Lack of cultural diversity in Australian philanthropy impacting social outcomes; further research underway

Fri, 3 Feb 2023

New findings from the Centre for Social Impact (CSI) and Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education identify the need for further research into cultural diversity and intersectionality within Australian philanthropy as a way to better transform systemic issues that drive ongoing marginalisation and inequality.

The report, From Colour Blind to Race Conscious: Actions and Priorities to Increase Cultural Diversity in Australian Philanthropy, reviewed existing research on the Australian philanthropic landscape and found there is little data on cultural diversity initiatives within Australia’s for-purpose organisations.

Addressing complex social problems is at the heart of philanthropic organisations, and lead researcher of the project, Megan Weier, said funders and for-purpose organisations need to prioritise organisational or structural changes that will support the inclusion of more diverse voices.

“In the midst of mounting social movements for racial justice and equality, there has to be a concerted effort by philanthropic and for-purpose organisations to proactively improve their cultural representation and consider any power imbalances between decision makers and the people they are working to assist,” Dr Weier said.

“Currently, we don’t have baseline data that indicates what funders are doing to be more culturally inclusive. This could be the makeup of boards, but also the provision of grant writing support, or modified reporting requirements for recipients that have lower digital literacy or English as a second language. On the other hand, we also want to understand how culturally and linguistically diverse organisations who apply for funding may be overlooked or excluded by current funding practices – and what funders can be doing differently.”

Selena Choo, an expert advisory group member and founder of organisation Humans Like Us, said that seemingly simple processes such as applying for funding can be exclusionary if they’re not designed with equity in mind.

“Online funding application forms can be hard to navigate even if you have digital literacy skills. There’s a lot of innovative, impactful work being done by small grassroots community groups that funders would discover if those groups were given a chance to talk about their work in their first language or through video or audio recordings,” Ms Choo said.

“We also need to talk to small community groups about better ways for them to demonstrate how they’ve used granted funds. Something as simple as using an interpreter and asking questions in a 30-minute conversation could save these smaller organisations precious hours that they can instead use to help their communities.”

The Macquarie Group Foundation is supporting further research to better understand how the cultural makeup of philanthropic boards and for-purpose organisations impacts funding decisions and program outcomes in Australia. The project is being supported by Philanthropy Australia and Perpetual, an Australian investment fund.

Lauren O’Shaughnessy, Director of Impact at the Macquarie Group Foundation said it’s important for the philanthropic sector to understand how program success and impact could be held back by a lack of diversity and representation at a decision-making level.

“This research will invite opportunities to be more deeply aligned with program missions. By understanding the current state of cultural diversity in Australian philanthropy, we’ll be able to identify opportunities for change and to measure progress against a baseline. We encourage other philanthropic bodies and for-purpose organisations to be part of the study for better outcomes across the sector,” Ms O’Shaughnessy said.

The initial report outlines strategies that funders can take now to improve their cultural representation. These include:

  • Defining a commitment to improving diversity in vision and mission;
  • Actively involving diverse cultural input to review or co-design new policies and practices;
  • Collaborating with leaders who represent culturally diverse communities in strategy development;
  • Training and educating staff and board members on equity, diversity and inclusion; and
  • Ensuring any organisational change is managed and implemented in a culturally competent and safe manner.

The Centre for Social Impact is now recruiting for philanthropic funders and grant recipients to join the upcoming study. Register at .