Philanthropy is not future ready, but these 4 steps will help turn the corner

By: Kevin Robbie   |   United Way Australia

Despite decades of investment, good will and effort by Australia’s philanthropic sector, it surprised few attendees of the Philanthropy Australia conference that philanthropy is not future ready. To really move beyond ‘tinkering around the edges’ of complex social issues in Australia, the sector must embrace the reality that we – philanthropy, communities, business, government and service delivery organisations - are all in this together.

In an article in The Age, Philanthropy Australia’s CEO Sarah Davies outlined the unique position of philanthropic foundations with the vision to create real and deep lasting social change, observing:

Philanthropy is an "innovation engine", providing funding which drives new approaches to solving complex and seemingly intractable social and environmental challenges. It can take the path less trodden, break the patterns, try something completely new – and this is its power…. Australian philanthropy must always seek even better ways to generate change and opportunity.

Momentum for change in Australian philanthropic practice is growing. It’s time. Here are four suggestions to help strengthen this:

  1. We must stop talking about ‘beneficiaries’ – people are co-creators of change with philanthropy

    Ending entrenched, intergenerational disadvantage in Australia can seem unthinkable. But for evidence that it’s possible, we need look no further than some of history’s great social movements – civil rights, the end of apartheid and women’s suffrage. When social movements are led by the communities affected, rather than from above, we have seen radical change transform the landscape of what people thought possible. People are not ‘beneficiaries’, they are the vital change agents that must lead and be at the centre of all stages of philanthropic efforts affecting them.
  2. We need far more diversity in philanthropic decision making – it’s time to democratise philanthropy

    If we look at the funding boards of philanthropic foundations, and the processes for recruiting new members, there is a common profile. Those with a seat at this table aren’t young people. They aren’t Indigenous Australians. They aren’t refugees or those from communities of disadvantage. If we want to change the way philanthropic decisions are made in Australia - a clear hope from participants of this week’s conference - we need a far deeper understanding of the issues, brought by involving the diverse views of those with lived experience not only in designing services but in making funding decisions.
  3. We need to stop the debate about NFP sector overheads

    When we buy a coffee, we don’t just buy the raw materials. When we build a house or a bridge, it is unquestionable not to factor in funding for the skills and expertise to ensure various contractors work in a coordinated fashion towards the same end goal. Achieving deep social change is complex and long term work requiring broad scale trust and the collaboration of many moving parts. Collaboration needs to be funded and the debate needs to end.
  4. We must work together to bring about change

    We all stand to benefit when communities thrive. But working genuinely collaboratively towards this, using approaches like Collective Impact which facilitates broad social change where complex issues have prevented this, requires time, resources and pooled funds. No funder can do this alone. Co-funding social change leverages investments to deliver greater impact, and diversifies risk for philanthropic foundations. But co-funding involves a radically new way of philanthropy working together. It requires leaving behind traditional philanthropic process, understanding that things develop and change, and viewing failure as a vital part of learning to achieve greater impact. It also involves understanding that the role of funders and ‘backbones’ for collaborative approaches need to be fluid and will change. Philanthropy needs to begin to view itself as on a journey. We are in this together.

The next step?

Co-funding for change – philanthropy of the future

At the end of this week’s conference United Way Australia, the ten20 Foundation and Philanthropy Australia floated the development of a co-funding initiative, inviting broad involvement from new philanthropic foundations, who may not have been involved in co-funding before. Opportunity Child have agreed to be a vessel for a new co-funding initiative to help build this community of practice in Australia. If your focus is children 0-8 years old, you are invited to co-fund and engage in practical learning. Or come on board as an observer, with a view to taking the learnings back to your own focus area. We invite you to pick up phone and find out more from myself or Seri Renkin at the ten20 Foundation today.

About the author

Kevin Robbie is the CEO of United Way Australia, a non-profit organisation focused on developing collaborative approaches to tackle community disadvantage and improve outcomes in education, income and health. Prior to joining United Way in June 2015, Kevin was Executive Director at Social Ventures Australia, leading their work in venture growth, social innovation and social enterprise development. Originally from the UK, Kevin’s 20 year career in social change includes being Chief Executive of Forth Sector and acting as an advisor to the UK government.

Sep. 27, 2016

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