Understanding philanthropy’s mission is crucial to realising how philanthropy engages in shaping public policy, writes philanthropic Policy and Research Manager Krystian Seibert.
Do many of us working in Not for Profit (NFP) sector truly understand what “philanthropy” actually means?
When I started work at Philanthropy Australia, I felt I had a good understanding of the regulatory and taxation environment in which it operates and the policy issues of relevance to it. But I didn't actually know the origins of the word philanthropy itself. So I looked it up.
It is a term that can be traced from the 1600s and is derived from Late Latin and Ancient Greek. Broken down and translated literally, philo means “loving” and anthropos means “mankind”. A more modern and detailed definition is the one Philanthropy Australia uses – which is the planned and structured giving of time, information, goods and services, voice and influence, as well as money, to improve the well-being of humanity and the community.
Just like with the word charity, which is derived from the Latin word for “love”, caritas, the origins of the word philanthropy underline the altruistic mission of the activity in a simple and perhaps even beautiful way.
Philanthropic organisations have a distinct role as funders, investors, facilitators, innovators, leaders and agitators. They collaborate with partners from the broader NFP sector, and through a process of information exchange, they learn a lot from the organisations they fund and the great work they do.
There are lots of ways to undertake philanthropy and many terms are used to describe these roles. Strategic philanthropy, venture philanthropy, catalytic philanthropy, responsive philanthropy, collective impact or impact investing, to name a few.
Part of the beauty of philanthropy is that many flowers do bloom. Another aspect of its beauty is that philanthropy can and does take risks.
Understanding philanthropy’s mission – to love and to nurture our humanity, community and our environment – is crucial to realising how philanthropy engages in shaping public policy. Although there may be many elements to this engagement, in my view two stand out in particular.
The first element relates to philanthropy’s role in public policy debates in specific cause areas. Over time, through partnering and working with the organisations it funds, philanthropy has been able to accumulate a substantial repository of experience and knowledge of what works and doesn’t through jointly initiating projects, rolling out programs and seeking social change at scale.
Organisations and people in philanthropy contribute to this accumulation of knowledge as each day goes by. Philanthropy is a great social incubator in Australia, supporting community entrepreneurs, activists, carers and future leaders.
Philanthropy doesn’t have all the answers, but a growing emphasis on the evaluation of impact will certainly assist in developing improved policy interventions, more effective collaboration and better use of available funds.
There is a real opportunity to develop closer and more effective connections between the experiences of philanthropy and our partners, and key public policy challenges facing the Australian community – not only to enable the deployment of more effective philanthropic capital, but also the shared knowledge we have derived over time. When it comes to public policy we can speak truth to power in ways that others cannot. Doing this more effectively is critical to fulfilling philanthropy’s mission.
The second element relates to growing “the love of humanity, community and the environment” in Australian society – to grow personal, family, community and corporate giving and to promote the significance of these gifts. This is not because increased giving should be a substitute for the funding of the many important services that are the responsibility of governments, nor because increased giving is merely there to help “fill the gaps” better. We need to aim high to build a more connected and inclusive nation. That’s why we need to aim high about increasing giving.
Public policy certainly does influence the pattern of giving. Perhaps the most significant and noteworthy example in recent years is the introduction of Prescribed Private Funds (now called Private Ancillary Funds). More recent reforms such as the implementation of a modern and clear statutory definition of charity have also created greater certainty for philanthropy, with the potential to unlock more funding for new activities.
But there is substantially more than can be done to grow giving in Australia. On the most recent data, fewer than 5 per cent of employees who have access to a workplace giving program actually do it. Doubling that figure could result in an additional $33 million available to support charitable causes. Reforms to the taxation and regulatory environment for community foundations could help them grow, so they can support more causes in more communities across Australia. A national giving campaign, like the ‘1% Difference’ campaign in Ireland, which partners with government, could help put giving front and centre in the minds of more Australians. These are just a few ideas.
Philanthropy may sometimes be underestimated in terms of its potential to shape more effective public policy. That is why initiatives such as the re-established Prime Minister’s Community Business Partnership will provide a vital avenue for philanthropy, and our partners in the broader NFP sector and business, to engage with the Australian Government. Together, we can improve public policy and grow a stronger culture of giving.
Across the world, partnering with philanthropy provides clear benefits to governments at all levels. But it’s not just the benefit to government that's important, but what philanthropy and the organisations we work with can offer in terms of building strong and flourishing communities.
Seizing this opportunity to work together is vital to furthering philanthropy’s mission.
This opinion piece originally appeared on Pro Bono Australia, Thursday 3 April 2014
Apr. 10, 2014
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