Top Trends in Philanthropy for Better Giving 

Adam Ognall Fri, 26 May 2023

Philanthropy Australia’s Executive Director Engagement, Adam Ognall, was recently asked to offer his thoughts for a team event on the most prevailing trends and themes he sees emerging across the sector. As we make our way towards our shared goal of more generous and inclusive giving in Australia, here are his thoughts. 

There can never be a definitive playbook for better philanthropy trends, so I decided to present my Top 10 as a stimulus for discussion, coming from the perspective of someone who works at philanthropy’s peak body rather than a practitioner.  

The Top 10 is inspired by many wonderful and generous conversations with leaders and experts in the field, and the resources and materials they have shared with me. Across Australia, the most engaged and thoughtful in philanthropy are those thinking about the specifics of what they can and should do differently.

At the same time, they are exploring big-picture questions about philanthropy’s role in society and how philanthropy, in all its forms, has an impact. 

I hope this Top 10 is relevant for funders no matter their scale, the issues they address or their context and approach – from community foundations committed to place-based giving, to families passionate about health, the arts or education, to corporate foundations working as global citizens. And to not-for-profits (NFPs), as they determine the most effective way to work with funders to fulfil their organisation’s potential and objectives. 

Top 10 Trends and Themes – in no particular order 

  • Paying What It Takes: Recognising the true costs of creating change and moving away from ‘non-profit starvation cycle’ where charities’ effectiveness and capability are lowered by the underfunding of indirect core costs.  

  • Trust: Exemplified by the Trust-Based Philanthropy movement, which is addressing power imbalances between foundations and NFPs. It starts with a vision where relationships are built on vulnerability, transparency and humility. And where community and non-profit leaders are valued, supported and trusted. 

  • Systems, Power and Participation: Where are decisions made? How does philanthropy understand its role? Practices such as Participatory Grant-making have at their core an approach to funding that cedes decision-making power about grants to the communities impacted by the funding decisions.  

  • Funders Collaborating: Funders across Australia are building their collaborative muscle. These partnerships are taking different forms, from large-scale formal funding partnerships to information sharing to reduce transaction costs, to efforts to make life easier for NFPs by standardising and sharing funding and reporting processes.  

  • Transparency/Open Giving: A recognition that better and accountable giving requires more open and standardised grants data. It links to the concept of data for the public good.  

  • Measuring Effectiveness: How do philanthropists assess whether their giving has had an impact? Philanthropy evaluation is moving quickly up the agenda with a widespread recognition that funders need to develop basic evaluation skills and standards irrespective of the different approaches to giving and achieving impact.  

  • Beyond Grant-making: This starts with a simple insight that funders cannot only think about the money they give away. They need to also think about how to use their assets, voice and other resources. Impact investing is one example.  

  • Justice: Justice is a theme and value that permeates much of the ‘better philanthropy’ conversation, especially as it tackles inequality. In Australia, we are seeing justice influence philanthropic giving and practice, not least in relation to First Nations and in how diversity, equality and inclusion is considered.  

  • Shifts in Practice: There are numerous lively discussions across the sector about what constitutes, in practical terms, best-practice giving. This ranges from the core versus project funding debate, the value of open grant rounds, the importance of funding advocacy and capacity building, to questions on the length of grants.  

  • Climate: As set out in our recent co-launched Climate Lens, a changing climate affects everyone and philanthropists are trying to minimise the effects of how this is undermining the people, places and causes they seek to serve.  

In conclusion: 

There is no one path to better philanthropy. Rather the ‘magic ingredients’ are found through considering the ideas and approaches behind these trends. Through Philanthropy Australia’s convening, content and conversations, we look forward to supporting our members and the broader sector on our better giving journey.