Philanthropy must consider the charity landscape when deciding who to fund

By: By Anthony Cavanagh   |   CEO Ganbina and Philanthropy Australia board member   |

Philanthropy as a sector has always been interested in supporting organisations that support disadvantaged youth, and Indigenous youth are at the top of the pile.

Aboriginal kids have a 66 percent chance of graduating Year 12, compared to the non-Indigenous Year 12 graduation rate of 89 percent. This gap starts in primary school where four in 10 Aboriginal children are classed as developmentally delayed, compared to only two in 10 non-Aboriginal children.

Anthony Cavanagh, CEO of Ganbina and
Philanthropy Australia board member

Being one-two years behind academically with your peers means by the time you reach secondary school you’re likely to find school too hard and drop out. There are then limited career opportunities for you, or you may get bored and fall into the wrong crowd and commit a crime, a cycle which becomes very hard to break and is often passed onto the next generation.

The crossover between education, youth and disadvantage both short-term and long-term is clear.

That’s why at Ganbina we work with Aboriginal youth from the ages of 6-25, we mentor them throughout their entire education, training and employment cycle. We take a holistic approach and after almost 25 years, we are reaping the results.

On average 88 percent of our youth will graduate Year 12, only one percentage point below the non-Indigenous rate. Two in three will transition to further education or employment once they graduate.

I put part of our success down to our philanthropy funding model.

Since 2005 we transitioned from government funding to being mostly funded by philanthropy. It has remained this way since I became Ganbina’s CEO in 2013 and currently 95 percent of our funding comes from philanthropic foundations and trusts, with the remaining coming from corporate and public donations.

Prior to 2013, I didn’t know much about philanthropy at all. Throughout my entire career, I had no exposure to it. Today I put our philanthropic-driven funding as a major reason for our success and ability to consistently deliver our program for more than two decades now.


Philanthropy is generally more long-term than government funding. We have had many wonderful philanthropists support us for 10 years or more, whereas that’s almost unheard of in government funding as governments change every three-four years. Long-term funding creates stability for our program and allows us to plan our budgets so we know we can continue to deliver this program for at least 50 years or two generations, which is what Ganbina set out to do when it was established in the late 1990s.

Philanthropists are also different to government because they understand the importance of the long-term plan. Governments often want a quick fix or what can be achieved within a three-four year election cycle. Philanthropists are more open to understanding that we cannot undo more than a century of discrimination and exclusion of Aboriginal people, and end the cycle of disadvantage that comes with that, within a few years.

When I meet philanthropists I tell them we are a 50-year pilot program – that’s two generations and that is why we are so successful. We mentor kids for 20 years of their lives, we set them on the path of education and employment and then they pass that onto the next generation.

Philanthropists are also more interested in evidence of what works more than trends. I am proud that Ganbina is one of the few Aboriginal programs found in 2018 to have excellent evaluation methodology according to The Centre for Independent Studies.


Out of the more than 1000 programs evaluated Ganbina was one of three programs to have a strong method of assessing its results. We also hand over our documents to Social Ventures Australia every four years, which determines the social return on investment (SROI) of our programs. SROI uses a world-class methodology to determine the social and economic impact of investing $1 in a charitable program. Currently, every $1 invested in Ganbina generates $6.60 in social value.

There are people who say philanthropy is not diverse enough and is still the domain of people who are mainly white, old and male. While it may look like that on the outside, I think that it’s actually a much more diverse sector than it initially appears. To me, everyone has the potential to be a philanthropist. Yes, who owns the major wealth and capital in a society may be limited but every donor we have, including the mums and dads who donate $10 a month, are participating in their own form of philanthropy.

However all of this doesn’t mean that philanthropy is perfect.

Long-term funding is vital for charities, particularly smaller ones, however, one-year grants are still very common. It should be industry standard for grants to be a minimum of three years and after that point, are considered for renewal. When it comes to overcoming structural societal disadvantage, there are no quick fixes.

Philanthropy also needs to consider whether charities that are receiving a significant portion of their income from government should also be taking money from philanthropy. I know of very large charities that are getting more than 40 percent of their budget from government and then are applying for philanthropic grants. Is this really fair to the charities that operate without a cent of government money?

Investing in charities that are mainly government-funded risks pushing out the smaller charities, who will certainly close their doors without the commitment of philanthropy. In my view, it’s not fair for a charity to take money from both the government and philanthropy pie.

A solution is for trusts and foundations to decide on what their foundation or trust's limit will be if they want to contribute to charities that are government funded. For example only contributing if the charity receives less than 50 percent of its budget from government.

That way all organisations will get a fair go and equal opportunity to create true, social impact.

Anthony Cavanagh is an Aboriginal man who passionately believes that education is the key to overcoming Indigenous disadvantage in Australia. Today he is the CEO of registered charity Ganbina, which runs Australia’s most successful Aboriginal school-to-work transition program Jobs4U2. Under its program, two in three Ganbina kids transition from education to employment or further education. The program receives zero government funding and has gained interest from Canada and New Zealand because of how successful it is for improving outcomes for Indigenous youth.

Jul. 08, 2021

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