Brisbane-based English Family Foundation is best known for its evangelical support of social enterprise but, as a family foundation, it also holds space to accommodate individual preferences of family members. An annual family grant allocation has seen the Foundation step into the realm of advocacy with big results.
Nicole Richards, March 2019
Accommodating divergent priorities and conflicting opinions is a juggling act for most families. The differences can become a lot more pronounced when there’s a family foundation involved.
“We have our moments, but we’re not shouters,” says English Family Foundation trustee, Rachel English.
“A few years ago, we decided we all get one vote. Everyone gets a say, and everyone has a voice.”
Twenty percent of the English Family Foundation’s annual granting is set aside for family allocation, with proposals brought to the table by each of the family members.
“The family allocation means that Mum, Dad, my two siblings and I all get one-fifth of the 20 percent to support causes we’re really passionate about,” Rachel explains. “These causes don’t have to fall within the wider strategy of the Foundation.”
Rachel, the daughter of the inaugural Philanthropy Leader of the Year, Allan English, has contemplated the issue of family philanthropy and the proclivities of next-gen givers not only through her personal lived experience, but also in her work as a senior consultant at Mutual Trust and Chair of Nexus Australia.
“I read an article recently in the Harvard Business Review that said next-gens don’t like to campaign or protest because we’re so into the idea of ethical business and impact investing and making the system work with us,” Rachel says.
“I’m not so sure about that. Look at the work of Australian Progress or think about the fact that it’s students in the US who are leading the push for gun safety. These are people who can’t even vote yet. I think advocacy will grow not just with next-gen donors but with the next generation in general.”
“As we start looking at the role of power in philanthropy and the need to be cognisant of philanthropy’s role in society I think advocacy will become even more necessary as we listen to the people on the ground.”
Rachel, who lives and works in Melbourne, was the architect of one of the English Family Foundation’s recent forays into advocacy. (The Foundation was also a supporter of the Marriage Equality campaign, similarly designated through a family member allocation).
The grant, which was just under $40,000, went to the Human Rights Law Centre and its collaboration with Fair Agenda, an independent community campaigning organisation that promotes fairness and equality for women.
“I knew of Fair Agenda through NEXUS,” Rachel explains. “When they reached out to me about the work they were doing with the Human Rights Law Centre to decriminalise abortion in Queensland, it really hit home for me.”
“I grew up in Queensland, my family is still there, the Foundation is based there, and this was an opportunity to support women having rights over their own bodies and bringing Queensland into the twenty-first century. It was the right thing to do.”
The grant was still subject to an application and rigorous due diligence process before being approved. As requested by the Human Rights Law Centre, the funds were used to support campaign infrastructure costs.
The Foundation’s ability to respond quickly was key says Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) Senior Lawyer, Adrianne Walters.
“Achieving paradigm shifting law reform, like the repeal of century old criminal abortion laws in Queensland, means seizing the moment with everything you have when it arises,” Walters explains.
“When the Queensland Government announced that it would finally introduce a bill to decriminalise abortion, we knew we needed to act and act quickly, and the English Family Foundation’s willingness to jump on board and support the Human Rights Law Centre and Fair Agenda was absolutely critical.”
When the Queensland Parliament voted to overturn the nineteenth century laws in October 2018, Rachel was deeply moved.
“I cried,” she remembers. “It’s interesting, because I thought about my reaction to this outcome and the same sex marriage campaign and maybe it’s the fact that there’s a definitive outcome with advocacy that makes it so powerful.
“With many grants it’s difficult to know immediately if you’ve succeeded or not whereas with advocacy and these campaigns about basic human rights, they’re pretty definitive, it’s powerful.”
HRLC’s Adrianne Walters is hopeful that Australian philanthropy’s support of advocacy will continue to grow.
“Systemic injustices require systemic change and advocacy is an indispensable tool in the battle to overcome Australia’s gravest injustices,” Walters says.
While the English Family Foundation has no plans to change its social enterprise focus, it will stay receptive to advocacy opportunities which address systemic social injustices.
“We had a strategy day for the Foundation last year and we asked the question, ‘Is advocacy something want to build into the core of the Foundation?’ Ultimately, we decided to keep our focus as it was but be open to opportunities that come about.
“That’s the joy of being a family foundation, that rules are there to be broken, and the allocation we put in certain boxes can be amended without becoming core business.”
Advice for funders considering advocacy:
“I think there’s generally a bit of caution around this sort of funding for PAFs, but if you find a cause you care about and you connect with the heart of it, just do it. Philanthropy Australia’s got guidelines on how to do advocacy and there are people who can help you do it well.” – Rachel English
Download Philanthropy Australia’s 16-page report The Power of Advocacy.
Nicole Richards is a freelance writer, story coach and former Chief Storyteller at Philanthropy Australia.
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Dusseldorp Forum, Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation (VFFF) and Maranguka Backbone Community Organisation, Bourke (Auspiced by Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT) for Maranguka’s Justice Reinvestment Strategy