Opening doors: The Snow Foundation

Mon, 16 Oct 2017

“I think philanthropy is one of those things that can be a bit mysterious,” Georgina Byron, Chief Executive Officer of The Snow Foundation says. “It’s not really in our culture to talk about it.”

Byron, whose professional background is in financial and retail marketing, has headed up her family’s foundation since 2007, but it wasn’t a conscious career choice.

The Snow Foundation was established by Georgina’s father, Terry Snow and his brother George, in 1991 with an initial $1 million contribution and the intention to help disadvantaged members of Canberra’s community. The family had a long history with the nation’s capital, dating back to 1926 when the brothers’ grandfather, E.R. Snow, founded Canberra’s first general store.

“Dad had always taught us that if you see someone struggling, you should always lend a helping hand,” Byron says.

“He’d grown the foundation in a small way for many years then wanted to do it in a much bigger way,” she explains.

“He asked the four of us kids if anyone was interested in leading it. I was on maternity leave at the time with my third child and thought I’d give it a go before heading back to work. When I went back to my old job, I realised that working at the Foundation was so much more fulfilling and I thought, ‘What am I doing?’”

Byron returned to the Foundation and set about increasing the involvement of the entire family.

“I wanted everyone’s input,” she says. “We held a workshop to get insight into the family’s passions and interests and I also did some historical analysis on granting to date. That all led to chunking everything into areas we’re interested in: social welfare, health, education and employment.”

Since its inception, The Snow Foundation has distributed almost $22 million in grants to organisations and individuals.

Humility and honest relationships, Byron says, are two key tenets that underpin the ethos of the Foundation.

“We recognise that our for-purpose partners are the ones with the expertise, we simply enable them to achieve great things.”

Open and transparent

While the family values its privacy, the board of The Snow Foundation, which includes second generation members of the Snow family and their partners, is committed to transparency.

Byron, who chairs Philanthropy Australia’s Family Foundations Funder Group, says the benefits of greater openness have been many.

“In our experience, being more transparent has led to greater impact because it promotes the issue you are trying to solve as well as the work of the community organisation and can lead to others  – they could be funders or other community organisations – coming together to assist.

“If you don’t have the door open, you can’t hear what’s going on.”

The Snow Foundation produces an annual report, maintains a website and a Facebook page where it regularly promotes the work of the for-purpose organisations it supports. It also shares its due diligence, which in itself, has led to compelling outcomes.

“One example of the Foundation sharing its due diligence was our work with Good 360, where we were one of the founding funders,” Byron explains.

“They were just starting out and had got to the point where they needed a large amount of money to operationalise. So, I happily shared our due diligence while working alongside two other funders and Good360 to pull together a collaborative due diligence report that ended up being shared across more than 20 foundations, with eight choosing to fund it.

“I was keen for other funders to review the initiative and due diligence, but only get behind it if it met their goals. It was all about sharing intelligence and working together. And we still work together, meeting as a group every six months.” 

Byron says that advocating and promoting the work of its for-purpose partners has become an important component of the Foundation’s approach to social change.   

“We always prefer to speak to an issue from the perspective of the for-purpose organisations we support because it’s not about us – it’s about what’s going on in the community.”

Impact investing, social enterprise and funding capacity building are all part of The Snow Foundation’s funding mix. One Disease, Homes for Homes, Global Sisters, AIME in Canberra, Common Ground, Newpin and Home in Queanbeyan are just some of the for-purpose organisations that have flourished by initially securing seed funding and then long-term support from the Foundation. 

“When I think of impact, I think it’s about aligning our goals with the goals of our partners,” Byron says.

“It’s about the impact they’re going to have and we may only be a small part of that.

“Unless you’ve aligned your goals with the goals of your for-purpose partners, you’re not really walking beside them.”

Saying Yes

In recent months, the Snow Foundation has been a leading voice in the campaign for marriage equality.

“Our family believes in equality,” Byron says categorically.

“We supported the Good Pitch film Gayby Baby back in 2012 and we support marriage equality because we believe in equality and fairness for all Australians.”

“It’s an issue that’s very close to our family’s heart,” Byron continues. “When my brother and his husband were married in New Zealand we saw firsthand how much joy and love that brings.”

Byron’s brother, Tom Snow, is a leading voice in the Yes campaign.

“This is about progressing rights as we evolve as a human society,” Byron says. “Everybody should be able to marry the person they love.”

Most valuable lesson

“I really believe in that saying, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together’”, Byron says when reflecting on most valuable lessons she’s learned during her time in philanthropy.

“Collaboration takes more time and more effort, but when you do it well, you get greater impact. We’ve found that we’re more effective if we go deep on an issue and work alongside other organisations, rather than trying to do a bit of everything on our own.”

Learn more about the work of The Snow Foundation here.