about the future of giving in Australia?

There is a strengthening culture of giving, there is support for diversity in giving platforms, people want to encourage collaborative efforts (between communities, philanthropists and government) and there is strong support for innovation such as matched funding, more policy to boost giving and greater transparency.

I look forward to reading the full report once it is launched, and to hearing your comments and reactions.



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Generosity Forum – Chris Cuffe – a philanthropist’s “voyage”

Chris Cuffe Loise Kennerleyb

Photo: Louise Kennerley –  Australian Financial Review

I can’t adequately capture the tone of this highly amusing session at the Generosity Forum.  As we had heard so many stories of journeys, Chris told us he was going to talk about his “voyage”.  He was interviewed by Angela Catterns who asked Chris a series of quite cheeky questions about his life, career, generosity and philanthropy, and he answered with humility, authenticity and as someone very at ease with his choices, his direction and his giving. Here’s the essence of it.

Chris says he had an unremarkable first part of his life, though living in regional NSW in Griffith from when he was 5 – 10 years old did have an impact on him.  He grew up with his mum and dad, two siblings, went to school and to uni and thought he was fairly normal.

Chris knew early in the piece that he had entrepreneur genes.  When a tooth fell out and he was rewarded a sixpence, he went out to a back paddock sheep graveyard armed with a hammer, and promptly filled a jar with sheep’s teeth.  The tooth fairy wrote him a note saying she could tell the difference between a sheep’s tooth and one from a little boy.  He also thinks his love of finance could be related to his passion for monopoly, or his family’s vocation as accountants.  Commerce, he said dryly, was in the blood.

Chris didn’t consider that his family was especially generous as far as he was aware, though his mother worked at the National Trust.  But in the country, everyone is fairly generous with their time.

Chris gave an entertaining and self-deprecating summary of his career, concluding that mostly he had been in the right place at the right time.  I won’t recap it as you can get the gist of it from these two articles: here and here.

Where his story gets really interesting is when he started his Private Ancillary Fund (PAF).  At the time, there was not a lot of information about them and they were very clunky vehicles for philanthropy.  You needed tax, accounting and legal advice to set one up.  It cost a lot to put one together (though not as much as it costs today).

The process lit a spark for Chris and inspired him with a passion to do this better.  At the time, no one was really looking at inspiring philanthropy through planned giving.  His idea was to provide a one-stop independent shop for donors.  Chris formed Australian Philanthropic Services as a not for profit entity to provide advice on giving through Private and Public Ancillary Funds and grantmaking.  They now service 200 clients with a view to connecting better with the 1700 wealth management advisers in the country.  Chris hopes that planned giving will one day be as well known and commonplace as self managed superannuation funds.

Chris feels that his connection to philanthropy and charitable organisations has been through “strange” organisations.  He describes Australian Philanthropic Services and Social Ventures Australia as enablers rather than typical charities, and he also supports Primary Ethics, which teaches ethics in public schools when kids don’t engage in religious instruction.

There is a perception that wealthy Australians are not as generous as their counterparts overseas, but Chris doesn’t accept that as a starting proposition, noting that the US system of giving has been strongly influenced by death duties and taxes, and that US philanthropy has been around for a much longer time, and there is the legacy of the Rockefeller and Ford families and foundations which have created a greater awareness around philanthropy, whereas the history in Australia is much shorter.

Philanthropy is evolving in that some people are being a lot more thoughtful and strategic about their charitable giving, but some people just get a kick from the act of giving and responding to whoever knocks on the door.  Chris acknowledged the importance of the Australian Charities and Not for Profits Commission and the push for greater transparency – that people are more aware of philanthropy now and more willing to talk about it.  He also noted that they had named their PAF after him because he was well known in the finance industry and he wanted to use his notoriety (or fame) for good.

Public recognition is not high on Chris’s agenda.  He has been through the experience of being hounded by the paparazzi when he left his job at Commonwealth Bank with a supposedly controversial bonus.  Chris feels he has become well known by accident and that he could have chosen to drop out of public sight or to use the fame/notoriety constructively, which he chose to do to help him in the world of philanthropy.

Chris established Third Link Growth Fund as a socially responsible investor where all management fees are donated to charitable organisations.  Eight years later that venture has been able to distribute $120,000 per month in grants to children’s charities.

Chris wouldn’t necessarily tell people about his interest in philanthropy and he doesn’t call himself a philanthropist as he is not so comfortable with the word and its connotations of “being up with the rich people”.  He feels more like the guy next door who likes to give $20 when the Red Cross comes knocking.

This piece also appears in Generosity: the online resource dedicated to nurturing, promoting and inspiring a greater culture of giving in Australia.  Generosity held its first forum in Melbourne last week.  I attended with a discount on my conference fee in exchange for some writing.


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Generosity Forum – a collective giving conversation

As you know, my focus recently has been on giving circles and collective giving. So I was very happy to attend the Generosity Forum: Conversations in Changing Philanthropy this week to hear Tom Hull from the Funding Network, Gillian Hund from the Melbourne Women’s Fund and Rikki Andrews from Impact100 Melbourne in conversation about collective giving.

melbb womens fund

Melbourne Women’s Fund was started by Gillian Hund and Pat Burke, who met while studying the Masters of Social Investment at Swinburne University.  They were inspired by hearing Colleen Willoughby, from the Washington Women’s Foundation,  who is  known as the mother of giving circles in the US.  Colleen was in Australia as a guest of the Australian Women Donors Network in 2012.  After one year of planning, the Melbourne Women’s Fund launched and now has 120 members.

funding network

The Funding Network grew out of an idea developed in the UK where a group of four philanthropists met in 2002 inviting people with early stage projects to come and speak to them to help them make decisions about how to allocate their funds.  The Funding Network enables people to become involved in philanthropy without being a high net worth donor.  Organisations pitch and the audience pledges support.  The model was brought to Australia by Lisa Cotton and the Funding Network has just celebrated funding their 101st project.


Impact100 Melbourne was established after inspiration from James Boyd’s visit to the US researching collective giving, which led to  the creation of Impact100 WA.  In 2012,James spoke at a Swinburne Philanthropy Alumni event. A group of young people working in the philanthropy area liked the idea, got permission to use the Impact100 model, and decided to  jump straight in.

Collective giving makes philanthropy more accessible, enabling people to become engaged through learning about philanthropy and charitable organisations.  Technology facilitates collective giving by allowing people come together to support projects through sites such as Kiva and StartSomeGood.

Collective giving is great for younger people, particularly those in their 30s to 40s.  It gives people a major donor feeling and for some people a $1,000 contribution to a giving circle (both Impact100 Melbourne and Melbourne Women’s Fund have a $1,000 membership contribution – tax deductible) is a major personal gift.  In a way collective giving enables people to practise philanthropy so that they will be well informed and well educated in their giving in later years when they may have more disposable income.

Impact100 Melbourne’s model is to raise $100,000 each year for one significant grant.  In some years this amount has been exceeded through support from generous donors, which enables smaller grants to be made to other applicants.  Rikki noted that Impact100 South Australia has 230 members, so is able to make more grants (and in the US some of the Impact100 groups have 1000 members and make 10 large grants each year).

Tom noted that the burgeoning interest in collective giving is part of a continuum for example 10 x 10 requires a commitment of $100, live pledging at the Funding Network can be $100 – $200, and then giving circles have a minimum $1,000.  Collective giving is thus open to people at different stages in their capacity to give.

Tom also noted that there is both competition – or perhaps the better word is choice – and collaboration in the sector.  Many members of Impact100 Melbourne are also members of Melbourne Women’s Fund and vice versa.

While the Funding Network is set up as a charitable organisation with paid staff, most of the giving circles in Australia are run by volunteers.  Gillian said it is important to share the load so that founders don’t get burned out, and that it is like running a small enterprise.  It is important to attract membership who want to be involved and to make it enjoyable to keep them involved.  Melbourne Women’s Fund has a considerable number of women who want to join their committees and this is important for sustainability and succession planning.  There are opportunities for leadership – and Rikki mentioned that everyone who had been part of the initial founders of Impact100 Melbourne have now moved onto more senior roles in the sector.  There is a time commitment – Melbourne Women’s Fund asks members for a three year commitment though they now have one life member.

Aspirations for collective giving include finding more corporate friends who might be able to get their staff and clients to come on board or encourage workplace giving and matched giving.

The Funding Network can’t rely on philanthropic trusts to keep their organisation going, and are considering licensing their model.  They currently retain 10% of the funds raised at pitches and now offer a pitch coaching service as one form of revenue.

Collective giving in Australia has a connected and collegiate feel to it.  Rikki talked about the other Impact100 groups here, noting the recent launch of Impact100 Sydney, and the Brisbane group, Women & Change.  She felt it was a bonus that now if people are moving interstate, they can move from one collective giving group to another, as there are groups now in WA, SA, VIC, NSW and QLD.

Gillian noted that there are members in common across the giving circles which is an indication of how well they are working together, and the interface between them is not competitive.  Tom also noted that there is collaboration in finding organisations to support.

The focus for each of these groups is slightly different.  The Funding Network supports organisations that have income of less than $1,000,000 who are trying to affect social change.  Impact100 Melbourne has a different theme each year –  this year it is “Melbourne – Diverse and Inclusive” while the Melbourne Women’s Fund consistently looks at health and wellbeing for women and their families.

One issue raised for discussion was the idea of dissent.  The general consensus was that giving circles are about democracy and that they try to be as transparent and open as possible.  People understand that they are member-driven and that they can be involved as much as they like.  With Impact100 Melbourne, all of the members vote on where the grants are distributed (though a selection process is undertaken by a grantmaking committee –which is open for any member to join).   With the Melbourne Women’s Fund, people come with an open mind and are able to champion their passions and interests, but these must fit the profile for the grantmaking.

The aim for the Funding Network is to raise at least $10,000 for each organisation which pitches at their events and all of their organisations are grassroots, with incomes less than $1,000,000.  So far, the smallest amount they have raised has been $40,000, and the largest, helped with matched giving has been $270,000.

This year Impact100 Melbourne is on track to have raised $500,000 since 2013, and the Melbourne Women’s Fund will be giving out their signature and nurturing grants in July which will take their collective giving since they started to $200,000.

Do you belong to a giving circle?  What do you think are the benefits and disadvantages?  What do you think about the fact that they have been springing up all over the place in the last three years? Is there something in the water? Let me know your thoughts.

This piece also appears in Generosity: the online resource dedicated to nurturing, promoting and inspiring a greater culture of giving in Australia.  Generosity held its first forum in Melbourne this week.  I attended with a discount on my conference fee in exchange for some writing .



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Giving circles gain momentum

Play it forward giving circle

Play it Forward giving circle logo (Lynn, Massachusetts)

Collective giving through giving circles has been growing in Australia over the last four years. Since James Boyd introduced the Impact100 model to Western Australia in 2012, four more Impact100 groups have sprung up in Australia – Impact100 Melbourne (disclosure – this year I have joined the management and grantmaking committees), Impact100 SA, Impact100 Fremantle, and launched just this year, Impact100 SydneyWomen & Change in Queensland is also based on a similar model.

The basis for the idea is to gather 100 people together to each make a donation of $1,000 which will then be paid out as a high impact grant of $100,000 to a small not for profit charitable organisation – creating a transformational and significant change for both the community and the charity.

The Impact100 groups work closely with community foundations to administer their funds and comply with tax and legal requirements.

The democratic and participatory part of the Impact100 groups is that the members decide on a theme or focus for granting, and after a shortlisting process, every member votes as to where they want the funds to go.

This year’s focus areas are:
Impact100 WA – arts & culture, education, environment, family & community or health & wellness
Impact100 Fremantle – creating a culture of connection
Impact100 SA – strengthening families
Impact100 Melbourne – Melbourne – Diverse and Inclusive (including health/education/environment)
Impact100 Sydney – making a positive difference to the lives of Sydney’s young people
Women & Change -social welfare and/or education support.

If you are a grantseeker, check out the websites for information on deadlines, how to apply and grant guidelines.

If you are interested in becoming a member/donor, the websites have information on how you can get involved too.

So what do we really mean by impact?  The launch of Impact100 Melbourne’s theme for 2016 was held recently.  Bridget Allen, Big Impact for Women Project Manager at McAuley Community Services for Women, the recipient of the 2014 grant, spoke about how $100,000 made a significant difference to their organisation.

Funds from the 2014 grant went towards a homelessness program which provides accommodation and support for women who are homeless as a consequence of family violence or mental illness (the Big Impact for Women Project).

In 2015, McAuley Community Services for Women helped around 1,000 women and children to rebuild their lives, supporting them on their journey towards independence and safer futures.

McAuley House provides a safe place to stay, intensive case management support and support to develop independent living skills for a safe sustainable future beyond McAuley.

Big Impact for Women Project focused on enhancing internal operations and processes across the organisation.   This was achieved by improving their case management processes, redesigning their skills development program, and being innovative in their approach using a model of analysis, design, development, implementation and evaluation.

This resulted in a new best practice case management framework which is client focussed, streamlined, individually tailored and reduces duplication, new client assessment tools and new client driven goal planning tools.  Funds from the grant were also applied to strengthening the suicide response procedure, new exit feedback procedures , a new practice manual, a peer / buddy support system and a paperless system.

All of this has led to the capacity for the organisation to have a broader reach and deeper organisational impact, greater staff capacity building, the ability to focus on projects and not be reactionary, the opportunity to reflect and grow, and the possibility to replicate and create a ripple effect from the success of the program.

McAuley Community Services for Women noted that “not many philanthropic trusts support sustainable projects that continue long after the grant has run out. Impact 100 does.

Outcomes like this show that collective giving really can punch above its weight and that the fastest growing trend in philanthropy is not just a flash in the pan.

ozphilanthropy would love to share some of the other stories of the impact created through giving circles.  What are your experiences thus far?



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