When Amanda Miller talks about philanthropy she uses a recurring phrase – ‘lighting the spark’. It’s a neat way of describing the moment when inspiration meets opportunity and signals the start of an individual’s philanthropic journey.
For Amanda, the new Co-chair of Philanthropy Australia (PA), that journey started when she was young. It has traversed the giving circle, not-for-profits, foundations and now impact investing. It amounts to a rare suite of philanthropic experiences that informs her views about the giving landscape. “I’ve learned that philanthropy is very personal for people and there are some people who just get it. You have a conversation with them, and you can light that spark and they are happy to go on that journey,” she says.
Amanda was 10 when her family moved to Australia from South Africa. Like many, she was inspired by Nelson Mandela, but also, family values of kindness and thinking of others underpinned her embrace of school leadership and volunteering roles. “Whenever there was an opportunity at school, I put my hand up. I loved all of that. It made me happy, made me feel fulfilled,” Amanda recalls. Even when she became a corporate lawyer in Melbourne, Amanda considered working in areas where she felt she could make a positive difference. After she had her three children, Amanda decided to leave the law behind. “I’m still on that journey, taking learnings from each of those experiences that hopefully leads to better practice because you are empathetic to different players and different perspectives,” she explains.
Amanda chairs Kids in Philanthropy, which is a not-for-profit that provides volunteering experiences for children and their families. The program has been so popular that Kids in Philanthropy cannot keep up with the demand. Two years ago, Amanda joined the PA board and sees the organisation’s role as a mix of education, inspiration and convening people around relevant issues. The other vital element for PA is advocacy. “There’s a very strong focus on advocacy and standing up and representing the philanthropic sector when some of the big issues are coming up,” Amanda says. “I think PA has stepped up to that.” But there is still room for the organisation to grow.
“For people involved in the practice of philanthropy on a day-to-day basis, I think it’s a much more obvious step to be part of PA. I think it’s about how we reach others who are doing it day-to-day but haven’t yet identified there’s a lot to learn from being part of the organisation… I think it’s just making people aware of PA and bringing them in to the tent,” Amanda says.
Her own philanthropic focus is accessing resources that can help make a difference. Amanda and husband Quentin – an investment banker – set up Impact Generation Partners in 2015. She calls the crossover between Quentin and her experience as ‘the meeting of profit and purpose.’ “Philanthropy is the most precious kind of capital because we can just give it away,” Amanda says. “That’s why I got involved in impact investing, so I could help move some of these huge pools of capital that were not being given away through philanthropy, so that we really activate that for change as well.” Her involvement in impact investing led to Amanda being appointed to a Federal government taskforce exploring ways to develop the practice in Australia. She promises the taskforce will consult and collaborate widely, but perhaps most importantly deliver practical and relevant recommendations.
Amanda still finds philanthropy fulfilling and the more she understands about it, the more fulfilling it becomes.
“I think the most fulfilling part is being directly involved and bringing others into the space – finding out if they have that spark within them that they could go on their own journey,” Amanda says. “And to me, it’s how do I light that spark and bring them on that journey, to find that community and connecting them to the right person. To me, that’s a huge part of the fulfilment. I don’t need to be on that journey with them, but I can help them start on that journey.”
She has great ambition for growing every kind of giving, from volunteering to donating. “Once people get a taste of it and realise they can make a difference – whether it’s someone in professional services who realises they can help a not-for-profit who is struggling to put a website together or needs somewhere to host a function for donors – they will start to do more,” Amanda says. “We need people to give more and more people to give. The problems are so huge, I don’t think we’ll ever get to a point where we won’t need more giving and investment to solve them.”