Stories in Philanthropy

12 trends in philanthropy

At a recent member event in Brisbane, Philanthropy Australia CEO, Sarah Davies, outlined the “Dynamic Dozen”: 12 trends that are influencing contemporary philanthropic practice in Australia.

Nicole Richards

With a promise to “provoke thinking”, Philanthropy Australia CEO, Sarah Davies, kicked off the Contemporary Philanthropic Practice panel discussion held in Brisbane on August 29 by reminding the 35-plus attendees that philanthropy still represents just 8 cents in the social change dollar. 

“We mustn’t lose sight of this fact,” Davies said. “It’s why scale must come from government and business.” 

Davies dubbed the twelve most significant trends and influences shaping modern Australian philanthropy ‘The Dynamic Dozen’: 

  1. A willingness to take risks, investing for long-term to solve complex problems 
  2. Impact-led approaches being embedded in the practice of grantmaking 
  3. Collaboration through co-investment funds 
  4. Mission-related investing and impact investing 
  5. Communities determining and co-creating support for their futures 
  6. A move away from funding programs and instead backing organisations to achieve social impact (no interest in not-for-profit admin/overheads) 
  7. Philanthropy – government collaborations where philanthropy proves a case and government picks it up 
  8. Philanthropy - government collaborations where philanthropy serves to de-risk innovation and scaling 
  9. Growing transparency of data and activity in terms of where grants go 
  10. Increasing transparency by funders prepared to share their goals, theory of change and related strategies 
  11. Technologically enabled, open-sourced platforms for collaboration and sharing 
  12. Governance and staff diversity and talent development. 

Before inviting the panel of Dina Jak (SVA), Heather Watson (McCullogh Robertson Foundation) and Tara Turner (University of Queensland) to reflect on which of the 12 trends most resonated with their own experiences of contemporary philanthropy, Davies outlined five challenges that make the achievement of more and better philanthropy difficult (but not impossible!). 

The first was critical mass and the fact that Australia’s biggest challenge is scale. The second was the age-old conflict between head and heart and its influence on philanthropic decision making. Third were issues of trust and control, particularly in relation to contemporizing legacy issues. Fourth was the inconsistency in language – as Davies explained, “We all use words, we often mean different things.” The fifth and final challenge was setting an agenda that was less about ‘shared vision’ and more about an ‘inclusive vision’ which offered a place for all stakeholders. 

Commenting on the trend of community-centric design, SVA’s Dina Jak explained that one of the biggest features of the organisation’s work in venture philanthropy involves working closely with community agents to. “We’re constantly asking how we can take the old problems we’re working with and apply new ways of looking at them, for instance working with early stage ventures,” Jak said. 

For Heather Watson from the McCullogh Robertson Foundation, collaboration through co-investment was a key theme with funders increasingly looking “at both investment and distribution power.” 

The University of Queensland’s Tara Turner commented that the ongoing conversation about funding capacity and lessening the focus on not-for-profit overheads reminded her of similar conversations that were had 30 years ago about the importance of funding research. 

“In the case of research, it was about explaining to philanthropy that it’s a 10, 20, 30-year commitment, that we had to think of the future,” Turner explained. 

“It took decades for that message to get through and I think that in another 20 or 30 years it will be more accepted that administration is an essential part of capacity building. It’s important that we keep educating to help build this understanding.” 

Responding to a question from Sarah Davies about what each of the panellists would like to see more of in philanthropy, Tara Turner called for greater transparency. 

“As the sector grows, we need to put more focus on transparency and governance and the actions of individual fundraisers,” she said. 

Heather Watson nominated an extension of capacity building as the area she’d like to see more of, suggesting it could take the form of “connecting through mentoring or sharing experience through peer to peer encouragement.” 

SVA’s Dina Jak called for a broader view of the social change environment. “I think we need to be looking at the whole ecosystem,” she said. “That’s because the issues we’re dealing are so complex and interconnected and we need to look at ways that lots of partners can come together.” 

Special thanks to Perpetual Trustees for hosting this event.

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