How do you explain why some of Australia’s wealthiest people don’t appear to donate to a tax-deductible cause? What does it say about the nation’s well-off? And perhaps most compelling of all, what is the relationship between wealth and giving?
According to the latest figures, 44 per cent of Australians who earn more than $1 million a year do not seem to give any of it away. Research has revealed this situation has changed little during the past few years. That sizeable percentage of Australian millionaires not giving is what Associate Professor Wendy Scaife and Marie Balczun from the Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies (ACPNS) at QUT refer to as a “stubborn figure’’. The recent ACPNS analysis of the nation’s giving and the donation trends, based on the Australian Tax Office’s figures on individuals’ tax-deductible donations, reveals an intriguing picture of who gives what and how much.
But it is the gap at the top end of earnings that seems worth investigating. “The reason people get involved in giving is often to do with personal circumstances,’’ Wendy explains. “Sometimes it takes that thunderbolt to jolt people into expressing that need and the non-profit works in a wonderful way to fulfil that need.’’ That might explain some of the problem but what else prevents some of the nation’s most financially secure people from giving? “It’s often the case that these people haven’t had time while they’ve been building their wealth to think about giving,’’ Wendy says. “Some really haven’t been part of a community.’’
Source: An Examination of Tax-Deductible Donations Made By Individual Australian Taxpayers in 2016–17, The Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies Queensland University of Technology Brisbane, 2019.
One of the compelling contradictions in the nation’s giving landscape is that the income bookends of the most generous Australians are those earning $6000 and less a year and those earning more than $1 million a year. (With the notable exception of the 40 per cent who don’t give.)
The lower income figure includes older retired Australians who are regular donors to a range of causes but are not earning a full-time salary. Many in this demographic have memories of family hardship from the Depression and World War II. They also have a strong sense of community and a desire to support each other. The QUT data shows, however, that the percentage of the income donated from those in that financial bracket declined from 1.81 per cent in 2015-16 to 1.09 per cent in 2016-17. At the other end of the income scale, millionaires donated 2.1 per cent of their income in 2016-17 compared to 1.22 per cent in the previous year. The situation appears to suggest tougher economic circumstances have increased the hardships at the lowest end of the income scale but had little impact on the 56 per cent of the nation’s millionaires who make tax deductible donations.
The overall national giving picture is mixed: the average tax-deductible gift amount was $769.99, up $138 on the previous financial year. But the percentage of those who were giving fell to the smallest proportion of the population in 15 years. Since 2010-11, the number of Australian taxpayers making a tax-deductible donation has fallen by more than 400,000. But the overall amount donated has reached $3.48 billion. The conclusion is that fewer Australians are giving but they are donating more than they used to.
This predicament is, in some ways, complicated by the proliferation of the varied ways of making donations – giving circles, collective giving, and workplace giving are more common now. Having more ways to give hasn’t necessarily translated in to more giving. According to Wendy, the growth in these giving models help mark a more collaborative donor culture. “The enjoyment of giving increases when it’s shared,’’ she explains. The emergence of PAFs, family foundations and collective giving reveals the diversity of giving models now available to Australian donors.
Marie says that it’s not accurate to portray younger Australians as less generous than their parents: many younger donors will not give to an organisation or formally through a tax deduction they will subsequently claim from the ATO. Instead, they will donate directly through online platforms such as GoFundMe. “So they are not necessarily giving in the same ways as their parents,’’ Marie says.
One of the keys to increasing the number of donors could be changing the attitude to giving, Wendy argues. “We should measure ourselves against our potential to give,’’ Wendy explains. “We should reframe the discussion about what we get when we give, rather than what we give up. Australians aren’t ungenerous, but ‘unawakened’.’’
Graphic courtesy of CAF World Giving Index 10th edition
New Zealanders more generous than Australians
A new report on charitable giving that surveys 10 years of generosity across 128 countries reveals a recent decline in giving among some wealthy nations.
The Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) report shows that Australia and New Zealand are in the top 10 most generous nations, but the top-ranked USA is one of many wealthy nations where individual giving has dropped lower than it was following the global financial crisis.
Less well-off nations Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Indonesia make the top 10, while Australia is fourth and New Zealand third.
The report, which surveyed more than 1.3 million people across the globe, found that Australia and New Zealand had the most consistent giving Index scores of any continent.
“Unlike in the USA and Canada where we have seen a general downward trajectory in scores over the last few years, these two countries in Oceania move up and down more although they are also remarkably consistent with top and bottom scores only 5 percentage points apart. This is the most consistent of any of the continents over the years,’’ the report stated.
The CAF survey asks three questions to help assess generosity and giving - helping a stranger, donating money and volunteering time. And New Zealand is the only country to appear in the top 10 for all three measures.
Lisa Grinham, CEO of Good2Give - CAF’s global alliance partner in Australia and New Zealand – wants to encourage more people to give, through workplace giving, fundraising at work, establishing charitable foundations or delivering structured grants programs.
“It’s heartening to see that Australians and New Zealanders have a focus on giving to communities in need, but I believe there is still opportunity to do more,’’ she said.