Stories in philanthropy

The power of a trusting partnership: Tim Fairfax Family Foundation & YWCA Australia

What makes a high-impact partnership? “Patience, flexibility and a belief in the organisation’s ability to do what they set out to do goes a long way,” says Tim Fairfax Family Foundation (TFFF) Executive Officer, Sam Jorgensen. TFFF’s multi-year support went beyond dollars to include advice, advocacy, “encouragement and moral support”, all of which helped YWCA’s Women of Worth program deliver extraordinary results and secure Australian Government funding.

Nicole Richards, May 2019
 

“There’s nothing quite like taking your boss to prison but our Trustees are up for anything,” says Sam Jorgensen, from the Brisbane-based Tim Fairfax Family Foundation. “This was very different to the initiatives we’d supported in the past.”

Jorgensen, along with foundation founders, Tim and Gina Fairfax, submitted themselves to the body scans and retina scans that are a condition of entry at Darwin Correctional Centre in order to see the impact of their support of the Women of Worth program first-hand.

YWCA Australia’s Women of Worth (WoW) program provides psycho-social education and personal development, parenting skills, life skills and social skills spanning assertive communication, money management, self-esteem, mental health, conflict resolution and more to women involved in the criminal justice system in Darwin. WoW works with women who are on community corrections orders or who are imprisoned, 6 months pre-release and 12 months post-release from Darwin Correctional Centre.

Using strength-based case management support and providing learning opportunities, Women of Worth aims to reduce reoffending while helping women involved with the justice system reengage with their community.

“The results have been really extraordinary,” Jorgensen says.

“The recidivism rate of women involved in the program is very low. Women have regained custody of their children, extricated themselves from difficult family and domestic violence situations and some have received the help they need to recover from drug and alcohol abuse. Some have gone on to get jobs and secure housing when they’ve never had safe housing before. The evaluation report showed that this program has really impacted the life trajectory of these women.”

The evaluation report was a powerful tool YWCA used to lobby government, with TFFF encouraging the non-profit to use whatever clout the funder’s name might contribute to the conversations.

“It wasn’t until the evaluation was finished that YWCA was really able to get government’s undivided attention,” Jorgensen says.

At the time of the evaluation, of the 75 women who’d been involved in the program only four had reoffended, equating to a 5 percent recidivism rate compared to the average rate of 60 percent.

The Women of Worth program now receives federal government funding with the Northern Territory Government also showing interest.
 

Unconventional beginnings

Rather than hearing about the program through a grant request form or the sector grapevine, Jorgensen says it was a letter from former NT Attorney General and Minster for Justice and Correctional Services, John Elferink, that landed on her desk in 2014 that set the partnership in motion.

“His letter endorsed the work of YWCA and outlined the willingness of the NT Department of Correctional Services to work with them to enable the delivery of programs inside the prison,” Jorgensen says.

“The Minister was clear in his belief that women in prisons need targeted programs to help reduce reoffending rates and that such programs must not be delivered by the prison or government, but a trusted body such as YWCA.”

“His letter opened the door for me to speak with him at length before an application had been made,” Jorgensen continues. “Our discussions broadened my and TFFF’s understanding of such work and government’s role which helped us understand and address some risks up front.”

“Funding a prison program could be seen as very risky, but this approach had come from a well-informed place. YWCA Australia were clearly a trusted organisation helping women with domestic and family violence services, youth diversion programs, accommodation, parenting support and many other programs and services.”

Before asking YWCA Australia to submit a fully formed proposal, TFFF suggested they do some research into the specific needs and what other services were offering.

“When we started discussing it we said, ‘Look, before we fund you, we’re going to give you a bit of money so you can scope this further’,” Jorgensen says.

“We gave them less than $2,000 to attend a conference, meet prison mentors, talk to people inside the prison and get some former prisoners involved, all of which was very helpful for the program design.”

TFFF followed this small support with $900,000 worth of funding over two years and later shared the cost of an external evaluation with YWCA. When government didn’t come to the table by the conclusion of TFFF’s support, the Foundation co-funded with the Northern Territory Government and YWCA Australia until Australian Government funding was confirmed.

Between 2014-2018 TFFF’s support amounted to $1,040,000 - around 80 per cent of the program’s budget.

“From the outset we knew this was a program that government should be funding and that if we were able to prove the effectiveness of it they should pick it up,” Jorgensen explains.

“Of course, there was a real risk, which we discussed with the trustees, in terms of what happens if government doesn’t take it on, but our trustees are very courageous in these decisions. They saw the potential outcomes as greater than the risk.”
 

Not just a number

A shared commitment to getting the Women of Worth program right, rather than just getting it done, proved invaluable.

Jess Watkinson, National Director of Development at YWCA, says the Tim Fairfax Family Foundation’s willingness to trust the non-profit’s experience and maintain a line of open communication made it a stand-out collaboration.

“The open communication and flexibility from TFFF was really critical,” Watkinson says.

“Women of Worth is about developing self-worth in the women clients, and as such we have to ensure we’re listening to feedback from the clients and that we’re responding to that. We needed to make sure these women weren’t just a number anymore.

“In the early days of the program you start out with an idea of what you think it’s going to look like but as things get underway you realise there are things you want to change.

“So, we’d pick up the phone and call Sam at TFFF and say, ‘Look this bit isn’t working, this is what we’re looking to change,’ and they were very open to that.”

“Women of Worth wouldn’t have worked if it wasn’t for the great relationship, we built with TFFF,” Watkinson continues.

“Sam cared about the program and the outcomes. There was mutual trust and respect there.”

For her part, Jorgensen says the frequent communication helped build trust quickly.

“They were very good at keeping in touch and they were very upfront and honest about how the program was progressing,” she says.

“When things weren’t working we listened to what their reasons were and we understood that the intended outcomes weren’t changing it was just part of the delivery.

“That’s one of the strengths of the philanthropic dollar, having that flexibility to be able to change things along the way. It’s risk capital, certainly, but there are different ways of looking at what risk capital is as well.”

“This program also demonstrates the power of having the philanthropic dollar in the mix with government funding,” Jorgensen continues.

“There are often key items that government won’t fund that will make a massive difference to the success of a program or the strength and longevity of the outcomes. Knowing that flexible, thoughtful funding from philanthropy can help leverage the best possible outcomes we anticipate providing further support to YWCA as they identify these needs.”
 

Advice for powerful partnerships:

“Patience, flexibility and a belief in the organisation’s ability to do what they set out to do goes a long way. When people are open and honest with you, back them.” Sam Jorgensen, Tim Fairfax Family Foundation

“The real power of philanthropy lies in its ability to be responsive to the needs of the time; it’s not bound by government promises or election cycles. Funders can consider the issues they’re passionate about and find a likeminded organisation that can deliver real change – just give us a chance to do that with you.” Jess Watkinson, YWCA

Learn more about Women of Worth and the work of YWCA Australia and the Tim Fairfax Family Foundation.


Nicole Richards is a freelance writer, story coach and former Chief Storyteller at Philanthropy Australia.

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