Stories in philanthropy

2017 highlights and lowlights

Forty leaders from across the philanthropic spectrum share their thoughts about hits and misses and who impressed them in 2017.

Nicole Richards, Dec 2017

One of the best things about the philanthropic sector is the calibre of the people who work in it. The diversity of talent, experience and hard-won wisdom is hugely impressive, and the fact that these folk are using their skills to make the world a better place, makes it even more so.

In the spirit of facilitating more peer-to-peer sharing of ideas and end-of-year reflections, I posed a question to some of the sector’s best and brightest leaders earlier this month:

What were the philanthropic highlights/lowlights of 2017 for you? Was there anyone in the sector who really impressed you?

Here are the 40 responses.

The highlights which standout are: Day 2 of the Philanthropy meets Parliament Summit in September. It was one of the best curated pieces of professional development I have participated in, in a long time. It was extremely timely and influential for the Ross Trust, with two trustees and myself attending. It led to the Trust making a small though very considered grant to the Human Rights Law Centre in support of the Marriage Equality campaign, something I am proud of.

Another highlight was the conferring of an honorary doctorate to (Dr) Genevieve Timmons, apart from thinking of no one who deserves it better, it is emblematic of how philanthropy is recognising its own in a more public way, which I think is very healthy.

And finally, the opportunity for the third (and final) time to be part of the judging panel for the Philanthropy Australia Awards, to see how they have matured and again, the value of recognising good and great practice in our sector. I’m not indulging in lowlights!

[Read Philanthropy Australia’s profile of Sylvia here: Never assume, never presume: Sylvia Admans]


  • The launch in Sydney on 30 November of the Humanitarian Hub, an initiative of the NSW Alliance for People Seeking Asylum, a collaboration between four agencies who see the benefit of working together to maximise their reach and impact as they work to support people seeking asylum. The NSW Alliance is comprised of Refugee Advice and Casework Service, Jesuit Refugee Service, Asylum Seeker Centre of NSW and House of Welcome. The Humanitarian Hub is supported by a philanthropic collaboration between the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation, Caledonia Foundation and the Sidney Myer Fund.
  • Philanthropic support for the marriage equality campaign, including important financial support and a willingness to publicly declare their support for Marriage Equality by over 50 philanthropic trusts and foundations.


  • Threats to DGR status of charities – tempered by a considered collective policy advocacy on the part of the philanthropic sector.

I was really invigorated by the AEGN conference and Rob Purves announcement of the $1 million tree-clearing challenge.

What has been disheartening is how much money, time and energy so many of us have had to spend in fighting poor policy rather than investing in activities that will contribute to positive social and environmental change.


  • GEO Conference in Chicago – my take outs were: philanthropy with humility, beware of data without context, algorithms are biased, replace deficit framed language with asset framed language – talk about strengths and aspirations
  • Mae Hong’s visit to Melbourne, her candid conversation with trustees and CEOs about the role of philanthropy in a radically changing world

  • Introducing impact investment as an asset class in our investment portfolio.


  • Political push to gag advocacy.

In the last 12 months we’ve seen the progressive and growing embrace of philanthropy in social enterprise as a way to address disadvantage and improve access to services. Philanthropy is playing a critical role in bridging the early stage funding gap for high impact, low margin social enterprises, many of which are providing sustainable training and employment opportunities for marginalised cohorts and communities. Social Traders has also received significant backing from philanthropy for our exciting new direction of creating jobs for disadvantaged Australians through social enterprise procurement.

There is a lot of progressive and innovative approaches taken across the Australian philanthropic sector. Two standouts for me over the last year are Alan English for his ongoing entrepreneurial mindset and search for novel initiatives to fund. And Catherine Brown for her championing of LMCF’s social change model of philanthropy.

There were many highlights! One was the launch of the Greater Melbourne Vital Signs 2017 report in October with Ian Bird from Community Foundations of Canada and Lord Mayor Robert Doyle. The interest in the report has been so high, our website nearly couldn’t cope! Now we are working on some Vital Conversation projects focusing on particular groups, such as older women and youth, or topics, such as affordable housing and sustainability.

Another was the Governor of Victoria’s, Hon Linda Dessau AC, speech at our Inspiring Philanthropy Celebration. She spoke about Victoria’s history of visionary philanthropists including Alfred Felton and Dame Elisabeth Murdoch and gave the Churchill Fellowship as an early example of collective giving.

The fantastic projects making a social impact using digital technology – and all the leaders of charitable organisations that are adapting to the digital world so successfully – was another highlight. Gather My Crew would be the stand out project, which uses a digital platform to enable a person dealing with a trauma or disaster to ask for help from family and friends in specific ways.

Collaborative funding has been a strong part of this year. We continued our partnership with Gandel Philanthropy for Arts West and ECHO. We continued as a major partner in the Collingwood Arts Precinct project alongside The Myer Foundation, Ian Potter Foundation, Daniel Besen, Gandel Philanthropy and others.

We funded Launch Housing for an affordable housing project for women and girls and they leveraged $13 million from the Victorian Government. Construction began on the new Ozanam House, which will double the accommodation available to older people facing homelessness, including women for the first time.

Funding ACRE (Australian Centre for the Rural Entrepreneurship) to help purchase the Beechworth Goal as a social enterprise hub and base for their social enterprise in schools program has been a highlight. Our partnerships with the Centre for Multicultural Youth and with the Foundation for Young Australians in relation to young people and employment have been full of learnings. There is a lot to do in this space.

Three highlights in the Environment & Sustainability program have been the FoodPrint project with the University of Melbourne, the Energy Efficient NFP project with the Alternative Technology Association and the Yarra River Act project with Environmental Justice Australia and the Yarra Riverkeeper.

We have worked hard to use all the tools in the philanthropic tool box in addition to grants – strategic communications, informing policy, collaboration, knowledge sharing, research and impact investment.

A highlight for me was the National Community Foundations Forum. There is a kind of magic that happens whenever you gather community foundation practitioners together in the one spot! A multitude of voices who are all speaking the same language about how we can create change and, collectively, make our world more compassionate, more inclusive and just.

I'm also going to say that it is the whole community foundation sector that has, not just impressed, but humbled me. From the Upper Murray Innovation Foundation whose social enterprise bakery has created pathways and opportunity for young people, ACF's Impact Fund, Lord Mayor's Charitable Foundation and Fremantle Foundation's Vital Signs - I could go on (and on and on). Our sector is constantly growing and innovating. 'New power operates differently, like a current. It is made by many. It is open, participatory, and peer-driven. It uploads, and it distributes. Like water or electricity, it’s most forceful when it surges. The goal with new power is not to hoard it but to channel it.’ This quote from Jeremy Heimans, CEO of Purpose, and Henry Timms, executive director of 92nd Street Y and founder of GivingTuesday, perfectly sums up the community philanthropy movement.

A lowlight for the year is that we are still struggling with a DGR framework that works against us, creating unnecessary barriers to getting the $ where they are most needed.

For me, most of the lowlights stem primarily from a regression in social progressive policies at a geo and domestic political level, which have materially impacted the sector. However, I was impressed how communities responded. There are so many examples of how people have galvanised their dissatisfaction with the pendulum shift through philanthropy in its “purest” form. In the US, we saw this through a spike in donations to organisations such as Planned Parenthood, American Civil Liberties Union and Southern Poverty Law Centre. At home, philanthropy underwrote the ‘Yes’ campaign for marriage equality.

I was fortunate to work closely with Mae Hong from Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisers (by virtue of AET’s strategic alliance) again this year. Her ability to transcend important – and at times controversial messages – to many and varied audiences I find inspiring and impressive.

There are so many examples of how people have galvanised their dissatisfaction with the pendulum shift through philanthropy in its “purest” form. – Ben Clark

For me, the philanthropic highlights of 2017 include my two-week trip to the United States in late September, accompanied by Leonard Vary, Elena Mogilevski and Andrew Myer, undertaking a ‘learning tour’, that I know will help inform the approach we adopt to our future philanthropy at The Ian Potter Foundation.

Then there is the recent Commonwealth Government decision NOT to require environmental DGRs to allocate 25-50 per cent of their donations to environmental remediation, a decision I believe many philanthropists influenced with effective lobbying in Canberra, but in particular the wonderful team at the Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network.

I genuinely did not experience or observe anything I would describe as a ‘lowlight’.

My philanthropic peers continue to impress and inspire me. My staff, my fellow philanthropic CEOs, my Board of Governors and the many outstanding organisations we come across here at The Ian Potter Foundation. I am genuinely impressed by the intellectual capital focused on improving the lives of as many Australians as possible in a myriad of ways.

Lowlights, but maybe also highlights since they were big learning curves:

  • Ceasing one of our multi-year grants early. We’d initially made the grant on the basis of the outcomes we were seeing for the kids the program supports. But we hadn’t realised how dysfunctional the organisation itself was. We thought this actually posed long-term risks for the community the organisation worked with. Maybe we should have shifted the grant to capacity building? But ultimately, we decided the organisation hadn’t yet taken ownership of the problem, and that we weren’t knowledgeable or influential enough to bring about that change.
  • People not willing to put their money where their mouth is. I’m always inspired about the amount of verbal support I get from people I talk to about my philanthropic work. They are always ready and interested to engage in a discussion about community needs, and the solutions that are having real impact. But ultimately, outside of the committed bunch in the philanthropic and social sector, I’ve been disappointed this year by the unwillingness of some people to give dollars. Time, skills and enthusiasm are all valuable contributions, but so is financial support, especially if you’ve already got plenty to give.

People that have impressed me – so many, but to pick one, the powerhouse team of Danielle Micich and Colm Toibin at Force Majeure (disclaimer – I sit on Force Majeure’s board). Wow! They took a 2016 AusCo funding cut in their stride and in 2017 they thrived. The funding accelerated the company’s path to sustainability beyond government funding. The artistic quality and social importance of their work continues to astound me. But more importantly, I’m impressed by the way they understand the ecosystem in which they exist, and work with that in mind. Always making a unique contribution, always focussed on creating new opportunities, always sharing their knowledge and practice, and always taking Australian artists to new heights.

[Read Philanthropy Australia’s profile of Este here: Dive in. Take Action: Este Darin-Cooper]

The highlight has to be Alan Joyce putting his money and his effort behind the Marriage Equality campaign.

Lowlight was the inability for the Federal Government to actually focus on the real issues facing the socially isolated, the disadvantaged, the working poor.

Kristy Muir has done a fantastic job of sharpening the focus of CSI and reconnecting with the sector.

The highlight for me was the Social Enterprise World Forum in Christchurch in October, and the ongoing engagement by philanthropy in the social enterprise space, from which we are beginning to see a more impactful, sophisticated and nuanced use of philanthropy through impact investment, seed funding and leveraging business and charity together.

I may be biased but I continue to be very impressed by some of the funding partners we get to work with at StartSomeGood! We had the seventh and eighth round of the Dreamstarter program with ING this year and went past the $1 million donations generated mark. Of these ING – led in this work by Shannon Carruth - has put in $350,000 which participating ventures have leveraged to raise 2X that again from their community through crowdfunding.

Alan English and Belinda Morrissey of The English Family Foundation continue to show leadership in the sector, demonstrating how a small foundation can create an outsized impact through innovation and partnerships. The English Family Foundation was behind many of the most interested approaches to supporting social innovation this year, from StartSomeGood’s Social Enterprise Design Challenge to Eidos Institute’s Social Procurement Challenge and the bursary program that got so many early-stage Australian social enterprises across to the Social Enterprise World Forum in NZ.

The highlight for me was seeing the leadership of Rachael Zaltron, CEO of Backpacks for SA Kids. Backpacks is a small charity in SA which earlier this year became a finalist in 10x10 Philanthropy SA and  shortly after were winners of a $100,000 grant from Impact100 SA. All the proceeds were going to be spent on buying items to be put into the backpacks which would then be distributed to vulnerable kids who had left home. Kate Stock, state ambassador of 10x10 and member of the Day Family Foundation, put Rachael in touch with the wonderful charity, Good360 and what a connection that has turned out to be. This became a great example of CSR, as K&S transported all the 13 pallets free of charge. In addition, Rachael unselfishly reached out to other charities to share in the distribution of a range of items which had been donated by various suppliers rather than end up in landfill. This leadership at a time when Rachael and a handful of volunteers were packing backpacks is extraordinary.

Highlight has been the strength of combined advocacy by so many diverse sectors, including philanthropy, in relation to the Marriage Equality campaign. It showed the power of the people!

Lowlight has been the ongoing anguish, uncertainty and limbo faced by the asylum seekers on Manus Island.

Always scores of people that impress and inspire, but perhaps the person to mention as a standout this year would be Sarah Davies, who is fundamentally reshaping PA to be a true voice of philanthropy in Australia.

Always scores of people that impress and inspire, but perhaps the person to mention as a standout this year would be Sarah Davies, who is fundamentally reshaping PA to be a true voice of philanthropy in Australia. – Vedran Drakulic

We entered into a partnership with Eidos Institute to create a social procurement challenge to answer the question “how do we build the capacity to scale on the supply side of “Good procurement” in a flexible and collaborative way?” We had 21 solutions put forward and the final winner was Lend for Good. A digital platform that will allow foundations and individuals to participate in impact investing in small loans to social enterprises earning an attractive interest to the investor and assisting social entrepreneurs deliver a measurable social impact. A partnership between Tom Dawkins of Start Some Good and Red Hat Impact founders, Paul Haworth, Cameron Neil and David Carbines. (Check out the video here).

Who impressed me? I recently returned from Nepal where I visited some fabulous projects with the wonderful Audette Exel from the Adara Group. What an extraordinary power for good that woman is. Outstanding philanthropist but also has a very talented and professional team on the ground delivering the programs in very remote villages in challenging environments. Super impressed with the outcomes they are achieving.

I’m always blown away by the greatness and giving that is all around us. A highlight this year – the steadfast determination of many in the philanthropic sector to use their voices and their funding to support the push for marriage equality. Courage, passion and determination for human rights, all rolled into one.

I am ending this year with enormous gratitude for the amazing generosity of Adara’s donors and supporters, and in particular, the investment bankers and senior financial services professionals who have spent a huge amount of time and expertise managing mandates for our newest business, Adara Partners. Adara Partners’ sole purpose is to deliver financial services expertise at the highest levels to clients, with fees generated on transactions going to directly benefit people living in extreme poverty. It has been pretty humbling to see the Adara Partners Panel members, who include some of Australia’s leaders in financial services, working together and experiencing the privilege and joy of using their mastery for purpose to help people living in poverty on the other side of the globe.

Someone who has really impressed me in the sector this year is Jeremy Meltzer and i=change. Jeremy has built a model that weaves giving into everyday life, where online brands give back with every sale. At the checkout, consumers pick a charity to support, and the i=change brands contribute a dollar to their cause. They are about to hit half a million dollars in donations to NGOs, and they give 100 per cent of retailer’s donations to causes that support women and girls. Now that’s innovation.

I try to look for the good side – rather than the lowlights – but this year I have been really concerned about the growing hesitancy around giving to our neighbours internationally. I worry that we are becoming more insular. Our world is facing unrest, polarity and humanitarian crises like never before. In the last six years, we have seen the greatest numbers of forced migration and refugee displacement in our history, with far higher levels of environmental refugees predicted. Wealth inequity continues to widen with consequent uprising, anger and civil strife. Half of the global population still live on less than $2.50 a day. In our role as leaders, we face a stark choice – to continue in the direction of polarity and division, or to reach across divides and strive for a fairer world. At Adara, we will always be cheering on those who see themselves as global citizens, and whose compassion extends far beyond our geographic boundaries.

The coming together of funders around critical policy issues related to pokies, marriage equality, Carmichael mine, advocacy and protecting journalism was great to watch this year. I want to call out, in particular, John Spierings who, beyond his role directly with the Reichstein Foundation, has been a thoughtful facilitator and leader of partnerships across many of these areas.

In a world where philanthropy is often criticised for being too slow moving I think this year has demonstrated that acting at the speed of trust sometimes means simply acting quickly for those that you trust.

In a world where philanthropy is often criticised for being too slow moving I think this year has demonstrated that acting at the speed of trust sometimes means simply acting quickly for those that you trust. – Cat Fay

Highlights: The Philanthropy Meets Parliament Summit in Canberra - it feels like there is a shift in momentum in the Australian philanthropic community and this seemed like a good example of how things are becoming more serious and sophisticated.

In terms of who impressed me this year, so many people in the sector have been generous with their time, expertise and knowledge that it would be unfair to single on person out as “impressing”. Can I just say the sector as a whole?!

I would like to pay tribute to Lisa Cotton as she steps down as CEO of The Funding Network at the end of this year. It’s been wonderful to see the amazing impact of this live crowd-funding model, resulting in more than $6.8 million in funding, plus extensive in-kind support to grassroots non-profits. Bravo Lisa.

Three highlights:

1. Melbourne Women’s Fund’s third Annual Grant Awards night, which was hosted in July by a new event partner (CBRE), where we were able to donate $116,000 in total (highest $$ to date).

2. MWF's 2017 Forum event held in October - the first time we have run a day long program: Women's Economic Empowerment: Realities and Challenges for the Future. We had Professor Gillian Triggs as the keynote speaker and she was fantastic. This was followed by three panel sessions of expert women speakers. We had 120 people attend including members, sponsors, NFPs and guests – it was an amazing day of learning.

3. ABC's Lateline program on giving circles aired in November with Susan Alberti (our Founding Life Member) speaking, Pat Burke and myself, Farren Williams (member) and Women and Mentoring org and previous grant winner. It was seven mins of great promotion for collective giving.

So, a pretty exciting year and we have seen membership spike after all of the above.


  • Announcing our Medical Research and Health Partner Program forming part of our Empowering Change Program as one.
  • Ron Mueck commission which will be fully revealed at the Triennial at NGV. It’s the biggest and I would say bravest Felton art purchase so far. One that really pushes the boundaries being a significant move away for the artist from his works that have become famous so far – the global will most definitely be taking note.
  • Government announcement that it will not be going ahead with the proposal to oblige environmental DGRs to allocate 25-50 per cent of their donations to environmental remediation.


  • The tragically sad and sudden passing of Adam Majcher, Engagement Manager from ClimateWorks.

My highlight was the time I spent working with people who have real passion for, and deep commitment to giving. They are great people to be around, to help and to learn from.

My lowlight was being reminded (usually via the media or LinkedIn) that many people still struggle to understand the link between charity operating costs and effectiveness. I also started to worry about an obsession with scale over impact and what I call drone philanthropy: the practice of solving somebody else’s problem from a distance by remote control.

I’ve started to worry about an obsession with scale over impact and what I call drone philanthropy: the practice of solving somebody else’s problem from a distance by remote control. - David Knowles

A real highlight was Social Ventures Australia winning Philanthropy Australia’s 2017 Indigenous Philanthropy Award. It recognises the life changing work of Marnin Studio - at the Marninwarntikura Fitzroy Women’s Resource Centre - a social enterprise well on their way to becoming sustainable in a very remote community in Western Australia.

David Gonski continues to give tirelessly, of his time, expertise and yes dollars. His work in education should result in systemic changes that lift the life outcomes of thousands of young Australians and their families. David’s impact will positively reverberate through the Australian community and economy for years to come.

I’m always impressed by the philanthropic donors who are prepared to back innovation, and seed early stage initiatives so that we can trial programs and gather evidence of what works. They invest in the expertise and experience of sector practitioners to find better solutions to old problems, and inspire us to new heights with their trust.

And I must say Evan Thornley’s personal and insightful keynote address at the Impact Investing Summit was humbling.

Highlights would have been the stratospheric billion dollar gifts from philanthropists worldwide and the exciting social start-ups that are emerging.

Lowlights…the fact that Trump has caused such angst and almost fear among many in the US philanthropic space. The language among many of the funders and peak bodies has altered throughout 2017 as they talk about ‘combating hate’ and ‘fighting inequity’ and ‘shifting the power’ as if they are truly in a battle. When I was in the US in September the feeling was palpable…

For me, the highlight of 2017 was the TOM Makeathon organised by Debbie Dadon AM and the Israel Trade Commission in partnership with Swinburne University and Flying Fox. Over three full days 10 teams worked around the clock to design and build hardware and software solutions for one of their team members with a disability based upon their request.

I left thinking “this is how philanthropy should operate - the gift of time, compassion, expertise, enthusiasm, resources and financial support to bring it all together.” For me Debbie Dadon’s vision in bringing TOM Makeathon to Melbourne, building partnerships between philanthropy, government and universities and supporting and coordinating the event with her team was beyond impressive.

I prefer not to focus on negatives, but in terms of lowlights I was disheartened to see how much time, energy and financial resources had to be expended this year just to advocate for the protection and realisation of basic human rights. In an ideal world, it would have been a given that the same-sex marriage legislation would be passed by an elected government without a drawn out, divisive, costly postal survey; that asylum seekers on Manus evicted from the soul-destroying conditions of offshore detention would be brought to our shores to start their lives; and that charities would be encouraged to advocate for human rights and environmental protections without threats to their funding. If we didn’t have to fight so hard to stop things from going backwards, imagine how far we could progress with the same intellectual and financial resources!

I was disheartened to see how much time, energy and financial resources had to be expended this year just to advocate for the protection and realisation of basic human rights. – Tabitha Lovett

Getting started on the Case for Philanthropy, something I feel we need in the sector.

Marriage Equality: This is hardly going to be an original answer, but Reichstein Foundation and Myer Family Foundation (along with others’) tireless and fruitful support of the YES campaign was a pleasure to behold over the course of this year.

Collective giving: The publication of James Boyd's important research into collective giving and his

leadership when it comes to giving circles in Australia. The research provided long overdue data on the phenomenon nationally. Awareness of the model is increasing, and this is due to James' work and the immeasurable amount of time and effort that my colleagues in the collective giving space have put in to growing the movement over the past 12 months. The first Australian 'Gathering of Giving Circles' was certainly a highlight - the community of 'collective giving nerds' has blossomed in 2017.

Community foundations: I started working at Inner North Community Foundation this year. Learning more about place-based philanthropy, and discovering the careful integrity of that organisation, with the leadership of Ben Rodgers and Dr Christopher Baker and a rich network of current and former board directors has been a highlight for me. Australia has enjoyed visits from Ian Bird (Community Foundations of Canada) and Jason Franklin (W.K. Kellogg Community Philanthropy Chair). These international visitors have reinvigorated existing conversations about what the future could look like for Community Foundations in Australia. Also, Australian Communities Foundation's Impact Fund was an important development for them and the sector more broadly. Collaborative approaches to social change philanthropy like this are always exciting to see.

Julie Reilly receiving the Churchill Fellowship for gender lens giving is also a huge win for investment in women and girls.

2017 felt progressive and I liked it! If there's anything I'll be taking from 2017 into 2018 it's the shared sense of direction the philanthropic community seems to have at the moment. I hope it continues on its current trajectory over the coming year.

The absolute lowlight of 2017 would have to be the Government’s recent sugary press release trumpeting its beneficence in finally getting around to long-ignored amendments to the ACNC in line with charity sector requests, neatly sidestepping most of the nasty additions including restrictions on foreign donations and foreshadowing drastic restrictions in freedom of speech for charities during election periods, then appointing Gary Johns to head up the ACNC the very next day. This is a declaration of war on charities, and a neat pre-Christmas flourish signing off a year of attacks on political involvement and advocacy by groups attempting to address injustice and inequity in our society.

A highlight for me was the Creative Partnerships Australia Awards and the Philanthropy Australia Awards where we recognised a number of people who have made a contribution to our community through their philanthropy. In particular, Andrew and Cathy Cameron, who were awarded CPA’s Arts Philanthropy Leadership Award, and Ian Darling, who was named PA’s Philanthropy Leader of the Year. Both have two things in common: they have chosen to focus on a specific area for their giving, which means they have deep knowledge about the areas they are funding and, therefore, their funding is thoughtful and focused; and they are both funding in the arts, recognising its inherent value, as well as how it contributes to cohesive, strong communities.

So many people impress me! Allan English keeps optimistically and generously pushing the envelope around new social enterprise ideas including funding a large contingent of Australian social entrepreneurs to participate and contribute to the Social Enterprise World Forum in New Zealand in 2017.

Ian Darling continues to drive unique storytelling and the Myer Foundation’s innovation fellowships are quietly seeding large scale societal impact. The Wilson Foundation and Future Generation are smart and strategic and what would we do without the gutsy Reichstein Foundation?!

Watch out for the Westpac Fellows and the Paul Ramsay Foundation in the next few years. So many others....too many to mention!

My highlight for 2017 is the Marriage Equality campaign which has been supported by a large range of philanthropic family foundations and organisations over the past few years. In particular, the Snow Family and Foundation spearheaded a great deal of research and organising work. The role of philanthropy in campaigning and advocacy has been debated recently, however it is clear that philanthropy plays a critical role in helping progress and present ideas, thinking and galvanizing diverse views.

The role of philanthropy in campaigning and advocacy has been debated recently, however it is clear that philanthropy plays a critical role in helping progress and present ideas, thinking and galvanizing diverse views. – Jan Owen

2017 had many highlights for investment in women and girls.

  • The Australian membership of the US based global movement, Women Moving Millions (WMM) had a growth rate of 200 per cent!
  • A standout recruit was Paul Wheelton AM – our first Australian male philanthropist to join WMM- and an active advocate for women and girls
  • Having the chance to attend the WMM Summit in NY was an absolute highlight of the year
  • Ian Darlings’s reflective piece on his learnings as a philanthropist was powerful and instructive
  • Lisa Witter and Jason Franklin were two standout international philanthropic speakers.
  • Receiving a Churchill Fellowship to study how to increase philanthropic investment in women and girls has been extremely affirming and very exciting!
  • PA’s recent end of year drinks and the contributions from Cat Fay, Sarah Davies and Alan Schwartz was also a highlight.

More broadly, seeing philanthropy actively engaging with government around advocacy was a highlight (although I missed the Canberra event). The rallying of changemakers supporting Marriage Equality was also a heartening thing!

Lowlight – losing Susan Pascoe AO from the ACNC.

One of the most impressive initiatives in the sector this year (and evidence of new collaborations forming in philanthropy and between philanthropy, governments and other institutions) is the new venture called Co-impact. This initiative that includes Bill and Melinda Gates reflects the changing nature of philanthropy globally and a move to pooling resources to influence systems change. Models such as this provide opportunities for philanthropy to work at scale with governments, business and other agencies to drive ambitious social change. I'd love to see a co-impact fund in Australia focussed on addressing early childhood vulnerability in communities where families experience intergenerational social and economic disadvantage.

Being plugged into the community foundation network means connecting and learning from amazing people leading change in their backyard. An annual highlight is the National Community Foundations Forum (NCFF), this year held in October in Melbourne, which gives an opportunity to exchange with peers who are leveraging all forms of their capital; social, moral, intellectual, reputational as well as financial – to support thriving local places.

Like other activities that happen in not-for-profit land, people are key to leveraging these forms of capital. Supporting places and individuals to be more prosperous and connected doesn’t happen because a community foundation has more efficient widgets. It happens when local people put their shoulder to the wheel.

Of the many regional leaders that spoke at the NCFF17, Rhett Macdonald from Stand Like Stone, a South Australian community foundation based on the Limestone Coast, resonated. Rhett highlighted that their approach is based on ‘a community that is worth something. We didn’t create this community, but we do have a hand in creating it.’

Ensuring communities have identity and voice, and that all forms of capital are used in order to create local impact, is something community foundations across Australia foster and sustain.


  • Philanthropy Meets Parliament – exciting to have so many in the sector convening around advocacy as a philanthropic tool for change, delivering support beyond funding. It certainly wouldn’t have happened ten years ago – this tells us that the philanthropic sector is evolving and maturing in Australia.
  • On a daily basis, our APS clients inspire me. Many of these are every day, under-the-radar philanthropists who give away thousands of dollars every year in a considered and generous way. You will probably never read about them in the newspaper, but they are making an enormous contribution to the charities they support. Their generosity, dedication and passion never ceases to inspire me.
  • In 2017, we saw a dramatic increase in the numbers of sub-funds being established in our public ancillary fund, the Australian Philanthropic Services Foundation. I hope this is a trend that will continue. I anticipate that there will soon be 3-4 sub-funds for every PAF established. There is a growing awareness (at last!) that you don’t have to be a multi-millionaire to be a philanthropist, and sub-funds make structured giving an option to a much broader cross-section of the population.

Ian Darling really impressed me. He took a great lead on Marriage Equality, quietly convened philanthropists to donate towards the campaign, took some criticism/hits in the process, but steadily continued anyway. His personal exertions, and the exertions of those who chose to join him, helped move the nation towards a resounding yes!

It’s hard to find a lowlight in a sector like ours. There are so many NFP organisations doing outstanding work and philanthropists supporting those activities, and new and evolving ideas for social change – it’s an exciting time to be engaged in this sector.

Highlight for me was our ability to create Philanthropy Champions. Proof that philanthropy in this country is so far advanced that there are a significant number of prominent philanthropists who understand the concept of philanthropy as a cause in its own right - and the importance of supporting organisations whose mission it is to advance philanthropy through research, advocacy etc. Our 2017 Philanthropy Leader of the Year, Ian Darling, was the standout for me with his Master Classes.

A highlight was Day 2 of Philanthropy Meets Parliament, with terrific contributions from Daniel Lee of the Levi Strauss Foundation; Tom Snow of the Marriage Equality campaign; Mark Yattica Paulson, recently of the Recognise campaign, in particular.

The focus was on advocacy and its capacity to generate social change – these speakers galvanized the room on the day and the messages continue to resonate across the sector. Advocacy is now at the centre of mainstream philanthropic activity in Australia – and that’s great news.

A second highlight was the way philanthropy got behind the Marriage Equality campaign with some serious resourcing and advocacy, contributing to a terrific outcome.

A lowlight was the continuing attack on charities, and by implication, philanthropy (because what we do is to support charity and charitable purposes, including social change).

It’s great that the Government will maintain the current DGR requirements of environmental charities. The downside is the detail in the foreign donations package that is likely to constrain the voice of charities across the board.

And there is clearly an urgent need to bring the new ACNC regulator up to speed about the purpose and potential of charities in the 21st century and the role of philanthropy in facilitating social change.

A profound disappointment was the Government’s abrupt dismissal of key (but not all) elements of the Uluru Statement from the Heart about future Indigenous-non-Indigenous relations.

And the Kafkaesque situation of asylum-seekers and refugees in offshore detention – along with the visa, employment and integration hoops facing people seeking asylum and refuge onshore - continues to be inhumane and contrary to this country’s best values.

From a Reichstein perspective, working closely with the Sydney Peace Foundation to enable #BlackLivesMatter founders and organisers to exchange ideas and experiences with Indigenous activists was very important and will influence our grant-making into the future.

Advocacy is now at the centre of mainstream philanthropic activity in Australia – and that’s great news. – John Spierings

Who impressed me? Katrina Strickland, then Editor of the AFR magazine for introducing the inaugural AFR magazine Top 50 private philanthropic gifts. I've been at BRW and AFR for years trying to get them to introduce it. It was awesome to see it finally arrive in April this year and be so prominent. It will now be an annual fixture like the annual AFR Power list and Rich 200 list. Big thanks to John McLeod from JBWere for doing the work!

I would also acknowledge Tom Snow (Snow Foundation) and Brooke Horne for same sex marriage and their tireless efforts to raise much needed funds and advocacy for the cause.

Finally, the Paul Ramsay Foundation for 'coming out' this was fabulous for the Foundation to have its story to date featured for the first time in the AFR magazine's Top 50 Gifts accompanying feature story.

I think the most fascinating development has been the conversation around the responsibility of philanthropy and to what extent advocacy should be part of what philanthropists support. In many ways this seems a crazy conversation to me, surely we want to focus on preventing society's problems and supporting programs that make the world a better place, rather than putting bandaids on disasters that we may have been able to avoid. However, as philanthropic giving increases in size, it is good to talk about what the sector does and ensure appropriate transparency.

Surely we want to focus on preventing society's problems and supporting programs that make the world a better place, rather than putting bandaids on disasters that we may have been able to avoid. – Deanne Weir

The highlights for me were the leap of faith that PA have taken in employing a wonderful, talented person in the story telling role to really get some quality commentary into the philanthropic community. This is the best way of growing the philanthropic pool by engaging more people to expand their philanthropic horizons.

Ian Darling as Philanthropy Leader of the Year highlighted the importance of storytelling in the film and television space and his engaging personality has a highlight for the PA speaker series.

For Angela [Wheelton] and I personally it was joining Women Moving Millions and attending the Summit in New York which exposed us to a much broader range of projects that are working to change outcomes for women and girls worldwide.


  • More consideration being given to limited life foundations.


  • Still seeing too many funding 1-2 year programs.

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