Q&A with Peter Walton 

Philanthropy Australia Fri, 28 Jun 2024 Estimated reading times: 4 minutes

Peter Walton commenced as CEO of Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation in April 2024. Prior to joining the Foundation, Peter was CEO of global humanitarian organisation CARE Australia. Before that he was Director, International with Australian Red Cross, and CEO of Infoxchange. Here, Philanthropy Weekly asks Peter about his first weeks in the role. 

Philanthropy Weekly: You have had an extensive career in the not-for-profit sector. What did you learn from the international development space that you are drawing on in the new role at the Foundation? 

Peter Walton: I have been a champion of localisation in international work for a long time and also fair funding solutions that acknowledge the true costs of impact. There was a pivotal moment in my career, when, after a major cyclone in the Pacific, I felt quite frustrated and demoralised by the more than one hundred organisations flooding into a small country. The organisations had good intent, but often bypassed locals and the local economy and provided solutions for what ‘we’ thought the community needed as opposed to what the community knew they needed.  

Across most of my career when thinking about measures of success, I ask myself the question, “Whose measures are we valuing?”  Is it the communities we seek to support? How do we get better at thinking differently around what ‘good’ looks like? In fact, years ago, when I was at the Red Cross someone from the Pacific said to me: “what we need in times of disaster is a locally made canoe, but you send in a battleship”. This sentiment resonates strongly.  

So that concept of being locally led, aligns with respecting self-determination, the voice of lived experience and place-based solutions and they are as critical in Australia as they are anywhere around the world. 

Another similarity between international work and philanthropy, is that current ways of approaching complex societal problems are likely to fall short of the challenge at hand. Re-thinking our role in not only treating symptoms, but also exploring new funding mechanisms, new partnerships, smarter ways is a critical obligation across so many sectors, both internationally and here in Australia. 

Reflecting on your background in for-purpose organisations, what’s one thing you would change about the relationship between fund/grant-seekers and grant-makers? 
One is ensuring that well-intended grant-making processes are not inadvertently counterproductive in terms of enhancing the collective capacity of local civil society, communities and for purpose organisations. There’s a whole ecosystem of government grants and other grant-making, which feels a little bit like the hamster wheel. So much short term, project funding – start, stop, start stop. Organisations are frequently spending so much time just chasing money in a system that doesn’t always pay what it really takes to achieve good impact.  

I often think about the grant-seekers – and have spent many years as a grant seeker. If they aren’t successful after spending enormous time and effort on their applications and tenders, either good initiatives will stop or they’ll go through the whole process again with another funder.  

Intuitively, I think there’s got to be smarter ways of triaging and sharing information. I’m not suggesting that things like this don’t happen now, but they happen informally, and I do frequently ponder what are the circuit breakers that can shift some of the collective resources spent chasing money to directly addressing the issues organisations are seeking funding for in the first place.  

I also think it is important to better understand how deeper change really happens. In some cases what grant-seekers need isn’t just project funding but core funding. Could more trust-based philanthropy and longer-term, predictable funding, elevate impact? There is a growing evidence base to suggest we need a different mix and different approaches. 

Tell us about GIVE Melbourne, the Foundation’s first digital community campaign… 
I’m obviously only two months in, so I can’t take any credit for it! I think what it signals the ongoing evolution of an organisation that’s got a proud history of more than one hundred years, but, as always, is committed to staying relevant, impactful, and as effective as possible.  

The Give Melbourne campaign is putting a spotlight on the role we can play to facilitate supporting others within this community. That can be through smarter philanthropic giving beyond the initial donation, through to highlighting and supporting some critical social enterprises or organisations.  

I see philanthropic organisations as a social change catalyst too, a broker for joining up the dots between those who care and want to do something, and the causes that matter. LMCF is a community foundation that does that – providing a trusted service of aligning resources to some of the most critical issues facing our community.  

What is inspiring you about the work of Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation? 

It’s the team and their commitment to making Melbourne better for all and addressing some of Greater Melbourne’s key issues. It’s inspiring because of the team’s passion, but also because for the second time in my career, it’s a focus on the community that I also live in and love.  

The Foundation has a proud history and a strong legacy. But we also should ask what more could we do? How can we be an organisation that, hand on heart, can say that we made a big difference by making some smart choices around the resources and the assets at our disposal. That’s exciting and daunting in equal measure. I feel really privileged to have this role. 

What’s your favourite thing about Greater Melbourne?  

I love the diversity, whether that’s people,  food, or the exciting things that you can do. I love the accessibility to green space and I think that was highlighted during lockdown as I live near the Banyule Flats. 

I’m going to give a clichéd answer: people, food, sport and coffee! I grew up in England and now lament every time I go back to London that I can’t find a decent cup of coffee (unless it’s in a coffee shop that’s run by someone from Melbourne). I’ve been well and truly converted into being a proud Melburnian and a real champion of this city. 

For more information or to donate to GIVE Melbourne, visit the campaign page here.