Stories in philanthropy

“I want to de-stigmatise the word ‘philanthropy’ – it’s about so much more than just money”: Sophie Chamberlain

“I wish more people understood that it’s possible to make a big difference even by giving a small amount,” says Sophie Chamberlain from Impact100 WA and the Spinifex Trust. “People often think philanthropy is all about money, but for me, time and expertise are just as important.”

Nicole Richards, March 2019

Perth-based philanthropist Sophie Chamberlain is not just passionate about giving, she’s passionate about growing giving. 

Tracing her connection to structured giving back to the establishment of her family’s foundation, the Spinifex Trust, by her father, the passionate conservationist Martin Copley in 2002, Chamberlain’s altruism continues to play a significant role in her day to day life.   

“When Dad started Spinifex, which was originally a PPF, he thought it would be a great vehicle for getting us three kids involved,” Chamberlain explains.

“He’d established the Australian Wildlife Conservancy in 2001 and at the time, my girls were in primary school so most of my ‘giving’ was focused around giving time and expertise in the school community.”

Martin Copley passed away unexpectedly in 2014 and Chamberlain is frank about the impact it had on the family. “It was tragic,” she says. “But, his good work has continued all these years and his legacy is huge.”

“It’s always been important for us to contribute to something that’s a bit more than our little family,” Chamberlain continues.

“It’s a trait that we’re definitely trying to pass on to our children [Chamberlain’s daughters are now young adults], not that they’ve taken it on yet with uni and so many other things competing for their attention, but it will be very much in their psyche!” she says with a laugh.

Chamberlain still serves on the board of the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, which protects endangered wildlife on more than 4.6 million hectares of privately-owned land.

With her husband, Paul, Chamberlain has also supported the arts, and both are founding members of Impact100 WA which has donated more than $1.2 million to non-profits since 2012 and was the first collective giving group in Australia to adopt the highly successful Impact100 model.

“The biggest thing for me is making a difference for people, that’s really where I get engaged,” Chamberlain says.

“I really enjoy supporting smaller organisations because I can see the difference I’m making. That’s where the Impact100 model comes in so beautifully – you get introduced to these smaller organisations and we’ve gone on to support several of them through the Spinifex Trust too.”

Chamberlain says there are two fundamental principles that underpin the success of collective giving such as Impact100 WA which pools individual annual donations of $1000 to make large impact grants of $100,000.

“The first is that it helps smaller organisations get a leg up and do what they do better, or, be able to do more of it. There are so many amazing organisations that people don’t know about.

“The other thing for me is just making philanthropy accessible.

“When people hear the word philanthropy, lots of people say, ‘Oh, that’s Bill Gates’ or ‘That’s Andrew and Nicola Forrest’ and yes, there’s a place for giving on that scale, but I also want people to know that $1000 can make a huge difference.”

“I want to de-stigmatise philanthropy – it’s about so much more than just money.”

“People often think philanthropy is all about money, but for me, time and expertise are just as important,” Chamberlain says.

“I’ve seen so many people get involved with Impact100 WA and they go on a site visit or they take part in the assessment of applications and they go on this journey together and build a whole new sense of community. Isn’t that fantastic? There are such positive feelings and inclusiveness and enthusiasm because we can see that we are making such a difference.”

For Chamberlain, two standout projects from the Impact100 grant rounds have been the EON Foundation, which builds edible gardens in remote schools and communities, and Homeless Healthcare, which provides healthcare services to people experiencing homelessness.

The EON Foundation was awarded Impact100 WA’s major grant of $100,000 in 2015 which enabled it to extend its Thriving Communities project to a new community for two years.

“This was a massively remote community, six hours drive from the nearest town,” Chamberlain explains.

“We knew that the EON program is really effective so we were thrilled when the Australian Government announced it would invest $6 million into the program earlier this year so that EON can continue with its nine communities in WA and add nine new ones in the Northern Territory.

“It’s perfect,” Chamberlain says. “It’s exactly what we wanted to see happen.”

Similarly, Homeless Healthcare used its Impact100 WA grant to help put nurses on the street to help people experiencing homelessness.

“There’s so much stigmatism around homelessness,” Chamberlain says. “Often homeless people aren’t welcome in doctors’ surgeries and they might not be able to get to drop-in clinics so when they end up presenting at an ED, things have gotten much worse.

“These nurses meet them where they are and just talk to them. Sometimes they’re changing a wound dressing, other times they’re doing outreach.

“The WA Health Department is now recognising the contribution of the important work that they do.  This is another small non-profit that’s proved that its model works.”

“This is what it all comes down to for me,” Chamberlain says.

“I love Impact100 because with your $1000, you’re a philanthropist! You’re making game-changing differences and I wish that the word ‘philanthropy’ encompassed all that.

“I wish more people understood that it’s possible to make a big difference even by giving a small amount.”
 

Impact100 WA's 2019 grant round opens for applications March 21.

Want to learn more about Impact100? Take a look at the group nearest you:

Impact100 Melbourne

Impact100 Fremantle

Impact100 South Australia

Impact100 Sydney

Impact100 Sydney North

Impact100 Tasmania

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

Recruiting in the philanthropic sector?

List your job vacancy with us.

More information

Vision is for a more giving Australia…

Sarah Davies (CEO) launched Philanthropy Australia's Strategic Plan 2017 - 2020 at our 2016 Conference.

Watch