Andrew and Nicola Forrest’s $400 million donation - Four characteristics of leading philanthropy

By: Sarah Davies   |   Philanthropy Australia

On Monday we applauded and celebrated an exciting act of philanthropy when Andrew and Nicola Forrest announced a $400 million donation to six cause areas.

The media and public interest in this gift (e.g. ABC, The Advertiser, Sydney Morning Herald) and the way it was announced, with the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition both paying tribute to the vision and generosity of the Forrests, generated interest and buzz around not just the donation, but the current shape and state of philanthropy in Australia today.

Philanthropy Australia was delighted to provide comment and support for this. In thinking through why this is an exciting announcement, for me, it’s more about the characteristics of the donation, rather than the quantum (which is clearly stunning). 

I think there are four distinct characteristics about this donation that make it particularly exciting and an example of leading philanthropy:


Motivation: the why behind the giving. The Forrests have a vision for what they want to achieve and a commitment to pursue it. But more fundamentally, they give, in their words, because “quite simply, we can”. This speaks to the heart of us all – we all have a capacity to do what we can. One of our members, Arun Abey, wrote a great book on the economics of “enough”: how much money is “enough” and therefore what can each of us do with the rest? Having signed the Giving Pledge, the Forrests have publicly declared that they can and they will – and now here’s the action;

Informed: they are deeply practiced and experienced philanthropists. They have been working in a number of these areas for a long time: learning, developing, experiencing. They access the world’s best thinkers and practitioners to guide and advise them, to help them shape their programs and direct their grants. They use evidence, experts and their own significant experience to make decisions on where to invest for positive social and community change;

Risk Capital: I have said a number of times that the real power of philanthropy, for me, lies in its freedom, its ability to take risks, to do things that no other ‘social change’ dollar can do. And all the grants announced fundamentally leverage this freedom. Andrew Forrest is explicit about it, he sees philanthropy “as a catalytic force; providing risk capital to prove up new ways of working that government should be brave enough to scale through policy.” He’s seeking to build partnerships and influence policy to achieve systemic change. All I can say to this is hear, hear! And,

Leadership: I totally respect many philanthropists’ wish to remain either anonymous or out of sight, preferring to focus on their work and the change they are creating. However, I just love the Forrest’s courage to be bold, visible and public about their giving and to loudly and enthusiastically champion and encourage others to do the same. Giving is contagious, they are inspiring others and putting out a call to arms to all of us to do the same, ‘because we can’.

We need more and better philanthropy if we are to tackle and genuinely turn around the social, environmental, health and economic challenges we face and if we are to build inclusion, social justice and sustainability. I think these four characteristics of the gifts that the Forrests announced take us a step forward.

What’s even more exciting, is these characteristics can be applied to some degree, to pretty much any grant, of any size: and relative to each of our capacity ‘because we can’.

May. 23, 2017

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