Stories in philanthropy

Community Foundations Forum 2017

The annual National Community Foundations Forum (NCFF17), held October 17-19 in Melbourne, took a deep dive into the SMIRF capital of community foundations. (And no, that does not include small blue creatures).

Ben Rodgers


NCFF17 explored the SMIRF capital of community foundations: the premise that meaningful change is achieved when community foundations leverage all forms of their capital:Social, Moral, Intellectual, Reputational as well as Financial; building networks and connections to foster a sense of belonging, reflecting and protecting community values, leveraging deep local knowledge, and using their positions as trusted local leaders to empower and support their community.

NCFF17, hosted by Australian Communities Foundation, Inner North Community Foundation and Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation, brought together 97 delegates who came to hear from 34 presenters across 15 sessions.

In planning the conference, there was a strong desire to make sure that the conference reflected place, demonstrating and celebrating the shared values of inclusion and diversity by showing, rather than telling, the impact of the groups community foundations support.

Bringing this to life in the opening session was young poet/spoken word artist, Piri Altraide, who performed an evocative piece about belonging, culture and soul. Kevin Nugara, aka Spitfire, gave a beatbox performance that demonstrated the inventiveness and artistic abilities of local youth and hip-hop duo Motley and Ninah Nicole asked the audience what they’d want young people to know about the conference and their part in creating the future. With contributions from the crowd, Motley led the creation of the following rap:    

Life’s not fair cos I’m never being heard

I’m not first, not second, don’t even rank third

They tell me there’s a place, tomorrow is ours

If you want to make a change then you have to shift the power

These performers along with eight other young artists (dancers, drummers and a string quartet) were all employed by Outer Urban Projects' social-enterprise, a not-for-profit performing arts company based in Melbourne. Outer Urban Projects is a partner of the Inner North Foundation.

The Welcome to Country from Aboriginal Elder, Uncle Colin Hunter Jnr, was an important reminder that the place we were meeting in was that of the Wurundjeri Clan of the Kulin Nation: 

"We need to remember where we came from, to guide where we are headed. Acknowledgement of Elders past, present and future is such a valuable cultural practice, showing respect for our Indigenous culture in Australia and valuing our heritage. It’s also a helpful reminder to value the pioneering work that has been done to grow community foundations which is what brings us to where we are today. So salute to people in the sector who cut the turf in the early days of community foundations and established the Australian Communities Philanthropy, especially Sue Charlton, Catherine Brown, Alice Macdougall and Andrew Lawson." 


Conference themes and highlights

Throughout the Forum, online real-time polling encouraged questions and feedback from the audience. enabled people to contribute to the conversation without having to rush to microphones, and for delegates to vote on which question was most relevant to them, targeting information and helping our panelists deep dive into issues. It also helped with the buzz, to get people talking with each other, to wrestle with the content and think into the practice of philanthropy that ensures that people have opportunity in their life.

The audience was asked: 'What three challenges face your community?' with responses highlighted in real time as a word cloud. From Cooryong to Sydney, there was a sense of challenge around housing and the impact that barriers to entry have on people, both young and old.

NCFF17 underscored the fact that community foundations are indivisible from their communities as Natalie Egleton (FRRR) said: "The conference reminded me how embedded our relationship are with our communities. One of the very special parts of our work is the trust and connection and depth of the relationships. Our work is effective because we have the relationships."

International keynote speaker Ian Bird (Community Foundations of Canada) repeatedly spoke about 'standing with people'. The symbolism and simplicity of the concept deeply resonated with our audience. 

The Belonging Begins with Place panel further explored what it means to belong while acknowledging that discrimination is part of the lived experience for many people. Belinda Duarte (Culture is Life) said it is vital “to break down barriers of racism, find the curiosity in others, practice it, and encourage others to do the same”. Race Discrimination Commissioner Dr Tim Soutphommasane said we need to "Get comfortable about being uncomfortable. As organisations, as people. Because we owe it to the people we work with."   

NCFF17 marked the 20th and 10th anniversaries of the Australian Communities Foundation and the Inner North Community Foundation respectively. The anniversary dinner was a wonderful celebration of these important milestones.


Challenges and opportunities

Community foundations are a vital part of the philanthropic landscape in Australia and are increasingly using their SMIRF capital and deep connection to place to respond to the complex challenges and opportunities communities face.

Genevieve Timmons gave her reflections on our sector as part of the Forum’s wrap-up:

1) We are still exploring and pioneering the role and purpose of community foundations, and while this is very exciting, it is also challenging and demanding. Hard work and heavy demands are to be expected, and while it’s a long road, it’s also a privilege. 

2) We have the opportunity to speak truth to power about our work, and are qualified to do so. Along the way, we might hit barriers and have to decide to speak up, saying ‘this needs to be different’. Because if we don’t, there is cost to our organisations and our community organisations. One example of this is to focus on efficient processes for granting and decision making, and ensure that donors aren’t draining resources from our communities in how they give their money.  We can educate donors to build cost efficient and effective funding partnerships instead of getting people to jump through hoops to attract their grants.   

3) We are generosity magnets, not supplicants, and offer a platform for generosity to flourish. The more we can facilitate people’s giving, and provide simple, meaningful ways for people to give to their communities, the more money and resources will come in. We can lay the table for some incredible opportunities for people to be generous. It is a mistake to think we are simply fundraisers for our foundations which can be daunting and exhausting. 

4) We need to keep building common and shared language, to strengthen our collective progress and highlight our common goals and values. This means listening deeply to each other and recognising how our communications highlight strenghts and community opportunity, rather than diminishing our communities and engaging in competitions of sorrow to promote how broken down we are. Talking about needs diminishes the people we work with, but emphasising strengths and opportunities is about unleashing potential and removing barriers. Common language also allows us to share data and map the strength of our collective activity.


Giving circles

The inaugural ‘Gathering of Giving Circles’ took place as a side event of the Forum. The event marked the first time leaders in collective giving from across the country have come together to discuss a way forward for the new and rapidly growing movement.

Founders and practitioners Georgia Mathews (The Channel), Sophie Chamberlain (Impact100 WA), Tina Jackson (Impact100 Sydney North) and Gillian Hund (Melbourne Women’s Fund) shared their experiences getting their respective collective giving initiatives off the ground.

Leaders of host organisations (Maree Sidey of Australian Communities Foundation, Catherine Brown of Lord Mayors Charitable Foundation and Gail Rodgers of Geelong Community Foundation) spoke about adapting to accommodate demand from collective giving groups, and James Boyd (Impact100 WA) shared the findings of the recent ‘Collective giving and its role in philanthropy’ report commissioned by the Prime Minister’s Community Business Partnership and prepared by Creative Partnerships Australia.

The aim? Review the recommendations coming out of the report and agree on immediate priorities for formalising and growing the capacity of collective giving in Australia. The concluding discussion, facilitated by Rikki Andrews (Impact100 Melbourne) and Patricia Burke (Melbourne Women’s Fund) was fruitful. All present were keen to share challenges and opportunities. Attendees walked away having agreed upon the next steps that will be taken to foster greater collective giving in Australia. Watch this space!


For more information about community foundations in Australia and the National Community Foundations Forum, head to the Australian Community Philanthropy website.  


Ben Rodgers is Executive Officer at Inner North Community Foundation 

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