News + Media

CEO Update - Philanthropy Meets Parliament Summit, advocacy and UK study tour

September 27th, 2017

Philanthropy Australia CEO, Sarah Davies, lends her thoughts on the key lessons and opportunities unearthed at the 2017 Philanthropy Meets Parliament Summit, the role of advocacy and the upcoming UK study tour.

At any Philanthropy Australia event, our intent is always to inspire and promote more and better philanthropy. This year’s Philanthropy Meets Parliament Summit was rich with insights and teachable moments – here is my collection of absolute highlights.

Day 1

The Minister for Social Services, Christian Porter, referenced data from the 2016 Giving Australia report and announced a new initiative exploring the role of behavioural economics in growing giving. It’s clear that social finance models and new ways of looking at use of capital is now mainstream in the repertoire of social policy.

The Understanding Our Tumultuous Times panel talked about trust and that language and images are being hijacked and re-purposed for partisan agendas; Helen Sullivan’s comment: “Aussies don’t trust anyone apart from each other” – really hit me, and turned out to be a sentiment which was echoed all day. The fragmentation of interests was a strong theme through the panel – John Daley’s assertion of the importance of reform being in the public interest, in the face of vested interests where “public interest has no friends, but vested interests have many”.

Andrew Leigh, Shadow Minister for Charities and Not-for-profits, also reflected on the same theme of the challenges of a disconnected society and he made a call to arms for a ‘civic renaissance’. He outlined current areas in the spotlight, including advocacy and fundraising. What I particularly noted is Labor’s interest in the impact of charitable donations and in trying to find a mechanism to assess and compare with a view to build trust and grow giving.

Our Parliamentary Perspectives – Beyond the Major Parties panel saw a shift in energy – to the power of the individual, the reality of life in parliament with Cathy McGowan MP, Senator Rachel Siewert and Rebekah Sharkie MP giving us the no-frills practicalities of building philanthropy/parliamentary relations at the grassroots. They all gave a call-out to philanthropy to build community capacity, to nurture and encourage the authentic community voice and to be clever in developing our strategies for change. My biggest take out was their affirmation that civil society leads the way and government follows (not the other way around).

We came back after lunch to special guest and keynote speaker, Daniel Lee, and explored the power of values to show us our path, our practice and our moments of truth. Daniel spelt out the simplicity of advocacy as the life blood of democracy; the definition of advocacy as promoting an idea or policy, sharing what we care about and bringing the voice of the community to the table. For me, the killer quote from his speech is: “justice is what love looks like when it shows up in public”.

The Clever Collaboration Panel showcased the characteristics of good practice philanthropy and government collaboration. Visionary, courageous, evidence-based and knowing when to take a leap of faith were the common characteristics of the four case studies presented. The case studies showed how to knit the characteristics of philanthropy with those of government to exploit their differences and mutual strengths to create new solutions. They gave us tangible examples of practical change but with a deliberate eye to and appetite for systemic change, so that each solution could become the “new normal” (Julius Colman, AM).

The final panel discussion (Social Innovation in Tumultous Times - How do Funders Respond to Growing Inequality?) illustrated how to combine philanthropic grant dollars, with philanthropic capital through mission-related investing and impact investing, and the power of using philanthropic networks and connections. The panellists had deliberately exploited philanthropy’s risk capital freedom; re-framed a deficit approach to an asset approach – asking what assets all players and stakeholders could bring to creating solutions and embracing technology to enable collaboration, connection, and measurement of progress. All of which led them back to the core question of how to change the system.

Day 2

Daniel Lee’s keynote was a delight of riches, starting with “advocacy is not a minefield of risk, but a garden of opportunity”. He showed us how philanthropy is the terrain of pioneers and innovators and gave us a powerful reminder that advocates are the first movers whenever bad things happen. But to be in this position, ready to move, advocates need to be prepared, resourced, informed, with the capacity, evidence, networks, trust and voice to mobilise and move. All this takes time and commitment and needs open and flexible support from funders.

My second key take out from Daniel was the reminder that there are life-cycles and patterns in social change: we need to be aware and alert to the signals and triggers, and be nimble, adaptive and patient.

And my final take-away was a repeat of his remarks on Day 1 – that advocacy is the lifeblood of democracy – it’s about empowering, activating and amplifying the voices of the marginalised to help them move front and centre. His killer quote from Day 2 was “power concedes nothing without a demand”.

Daniel also participated in a panel to explore the role of philanthropy in advocacy, from which my six highlights were:

  • Beware the tyranny of programs, the commodification of change – which have the consequence of limiting our vision and therefore the outcomes.
  • Without active, independent civic journalism, we can’t check power and democracy unravels.
  • NGOs need freedom to take relevant action at any time.
  • Cassandra Goldie reminded us that government representatives are elected – there are politicians looking for better results and they are looking for a mandate and support from the community.
  • Be tenacious, take the time needed, keep going – meet setbacks with “bigger, bolder, stronger”.
  • We need to build and use advocacy with all parts of society – not just government. With the power of government being disrupted, we need to work with all the other agents (e.g. business).

In checking the legal position, Anne Robinson told us in no uncertain terms that we could proceed with confidence in supporting advocacy. The ‘barriers’ we perceive are political, not legal: so match her checklist and then be bold:

  • Meet charitable purpose
  • Communicate to stakeholders
  • Be clear about goals
  • Evaluate progress
  • Ensure compliance with the law.

After lunch, we enjoyed the privilege of exploring the inside track on two current advocacy campaigns: Recognise and Marriage Equality. Tom Snow and Mark Yettica-Paulson are two courageous pioneers and leaders who are changing our country for the better. Their messages were the same: give, stand and respect. They emphasised the need for philanthropy to breed capability and highlighted the difference between an approach that says “I’ll advocate for you” versus “let’s step into this together”.

The Summit ended with four case studies of Australian philanthropy leading advocacy and system change from which I drew nine lessons:

  1. The importance of having a robust research base, know your stuff
  2. Build a coalition united by values and vision
  3. Harness the convening power of philanthropy
  4. Be unstinting in developing a rigorous strategy with built-in flexibility
  5. Commit untied philanthropic finding
  6. Be a masterful code-switcher
  7. Build, access and empower channels for the community’s voice
  8. Know how to tell your story, make it accessible
  9. Advocate beyond government.

Call to action

Over the two days of the Summit, philanthropy was called to:

  • Back good people and good organisations; fund what needs to be done. Find the greatest leaders in your portfolio and ask them, what else can we do?
  • Advocate for independent, civic journalism.
  • Fund the gathering and formulation of evidence; fund the collection of stories; fund the conversion of evidence into stories that speak to the public. Arguments matter.
  • Be tenacious, be patient, don’t give up.
  • Be brave. Be prepared to be uncomfortable. Be resilient. And it’s always easier to be brave when we can be brave together and not alone!
  • Don’t be scared to let your light shine – have the courage to be responsible for it
  • Seek real and robust feedback from grantees.
  • Fund the under-served, fund advocacy, fund capacity and general support.
  • Help government itself reflect and identify positive reform.
  • Look for technological and other disruption in systems, for better outcomes. Play to the risk freedom and appetite of philanthropy.

We know that advocacy will not be a strategy that all our members will want to adopt, and within the ‘advocacy’ tool kit itself, there is a range of different approaches. But, hopefully as we strive towards more and better philanthropy, more funders will think about funding advocacy and be open to conversations with grant partners as to how such approaches could lead to transformational change.

From a peak body perspective, Philanthropy Australia believes advocacy is an important approach that charities can use to address the causes, not just the symptoms, of social and environmental problems. Read more in our Tax Deductible Gift Recipient Reform Opportunities submission to Treasury.

To support members active in or thinking about becoming more active in advocacy, we are preparing a report on ‘The Power of Advocacy’. With the support and collaboration of The Reichstein Foundation and The Myer Foundation, the report will outline the various strategies available and provide case studies to enable and support practice. An overview was prepared for the Summit and we will distribute the full report when ready via Philanthropy Weekly. We hope the conversation continues and are planning smaller discussions and events into next year for members.

Thanks to our engaging, informed, wise and generous Summit speakers, moderators and panel members. Their expertise, honesty and sheer talent was outstanding. Sincere thanks to our partners for enabling the Summit, our Principal Partner, The Paul Ramsay Foundation, and our Presenting Partners: Social Ventures Australia, the Susan McKinnon Foundation, Warakirri Asset Management and Teach for Australia.

Up next

Continuing in the spirit of learning, I’m about to set off for the 2017 private giving study tour which will see a group of 19 funders and trustees head to the UK for a series of high-level meetings with philanthropic leaders in England and Scotland. Our focus for the week-long intensive program is private giving, impact investment and innovation. It promises to be an eye-opener and I look forward to sharing my insights with the rest of our members when I my return.

Speaking of study tours - expressions of interest are now open for an exciting study tour to Israel in March 2018. It will be a fantastic opportunity to explore the innovative ways Israel has adapted business strategies to achieve social impact and to engage with some of the world’s leading philanthropists. More information is available here. Places are limited so I encourage you to contact us if you'd like to join us for this learning experience.

Before I go, I want to remind you all to save the date for next year’s conference (4-6 September 2018) which promises to be bigger and better than ever. I’m thrilled that Larry Kramer, President of the Hewlett Foundation, one of the largest philanthropic institutions in the US, will be heading our way to share his knowledge and experience. Don’t miss it!


Get a taste of membership

Sign up for a free edition of our weekly newsletter to have sector news, views and resources delivered straight to your inbox.

Sign up now