Evolution of a different kind of philanthropy

In the first year of the pandemic, Neal Harvey packed up his Melbourne house, and moved back home, to Brisbane. He instantly knew he needed to change his wardrobe, but there was something else that he understood was going to be different between his new role as the CEO of the Tim Fairfax Family Foundation and his former role as the Program Manager at The Myer Foundation and Sidney Myer Fund and it had nothing to do with the climate. It was about the difference in philanthropy, between Queensland and Victoria, and the mosaic of giving that now distinguishes Australia.


“Every jurisdiction in Australia is evolving their own philanthropic identity,’’ Neal says. “The sector looks a particular way in Melbourne – there are some long-standing familial institutions that have been enormous contributors to the community there through trusts and foundations. In Queensland, there’s a real entrepreneurial spirit that has always existed – it isn’t unique to Queensland, but it doesn’t have the same familial intergenerational legacy that other states have.’’

 As an example, he cites Scott Hutchinson, Chairman of Hutchinson Builders in Brisbane, who turned his passion for live music in to creating a new venue to address the shortage of music venues across the city. “The government has got no money so someone had to step in to do it,’’ Mr Hutchinson was quoted as saying about the investment in 2019.

It’s that kind of initiative that tells Neal there’s something different going on in his hometown. “Scott didn’t do that through a trust, a foundation or a PAF but through an entrepreneurial drive: he procured the land, built it and now runs it and essentially it’s a gift to Brisbane,’’ Neal says. “That’s really fascinating to me, to see what is essentially a civic duty manifest in a city like this, as compared to other jurisdictions.’’

There are other distinctive elements too, which Neal saw anew on his return. “Queensland’s culture of volunteerism is remarkable. You only have to go to the Gold Coast any weekend and see thousands and thousands of life savers keeping the beaches safe to see that it’s embedded in the coastal identity,’’ he says. “And that needs to be celebrated just as readily as other types of giving.’’

But this picture of a distinctive kind of Queensland philanthropy comes with significant caveats: it’s not accurate to assume what happens in one corner of the state is also occurring elsewhere.

“Queensland is an enormous state and it’s not possible to speak about it in a homogenous way. It’s progress and development are lumpy, even in the south-east corner,’’ Neal explains. “And there are equality issues. Philanthropy is early on here. The sector is in its evolution. Tim and Gina Fairfax are long-standing members in that community but there are many people in Queensland who have done really well with business, commercial and personal success and I think there’s a growing interest in what the next stage of their life entails, and I’m hoping that philanthropy will be something they’re interested in, and we could see more and better philanthropy up here in Queensland,’’ he says.

Neal’s return journey to Brisbane has been via a range of high-profile arts’ jobs, including stints as Creative Producer at Melbourne’s much-loved Fringe Festival, and a range of roles with festivals and theatre companies in Queensland, NSW, and South Australia.

But after working closely with a range of incredible artists over many years, Neal realised he wanted to support the for-purpose sector more broadly and went seeking other ways he could apply his skills. He saw something else that was going on in Melbourne and reasoned – correctly, as it turned out – that he had a skill set that could be useful in philanthropy.

“I saw the great work that was being done in those trusts and foundations in Victoria and their ability to make the world a better place on a bigger scale to what I was working at the time,’’ he says. There was an opportunity to work for the Myer family, at the Sidney Myer Fund and he “pursued it as aggressively as I could.’’ In 2013, Neal became the program manager with the Sidney Myer Fund and The Myer Foundation, leveraging his extensive arts experience into the role. Almost a decade later, Neal still feels privileged to have had the role. It exposed to him to foundations, trusts, and families, and also, as it turned out, the Fairfaxes. One step led to another, and finally, back to Brisbane.

Now, after more than a year in the role – and a new Strategic Plan – under his belt, he’s embarking on the next stage. Central to that are the Fairfaxes themselves, who have developed an extensive network across Queensland and the Northern Territory during the past 20 years.

“We’re fortunate to draw on Tim and Gina’s many and varied relationships around the state,’’ Neal says. “And it’s certainly not our task to know the answer – it’s our task to know who to speak to on the ground and understand what that community needs, who its leaders are and listen and learn from them - to help them realise their ambitions for their community.’’

There are already innovations that Neal believes could hold a key to growing philanthropy. Most recently, TFFF announced an agreement with Creative Partnerships Australia for a pilot initiative that uses the Australian Cultural Fund as a vehicle to engage Private Ancillary Funds (PAFs) in a multi-year funding approach.

“For many PAFs, the provision of multi-year funding can be difficult – you need to keep records, you need a process for tracking progress against agreed outcomes, you need to forecast budgets for future years, what you’re pre-committed to and what that leaves you – that’s fine if you’ve got a team,’’ Neal says. Not everyone though has such a team and so providing multi-year funding becomes a difficult ask.

“This partnership with CPA sees them create a service offering that says to the PAF sector “We will be your multi-funding engine’. You want to make a multi-year grant, pay us the money and we will be the custodian for years two and three and we will pay that out for you and provide the back-end record keeping, tracking against progress, and agreed outcomes,’’ Neal says.

The upside for the sector is that it incentivises more multi-year funding being directed to organisations who desperately need it. For PAFs, there is an opportunity to make a multi-year grant without drawing down or making a commitment to a future year’s budget. “They reserve all the capacity of the year after, the year after that, to do something different, for something new, something even more impactful, but this year, they’ve made a grant that will be broken up in to three and pays out over multi years,’’ Neal says.

For Neal, these kinds of partnerships offer a non-legislative solution to potentially growing giving in Australia. There is also an understanding that this reflects an approach built on identifying the range of mechanisms within the philanthropic ecosystem that can be brought together to generate more telling outcomes.

As Neal explains it, through the prism of the new partnership: “CPA managing the Australian Cultural Fund and developing a service offering for PAFs is putting together the pieces of this puzzle that already exist – we’ve just realigned a couple to generate greater efficiency in the system.’’

One of the integral elements of roles such as Neal’s, embedded in one of the nation’s long-standing and leading PAFs, is to explore the fundamental questions about what future philanthropy looks like.

Neal has, after many years, arrived at the view that the solution to growing philanthropy in Australia is to take “...a portfolio approach’’. For some givers, it will be the PAF mechanism. For some, it will be trusts and for others, the individual model of giving. “Some of the state-based institutions up here – GOMA (Queensland Gallery of Modern Art) and the Brisbane festival – have strong giving circles that are made up of individuals and patrons, rather than trusts and foundations necessarily,’’ Neal says. “So, it’s a blended approach I’d suggest we need to take.’’

Neal observes that change for the better doesn’t have to be driven by seismic thinking or radical approaches. “I think best practice doesn’t have to be revolutionary – it can in fact be existing practice,’’ Neal says. “It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t tinker, and there shouldn’t be all manner of initiatives explored if they affirm the original hypothesis, that’s a great thing. Newness need not be the enemy of best practice. We should keep striving for new solutions to old problems but preserve what works.’’

For the moment though, Neal is keen to reflect on the opportunities that come with his role.

“There are too few jobs like this in Australia,’’ he says. “I feel incredibly privileged to hold one for the moment, to be a custodian, a steward of it for a short while and I want to live up to that privilege.’’

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