Philanthropy needs to step up

By: Stacey Thomas   |   CEO Fay Fuller Foundation

A German, Brit and an Australian walk into a bar – it sounds like the start of a hackneyed joke, but in this case, it is a precise portrayal of a meeting of international philanthropists meeting on the eve of the Philanthropy Australia conference.

Philanthropy is the act of giving, whether it be time, talent or treasure, borne by the love of mankind.  With such lofty definitions come equally soaring aspirations.  Those who are philanthropic by nature often aim to have great impact; breaking the cycle of entrenched disadvantage in families, closing the gap in health outcomes for some of our most at-risk populations, assisting our cultural institutions develop and produce work recognised on a global stage.

But can philanthropy achieve such ambitious goals?  Can an individual, or foundation, hand a pile of cash to another individual or charity and expect these bold objectives to be met.  At this point in time, I would have to say ‘no’. 

If it was as simple as handing over cash, these problems we seek to solve would no longer exist.  We know that donations received by charities account for just eight per cent of the income they receive, but that eight per cent includes giving that ranges from ‘strategic’ philanthropy, right down to tin-shakers at the local shopping centre.

There will always be a place for general donations, in fact the charity sector relies on this valuable, untied funding; but for those of us who are giving to particular organisations, seeking specific, measurable outcomes, we need to question if we are being realistic with what it is we want and expect to achieve?

By comparison to the total income received by charities, our financial contribution is paltry. We are not going to achieve these desired goals without finding a way to make our money work harder.  And the only way to do that is to back people and organisations that are audacious.  To fund work that no one else will.  Leave ego at the door, and build true, collaborative partnerships with other funders and charities.  To back a kernel of an idea, or a concept under development, not for three years but for ten.  Give it time to truly evolve, get runs on the board and prove its worth. 

For those that want to see change at a systemic level, we need to step-up, embrace risk and not dust our hands off at the end of a few years and say, ‘now it’s someone else’s turn.’

So, what does a German, Brit and an Australian have to do with this?  It is a meeting of international minds, twenty foundations from around the world sharing their learning and expertise on innovation and risk, bringing this flavour ahead of the Philanthropy Australia conference.  I question whether philanthropy can currently reach many of its ambitious goals, but I am confident that with a willingness to have robust conversations, and desire to turn these into action, we can make our dollars work harder.  For the love of mankind.

Stacey Thomas, CEO Fay Fuller Foundation

Sep. 13, 2018

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