The potential of Australian philanthropy – towards a new civic compact

By: Ryan Ginard   |   CFRE, Author, Future Philanthropy: The Tech, Trends & Talent Defining New Civic Leadership

Australia has a new government and with it a number of election promises to fulfil. The one that stands out the most for those working in philanthropy is that of developing a strategy to double structured giving by 2030 - a goal initially identified in Philanthropy Australia’s 2021 Blueprint - and to take advantage of the $2.6 trillion generational wealth transfer expected to occur over the next two decades.

So how can philanthropy reach its full potential?

Well, the first step seems somewhat counterintuitive to building momentum towards this unparalleled opportunity, and that is to simply reclaim the word ‘philanthropy.’ The reality is that ‘philanthropy’ does not always elicit that powerful positive response it used to.

For many Australians, the notion of philanthropy is often linked to wealth and privilege, and therefore they perceive it has little connection to them. We need to realise that this is our sector’s word, and we need to begin changing perceptions of it.

Helping people understand what ‘philanthropy’ can be: as simple as giving $20 to your friend for Movember, or volunteering at your local food bank, or sharing legal advice pro bono. It’s time to not shy away from it but encourage others to lean into the multiple expressions of what it means to be philanthropic.

Australia has the opportunity to weave charitable giving into the very fabric of its society and its international identity, one that we already see personified through the notion of ‘mateship.’ But this won’t happen overnight and will require bold leadership from key stakeholders in the social impact space and an ability to build a compelling case for support to broader society by showcasing stories of success through a lens of innovation, inclusion and impact.

Government as a partner not a player

The fact that charity is now a portfolio in the Federal government is something that has me bullish that as a sector we might be able to achieve this bold goal of doubling giving by 2030, but government is going to have to play the role of participatory leader if they are to be successful - that is, they will have to know when to lead, when to link arms, and most importantly when to get out of the way.

Philanthropy has often acted as a form of societal triage for government cuts and underspending, so an understanding of what philanthropy is, and what it can do, should front load any proposed new government committees or regulatory clean up.

We need to start thinking of organised philanthropy as a way to de-risk new community initiatives and provide the government with both quantitative and qualitative data to invest more on proven programs.

We need to think of ‘perpetuity’ not as guaranteed operating income (although understanding the real costs of for purpose organisations doing their work is an essential step in the funding cycle), but as a mechanism to ideate, tinker, and double down on solutions, knowing that mistakes can happen but that a strong evaluation framework can help discover new ways to make a difference. Philanthropy is embarking on some important conversations that will help shift thinking within the sector and potentially lead to a new dawn of social innovation.

A new civic compact

Philanthropy can’t miss the opportunity to forge a new civic compact with its communities. It needs to expand its convening role, to be a sector that engages more fully with a broader community that’s seeking a dynamic partnership to help tackle some of the most critical issues of our time. We need to do the work necessary to build trust in our methods and approaches. This will take time but is a necessary part of its evolution as a catalyst for change, because at the end of the day there is no silver bullet.

Having lived in the United States for the past decade (recently returning home this past month), I was always intrigued to see the evolution of philanthropy in Australia, knowing that it is in the unique position to adopt proven vehicles and approaches from other countries and apply them in a locally relevant context. As I always say, innovation doesn’t have to be new, just new to you.

I have great hope for a new blueprint for Australian philanthropy and one that will spur a new golden generation of giving, because right now, for the first time in a long while, our younger generations risk being left in a worse position than those who preceded them.

With that said, let’s never forget about the communities we serve, the communities that need philanthropy’s support now more than ever, and who will reap the rewards, support, and funding from a more intentional form of collaborative action, one which calls for a new form of courageous leadership, and one which I genuinely believe we finally have all the pieces in place to achieve.

Jun. 16, 2022

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