Stories in philanthropy

Receiving an Australian Philanthropy Award was “like being given a Moody’s AAA rating”

Nominations for the 2019 Australian Philanthropy Awards are open, with this year’s selection panel chaired by Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation (VFFF) CEO, Jenny Wheatley. Jenny experienced the impact of the Awards firsthand when VFFF was awarded Best Large Grant in 2016 for its support of CareerTrackers, which has since gone from strength to strength.

Nicole Richards, May 2019 


“We don’t have a lot of ways to call out good philanthropic practice, in terms of the doing or the granting,” says Jenny Wheatley, Chair of the 2019 Australian Philanthropy Awards selection panel.

“These Awards are an opportunity for organisations to be recognised for the good work they’re doing and people shouldn’t be shy about nominating.”

Wheatley speaks from experience. As CEO of the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation (VFFF), she has witnessed the ripple effect of the Awards firsthand when VFFF was awarded Best Large Grant in 2016 for its support of the non-profit Indigenous internship program, CareerTrackers.

“For us, it wasn’t about getting publicity for ourselves but showcasing a really excellent organisation we’d supported,” Wheatley explains.

CareerTrackers founder and CEO, Michael Combs, says receiving the Award was “like being given a Moody’s AAA rating.”

“Having won the Award, we were able to strengthen our applications to global funders who don't know much about the Australian market. When you can cite this award, it gives your organisation credibility and helps de-risk the investment from funders.

“The Awards also receive a lot of peer recognition,” Combs continues.

“After winning the award, we had a number of organisations contact us to learn more about how we engaged with VFFF and philanthropy more broadly.” 

Wheatley agrees that there are clear benefits for both grantmaker and grantee.

“The Award gave people a reference point for best-practice work,” she says.

“For those in the non-profit sector it meant they could talk to CareerTrackers about their model and, to a lesser extent, we had non-profits and philanthropic organisations talking to us about our grantmaking and our work too.”

Breadth and depth

The Australian Philanthropy Awards, now in their fifth year, recognise and celebrate extraordinary achievements and partnerships between philanthropy and for-purpose organisations and those working to create lasting, positive change.

Nomination forms are available online, with nominations open to both members of the philanthropic community and the general public - please note that you don’t have to be a Philanthropy Australia member to nominate. (Full eligibility details and FAQs available here).

In 2019, seven categories will be awarded at the presentation ceremony at the Art Gallery of NSW on July 22:

  • Leading Philanthropist – Australian philanthropy’s highest honour awarded to an individual
  • Best Large Grant Award – for grants over AUD 50,000
  • Best Small Grant Award – for grants up to AUD 50,000
  • Environmental Philanthropy Award
  • Gender-wise Philanthropy Award
  • Indigenous Philanthropy Award
  • International Philanthropy Award

As Chair of the 2019 selection panel, Wheatley says she hopes to see a broad range of nominations.

“I’m a big fan of collaboration,” she says. “I’d love to see lots of grants that highlight effective collaboration.”

“Sometimes there’s a tendency when people talk about strategic philanthropy that they focus on shiny new practices, but I think there’s also a place for traditional charitable donations.

“At VFFF we’ve seen this through our work with The Walter and Eliza Hall Trust which is not the medical research institute in Melbourne, but a small charitable trust operating out of Sydney. We give them a grant and they help people who need their electricity bill paid or a new refrigerator – it’s charity in the very traditional definition.

“I believe there’s a place for both types of philanthropy and that every charitable donation is important,” Wheatley says.

Wheatley is also heartened by the growing awareness among philanthropic funders of the need for operational support.

“For me, we have to respond to the needs of grantees,” she says.

“We need to recognise that organisations that don’t have funding for core business operations or their internal capacity aren’t able to deliver their services as well as organisations that do. A good example is professional development in non-profit organisations.

“It troubles me when I hear comments like ‘we’re trying to run on the smell of an oily rag’ because I don’t think it gets the best outcomes for the people the non-profits are ultimately providing the service to.

“A well-trained non-profit team that can employ enough people to make sure the CEO is spending their time doing the strategic things and not doing the books seems like a fundamental pillar of good organisations. I hope we see more core operational support and funding in the future so that non-profits are able to ask for that help without feeling like they’re on the back foot already.”

Nominations for the 2019 Australian Philanthropy Awards close 5.00pm (AEST) Friday 17 May.

For more information, visit the Awards website or email

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

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