Attendee reflections on Philanthropy Australia’s 2021 National Conference

By: Jo Garner and the team at Strategic Grants & By Kerry de Lorme, Executive Director, James and Diana Ramsay Foundation

We asked some of our members to reflect on the first part of the Philanthropy Australia Conference, What does the future need from us, now? Here is the result.

By Jo Garner and the team at Strategic Grants

The 2021 PA Conference delivered an exceptional group of presenters from across the globe who dissected and explored the theme of ‘What does the future need from us, now?’. Across the two-day conference, the overarching message was that Philanthropy in Australia needs to grow and make bold financial commitments to invest in social capital and opportunity – rather than crisis management.

There is an inherent need for funders to change the status quo of funding programs exclusively and consider the operational costs to deliver that program. The financial and service delivery challenges brought about by the global pandemic unveiled a hard truth faced by many NFPs – only 65% of charities in Australia had enough surplus to keep the doors open for the next six months. Many funders showed flexibility and supported NFPs with funding to ‘keep the lights on’, but what happens next time there is a disaster or crisis? As Catriona Fay from Perpetual Private stated: “Our future would benefit from more philanthropy directed towards preparing for disasters, not just responding to them.’’

A resounding theme woven through each session, was the importance of true collaboration and trust between philanthropy and NFPs. Valerie Chang from the U.S. based MacArthur Foundation spoke of their commitment to NFP partners to succeed, which can only be achieved by working in partnership – ask NFP partners what they need, listen to what they say, help them deliver on their mission. The MacArthur Foundation is working towards trust-based philanthropy – by permitting flexibility with budgets, less arduous reporting requirements and funding operational costs. Based on research conducted in the U.S. over three years, it was determined the minimum operational costs required to deliver a program is 29%, which resulted in the Foundation’s policy being amended to include a 29% Indirect Cost Rate on all program grants. This example demonstrates the positive outcomes that can be achieved when a funder engages, listens and responds to the needs of their NFP partners.

Of particular interest, was the ‘Blueprint for Philanthropy’ session with Former Prime Minister Hon John Howard OM AC, and David Gonski AC. In 1999 John Howard gathered select business leaders including David Gonski to tap into what he described as the “natural generosity of Australian’s” – the concept was to motivate, not force people to give. In 2001, Private Ancillary Fund (PAF) legislation and regulation was introduced to protect privacy but ensure appropriate giving. The generosity of Australian’s will be encouraged further, with PA’s Blueprint to Grow Giving; an incredible strategy  outlining how the philanthropic, not-for-profit, business and government sectors can work together, to double structured giving by 2030. A comment made by The Honourable Ratna Omidvar CM, Independent Senator For Ontario, Canada “the law can make it difficult for philanthropists to donate to NFPs” is reflected here in Australia, with PA advocating for Australian laws to change.

The adversity of the last 12 months has put a spotlight on philanthropy in Australia. Future philanthropy needs to partner, collaborate, and respond to the needs of the NFP sector. And the NFP sector must invest in good governance and communicate their needs to funders. There is an opportunity now to direct significant resources to build social capital that is sustainable and able to handle whatever the future brings.


By Kerry de Lorme, Executive Director, James and Diana Ramsay Foundation

One of Catriona Fay’s opening remarks is something that we all must be mindful of: “We have to acknowledge that by working in philanthropy, we act with power!”.  Indeed, we do, and whilst we are aware of this, it is a timely reminder that we have a very LOUD voice. There are many advantages of working in a philanthropic foundation and one is that people listen and take your call. The future needs us to use this advantage we have - and use it now.  As the very impressive John Wylie said, key leadership traits use imagination and courage, and philanthropy has the ability to take risk and make decisions with bravery.  Let’s get our voices heard, ideas out there and continue to test them in a courageous way.  AND not take too long trust the experts in the field doing the work. That comment was a reality check for me, and whilst it is our responsibility to do our due diligence, when you put yourself in the shoes of the grantees, I can only imagine how disheartening it could be when it appears that funders are taking “too long to trust”. I am not sure where the thinking around this might land, however I am hoping for it to be a robust discussion at our next board meeting. 

Jack Heath’s powerful use of the “C” word, ‘Celebrate’ made me reflect that perhaps we do not do that enough. We are so busy in our day-to-day work that we might not Celebrate our successes or share our stories enough.  These stories are not only useful in inspiring others, but to openly and widely acknowledge the people doing the work on the ground.  These people are the most important ingredient in our work and many of them are our unsung heroes.  We were reminded that “we are here, because you exist”.

Senator Ratna Omidvar’s presentation was a particular highlight, the magnificent example she gave of the powerful collaboration and establishment of the program which resulted in her being able to bring together a group of people to sponsor a Syrian family of 11 to settle in Canada, was truly inspirational and further cements why collaborations should be foremost in our minds, to get more buy-in, enhance the impact and to ensure a valuable multiplier effect.

If we took a leaf from Dean Parkin’s book, in the future when we hear people say “that’s a great idea, great job, good on you”...we will be inviting them to step up and get in the arena too with us. The stats Dean gave were staggering, imagine just being happy to be at zero!  

So the Future Needs us to invite Diversity to the table now. It needs us to seriously think about the future with the lens of looking to progress gender equity, courage, power and love! By the way, did I hear Sam Mostyn right? How did we fall from no. 12 to no. 70 in economic participation of women (what the?)  It is a good reminder for these issues to remain at the top of our whiteboards, in the forefront of our minds and on our agendas.

Apr. 27, 2021

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