Increasing professionalism: the role of trustee companies in philanthropy

It has been expressed to me on more than one occasion that philanthropy is becoming too professional. I work in the sector, so I try not to take it personally but I think it is time to pick apart the debate a little. We’ve previously tackled on this blog the delicate balance that good philanthropic grantmaking must attempt to strike: a warm heart and a cold eye. There have been a number of good posts and speeches about the nature of philanthropy and the belief that altruism is unique and embedded within human nature. There are also the economists of this world and other theorists who believe altruism, like all other human behaviours, is incentivised and can be moulded into form.

It appears the nonprofit sector, with the exception of a couple of amateur sporting codes (Gaelic football comes to mind), is the final domain of debate around whether increased professionalism diminishes rather than increases the value of a sector. Does increased professionalism, and the development and employment costs it carries, remove much needed funding from the service coal face, or ultimately help to deliver more while building efficiencies?

With relation to professionalism within philanthropy I hear two main complaints:

  1. There are a lot of people making a lot of money out of spruiking the value of professional organised philanthropy and/or;
  2. Philanthropy has lost its benevolent heart and is no longer organic or enjoyable.  In short, it’s become work rather than play.

The question of philanthropy profiteering is more often than not pointed in one direction – trustee companies. With the enormous growth in private ancillary funds and the governance arrangements they carry there is suddenly money to be made in giving away money. Of the 5,000 or so estimated trusts and foundations in Australia more than half are thought to be held within trustee companies.  These pots of funding are held outside of the public view and are managed and coupled with investment and other financial services. To the cynical, trustee company philanthropy is perceived as tax-break grantmaking and the philanthropic services they offer is viewed as being muddled up with, and merely ancillary to, the bigger bucks of the financial services game.

Equally, those who lament the loss of the benevolent heart of philanthropy are genuinely fearful that philanthropy is the latest victim of fads and bureaucracies that add little value and ultimately deter people from giving. In the world of strategic grantmaking, venture philanthropy, philanhrocapitalism and engaged philanthropy, the concern is that the joy of giving has been lost and with it, potential philanthropists.

It would surprise some detractors perhaps to learn that despite concerns around profiteering and the loss of the joy of philanthropy, it appears that financial advisers and trustee companies might actually be playing an important role in both attracting people to and educating people about philanthropy.  A report from the Queensland University of Technology, Foundations for Giving: why and how Australians structure their philanthropy, documents responses from 40 people involved in structured, formalised philanthropy.  Virtually all respondents indicated that advisers and other intermediaries played some role in their philanthropy and the views expressed were generally positive.  In fact, the negative views expressed by respondents around advisers seems to suggest a greater level of expertise in philanthropy and skills in grantmaking would be preferable.

Philanthropy is and always will be a ‘people’s’ game.  Its about people being inspired by other people.  Its about people trusting and believing in other people.  Most of all it is about people wanting to create better lives and communities for others. It is hard to imagine that the heart of philanthropy will be lost simply through increased professionalism. In fact there is mounting evidence to suggest that the opposite may actually be true. Some of Australia’s trustee companies are driving not only increased professionalism within philanthropy, but also a greater diversity in practices and approaches to grantmaking. Some of our most vocal proponents for greater levels of giving among Australia’s wealthy, increased investment in organizational capacity support and improved engagement and evaluation of grantmaking approaches, are coming from within the trustee company sector. The gags many individual philanthropists are compelled to wear when talking about their philanthropy are less evident within adviser circles.

Good trustee companies will be passionate about their philanthropy and the approaches available to their clients.  Poor trustee companies will see philanthropic services as ancillary, and more than likely will charge a hefty price for the pleasure. As is the case with all services, donors should shop around, the cream of the crop will quickly become evident.

The professionalism that trustee companies bring to client services is beginning to have an impact on philanthropy as it is delivered in Australia.  It’s a diversity that the sector absolutely needs.  More choice for donors and potential philanthropists is important as is greater debate on grantmaking approaches and philosophies.

You can follow the musings of Caitriona Fay via @cat_fay on twitter and the eggs via @3eggphil


Gonski calls to philanthropy

In the 24 hours since its release the public response has been mostly positive to David Gonski’s comprehensive report on the funding of Australia’s schools. The independent and catholic school systems, state education proponents and unions are all urging the Gillard Government to act on the recommendations of the report. With 5 billion extra dollars being earmarked by Gonski to fund his reforms it’s not all together surprising.

One of the big surprises falling from the report was the focus on the need for greater partnerships between schools and philanthropy. The recommendations equally acknowledge the role philanthropy plays in our communities and the need to better equip schools to access that funding. We’ve raised some of the issues facing philanthropists wishing to support schools in a previous post and it was great to see some of the important voices on the issue, Ros Black, Michelle Anderson, Philanthropy Australia, Brian Caldwell, Myles McGregor-Lowndes et al, referenced in the Report.

So let’s take a quick look at the recommendations the Report makes on philanthropy and school partnerships.

1. A fund to encourage philanthropic giving to schools in low socioeconomic areas

The report outlines this fund as a DGR entity focused on assisting schools to develop philanthropic partnerships. As a staffed organisation, the fund would be responsible for facilitation of school-philanthropy partnerships while also building the capacity of individual schools to better partner with philanthropy. We have seen a number of organisations working actively in this space. For example, The Australian Council for Education Research (ACER) has established the Tender Bridge with the specific intent of assisting schools to develop the skills and knowledge required to better access and work with philanthropic and corporate partners. ACER and Tend Bridge have also been the key drivers behind the Leading Learning in Education and Philanthropy (LLEAP) initiative that is investigating the impact of philanthropy in education with the aim of building knowledge and improving outcomes for schools and their philanthropic partners.

2. Capacity building

Access is a critical issue for many schools when attempting to interact with philanthropy and other potential donors.

  • Access to philanthropy – understanding who is out there, how to approach donors and what a suitable partnership looks like
  • Access to individuals – building and growing alumni with a view to keeping former students connected to their school communities for longer
  • Access to DGR status– limitations around DGR funds, particularly for state schools means community partnerships must be developed with the non-profit sector
  • Access to knowledge – understanding different types of grantmaking and sponsorship partnership and what reciprocal obligations, if any, they create

Building the capacity of schools to improve their access to all of the above is imperative in allowing school-philanthropy-business partnerships continue to grow.

3. Increase taxation incentives for donations to government schools

Seen by some as a soulless altruism, tax incentives have been highlighted as a potential means to increase donations to government schools. Debate is still hot on whether these incentives actually work but as highlighted in the Report they could at the very least be an important conversation starter between some donors and schools.

There is a good deal to do before the vision and potential of  a more active philanthropy-schools collaboration is realised. Senator Jacinta Collins has been tasked by the Government with examining the Report’s philanthropy recommendations further and to continue a consultation process with the key stakeholders. The great thing however is that philanthropy has been slowly moving towards more sustained engagement with the school sector for some time. Organisations like the former Education Foundation and the Foundation for Young Australians have a wonderful history in this space. The development of the Business Working with Education Foundation is a further example of this movement as is the wonderfully engaged interaction of so many philanthropic funders with the Leading Learning in Education and Philanthropy (LLEAP) research project over the past 12 months. All of this serves as a reminder of the commitment many funders already have to finding better ways of working with schools. Let’s hope Senator Collins engages with them all.

You can follow the musings of Caitriona Fay on Twitter via @cat_fay or the blog via @3eggphil.


More than money

Each year since 2009 The Myer Foundation has offered a six month internship to a graduate of the  Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies (CPNS) at Queensland University of Technology. The internship provides an opportunity for the graduate to get their hands dirty at one of Australia’s largest family philanthropic foundations. While learning the ropes, the intern is also expected to undertake a piece of research that examines contemporary issues in philanthropy and the nonprofit sector.  The result is an experience that is valuable for the intern and the broader philanthropric and Not For Profit (NFP) sector alike (check out some posts from 2010 Myer Intern, David Hardie, on this blog).

The Myer Internship Program is a form of value-add philanthropy.  It’s no wonder then that the 2011 Myer Intern, Lesley Harris, decided to focus her research piece on what other value-add activities philanthropy in Australia was undertaking. Her report, An Exploration of Non-Grantmaking Activities in Philanthropy, explores the activities philanthropic organisations in Australia are currently undertaking beyond the provision of grants. There is a surprisingly diverse range of capacity building, policy and practical support currently being offered to NFPs by trusts and foundations.

While Lesley has been pulling together her report, counterparts in the UK have been doing the same. There, a group of funders commissioned some research around what the sector in the UK refers to as Philanthropy-Plus activities. The report, called Beyond Money: A study of funding plus in the UK, makes for fascinating reading. It captures the pros and cons of funders taking on a more engaged and hands-on approach with their grantees.

On the surface you might think funders bringing more than cash to the table is a good thing.  Great funders can help their grantees leverage extra dollars, negotiate policy outcomes and collaborate and connect like-minded organisations. This approach is best harnessed by those trusts and foundations who, rather than seeing themselves as being outside the NFP sector, consider themselves as a mission driven piece of its complex tapestry.

There are however important considerations for philanthropy to make before jumping into this ‘more than money’ approach. Equally, NFPs who are offered more than grants by funders need enter into the arrangement with their eyes wide open.

The UK study into philanthropy-plus activities lists capacity building as one of the primary activities undertaken by grantmakers beyond their financial contributions. I’ve previously posted about the challenge funders face when trying to support capacity building in a way that respects the power-dynamic that naturally exists between grantor and grantee. There can be just a subtle difference between a funder enabling and a funder encroaching on the work of their grantee. Being aware of the existence of that power-dynamic is important. Being respectful of it is essential.

It’s important that funders remember the diversity of grantee organisations they are working with. Not all will want, or have the time, energy or need, for the non-grantmaking support the funder can bring to the table. A standardised approach to non-grantmaking activities can be counter productive and result in poor outcomes.  The authors of the UK philanthropy-plus research encourage a bespoke approach that recognizes the different needs and resource requirements of each grantee .

The ultimate challenge for those funders wishing to add non-grantmaking activities to their service provision is the ability to recognise their own strengths and weaknesses.  Further, it is essential that the funder has a clear understanding of why they want to engage in non-grantmaking activities and what value it will bring.  If you are going to do it, then know why and, while you’re at it, measure whether or not you are having the intended impact.

This engaged approach can be resource intensive, it’s important therefore to be sure that you are adding value. When measuring, be realistic, the delicate power dynamic means sometimes your grantees won’t feel like they can say no to the extra support you are offering.  You’ll need to provide mechanisms for anonymous feedback and empower your grantees to be honest.  Better yet, resource the evaluation so a third party can ask the difficult questions.

Done well and with purpose, these non-grantmaking contributions can be incredibly valuable.  Done poorly, they can be harmful and deflating for all involved. The funders of the UK report into philanthropy-plus activities perhaps best sum it up in their foreword to the report:

Our work is our work. Their work is their work.
Our joint achievements are joint achievements. Our job
is to enable where we can and stand back, except where
we bring things to the table which only we can. Where
that is money, it should be given without expectation of glory.

Sara Llewellin, Barrow Cadbury Trust;  Sioned Churchill, Trust for London; Andrew Cooper, The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund

You can follow the musings of Caitriona Fay on Twitter via @cat_fay or the the Eggs @3eggphil


What’s innovation anyway?

I’m not embarrassed to say that much of my twenties was spent jumping from high-horse to high-horse. I had views on everything and felt that it was incumbent on me to share those views with any poor soul who would listen.  More often than not, like many twenty-somethings, what I lacked in eloquent reasoning I made up for in passionate rhetoric. Unfortunately, as well meaning as I was (and am) I was occasionally guilty of sweeping statements, the kind of which I had no real right to make.  I recall one occasion being in conversation with the eminent historian Professor Geoffrey Blainey, where I suggested to him my belief that the world had never faced an issue as critical or important as climate change.  He warmly, and without the slightest hint of denigration, suggested there were very few things the world had not faced before. It wasn’t that he disagreed with my views on the importance of action on climate change (I can’t actually speak to what his views are on that), it was simply my use of sweeping sentiments that he wanted to highlight.

There are a few years between me and my twenties now and my passionate youthfulness battles daily with my maturing sense of cynicism at the world around me. I’m still prone to jockeying my way on to the occasional high-horse or two but I have mastered the art of picking my battles much more carefully. All the while the words of Professor Blainey have manifested themselves into my thinking about philanthropy and specifically into the philanthropic obsession in Australia with ‘innovation’. Could it be the sector suffers from the same passion filled rhetoric that afflicted me in my twenties?

I was recently speaking with Stacey Thomas, from Myer Family Philanthropic Services.  She runs a weekly philanthropy popquiz that poses some of the questions facing philanthropy in Australia (you can follow Stacey and the quiz on twitter @thomstac). Stacey and I were having a chat over the meaning of ‘innovation’ and what it looks like in program or project form when philanthropy is asked to fund it.  Stacey kindly agreed to make the idea of innovation the focus of her popquiz in the week just gone and she increased her altruistic credentials further by sharing the results with me.

As I was reading over the comments left by the 29 respondents to the quiz there was one statement that caught my attention, I am always reminded that the innovation of contemporary dance is firmly rooted in classical ballet. For me this statement sums up some of my concerns with the philanthropic approach of supporting ‘innovative’ programs only. What actually constitutes innovation?  Is it something entirely new that’s never been seen before (which, as Professor Blainey alerted me to, is very hard to find)?  Or do we accept that innovation is more regularly built on the back of the work of many others. Is innovation a successful program that has worked in Fitzroy, rolled out in Sunshine?  In other words, how much innovation is enough?

My view?  Well it’s my position that innovation shouldn’t simply = new. If philanthropy wants to support innovation, then it should be the NFP sector and broader community that is dictating what that looks like.  If a community genuinely identifies that a well established program is the answer to its needs, then perhaps that should be innovation enough?

While I do believe philanthropy should be a little more flexible with what it defines as ‘innovative’, there will always be that passionate part of me that holds out hope for that one ‘thing’ that solves some of our most pressing problems.  It is important that philanthropy helps to keep the fires of creativity burning among our the leaders, thinkers and doers of our community. Just because the task appears impossible does not mean that it is.

The Innovation point is the pivotal moment when talented and motivated people see the opportunity to act on their ideas and dreams

- W. Arthur Porter

Everything that can be invented, has been invented

- Charles H. Duell, Director of US Patent Office 1899

You can follow the musing of Caitriona Fay on Twitter @cat_fay and the blog @3eggphil


It’s a question of validity

I’ve noticed lately a few really interesting and exciting surveys are circulating the philanthropic sector, trying to track how much and where Australian philanthropy is giving.  I’ve enjoyed seeing an increasing research presence in the sector.  It feels in many ways that it’s the next phase of sector growth and maturity, as we attempt to learn more about our giving practices as a nation.

Last week I attended the Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network (AEGN) 2011 Conference.  The AEGN is a great organisation supporting environmental philanthropy in Australia and the conference was a special day focusing on Indigenous environmental granting. Sitting at the conference among a committed band of environment funders I was reminded that it was not long ago that the AEGN launched the 2010 Green Philanthropy Report. The report, supported by a survey filled in by a a touch over 50 funders, demonstrated to the Board of the AEGN that they needed to up the ante in trying to attract philanthropists to environmental grantmaking. That is what capturing this basic information should do, it should inform our practices, our approaches and our priorities as a sector. We should be looking at areas to improve and grow but data is critical to understanding the current landscape.

It is this need for data that has got me thinking. What is the quality of the information philanthropy is currently capturing?  Sure, it’ easy to talk broad figures e.g Foundation X distributes $1million in grants annually. But what if  we wanted to scratch the surface of that giving a little more, is philanthropy in Australia currently equipped to provide accurate data genuinely reflective of its giving practices? I work for a Foundation that has spent the better part of the last 3 years trying to better ‘code’ or ‘categorize’ the grants we make.  I can tell you it’s not been an easy process, there have been a lot of staff hours poured over what information we should capture and still we are left with the reality that the coding process is ultimately subjective. One persons ‘Youth’ program is another persons ‘Education’.

Thankfully Philanthropy Australia (PA) has provided an outline for a grant classification system that encourages funders to capture data using a common sector language. PA’s website states that The intention (of the classification guide) is to standarise the terms used across the Australian philanthropic sector as far as practical, so that grantmaking can be documented and useful statistics on philanthropy collected in ways that contribute to shared understandings. I highly recommend this document as a starting point for those philanthropists or trusts and foundations looking to better capture their data.

While I know the process that my organisation has undertaken to record and capture basic data, I am less clear about the practices and consistencies across the rest of the sector.  And this is, in a lot of ways, the source of some of my discomfort. We as a sector need to be able to rely on the validity of the data that is being captured.  Equally, if we want researchers to continue to take an interest in where and who we are funding, then it’s important that they too feel that foundations aren’t working to a guesstimate. Again and again I feel it comes back to the issue of philanthropy needing to invest in itself to improve it’s value and credibility to the not-for-profit sector.

I’d love to hear your views on how the sector might better capture its basline data.  The work of organisations like the AEGN and Philanthropy Australia in undertaking membership surveys, is slowly helping to shape and influence practice. I just hope the we can provide them and our research partners with increasingly better quality data.

You can follow the musings of Caitriona Fay on Twitter via @cat_fay


Giving like Herb and Dorothy

They weren’t born rich. They didn’t get rich either. Quite the opposite in fact. But they are major American philanthropists. They’re Herbert and Dorothy Vogel.

I hadn’t heard of the Vogels until a couple of weeks ago when I was scanning the shelves of my local video shop for something to watch (why do we still call them video shops?!) and a title caught my eye: “Herb and Dorothy. The incredible true story of a postal worker and a librarian who built a world-class art collection”.

Using Herb’s salary alone (they lived on Dorothy’s) the Vogels managed to amass what is described in the film as “one of the most important contemporary art collections in history”.  They did this using just two selection criteria:

  1. they had to be able to afford the work, and
  2. it had to fit into their rent-controlled one bedroom apartment in Manhattan!

While the artists represented in the collection now reads as a who’s who of major Minimalist, Conceptual and post-1960s artists, the Vogels bought the works when no one else was interested, which meant they were able to buy them for virtually nothing. They bought passionately and compulsively for almost 30 years and by the early 90s their apartment was busting at the seams with works of art estimated to be worth millions of dollars.

In 1992, after being courted by some major art museums and made many lucrative offers for their collection, the Vogels gifted it to the National Gallery of Art in Washington. But what motivated them to do this? Why did they gift it? They may have been asset rich but in real terms they had no money!  They explain it as being because they’d both been government workers and they liked the idea of giving it to the American people.  Gorgeous!

Amazingly, they then went on to continue to collect art…..mainly using the small annuity the National Gallery had given them as a token of thanks for their gift (I love their story!!). Once again, the artworks outgrew the Vogels’ capacity to properly look after them and they decided to make another major gift to the American people. Unfortunately the National Gallery was unable to accept any more works, so instead they brokered an initiative which in the last couple of years has seen the distribution of 50 Vogel collection art works to 50 art museums around the US.  NY Times Vogel 50×50

Clearly it was all about the art and giving others the opportunity to gain as much from it as they had: learning from it and getting a huge amount of pleasure out of experiencing it. It’s such a human story and it’s so inspirational!

In the last week Australia has celebrated two major philanthropic gifts – one from John Kaldor and one from The Felton Bequest. The Kaldor Family Collection of 200 international contemporary art works was unveiled in its new home at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. The collection, which John Kaldor gifted to the Gallery in 2008, is valued at AU$35 million and is the single largest donation of art to an Australian public gallery. John says that his benefaction was driven by the fact that he sees art as an essential part of life and that he felt selfish having the art in his own home where only he and family were able to see it. As he has demonstrated via his commissioning of major public art works in Australia since the 1960s, he has a deep commitment to enabling public to learn from, have access to and enjoy art. It’s a hugely important gift.  ABC Kaldor Gift feature

The Felton Bequest was left to the National Gallery of Victoria by Alfred Felton on his death in 1904. He left £378,000 in trust (about $30 million in today’s money) for the NGV to use for the purchase of works and objects judged ”to have an educational value and to be calculated to raise and improve public taste”. Hmmmm. Since his death over 15,000 works of art valued at over $2 billion have been purchased, accounting for 80% of the NGV’s collection, and growing….the purchase and commissioning of a further 170+ art works was announced yesterday on the Gallery’s 150th birthday! It’s such a shame Felton didn’t give in his lifetime, so he could have seen the very value of his benefaction. In fact with such a categorical goal to improve public taste, I’m surprised he didn’t want to be around to know if he’d achieved it!  NGV at 150/Felton Bequest

It is these gifts and those of the Rockefellers, Guggenheims, Besens, D’Offays and Duffields to name but a few, that give so much to the public in terms of their capacity to create opportunities to learn and give enrichment and pleasure. Long may they continue! The Vogel’s story makes it feel possible that it could be any one of us that can give a gift which makes all the difference. I wonder if I have it in me to “do a Vogel“?!

If you want to see the trailer for Herb and Dorothy directed by Megumi Sasaki, click here: Herb and Doroth 2008 movie


Arts funding – Federal budget follow-up

Well despite all of the doom and gloom, the Federal budget wasn’t as dire as we were led to believe it would be. Included in the Government’s key pledges to the Arts were:

  • $10m in new funding to the Aus Co to distribute (over five years) to artists across all artforms
  • continuation of funding to support its Contemporary Music Touring Program to the tune of $400,000/yr (bad pun!!) and;
  • $56m in support of TV and film production.

In terms of the new $10m funding, this will be used to support artists to produce new works, undertake fellowships and give additional presentations of their work to audiences around Australia. Grants of up to $80,000 will be made available for new work and up to $50,000 to support presentations. For a government with stretched resources to find an additional ten million dollars to support this kind of work is testament to the community value of the Arts in this country.

The shift in funding focus away from arts organisations towards individual artists appears to be a response to Aus Co’s 2010 Artist careers research. The research identified that for artists to create inspiring new work they need time, space and financial support. It also responds positively to the  New Models New Money paper, launched in early 2010 by the Queensland Government and the Centre for Social Impact, which highlighted the value of the arts in Australia and the importance of the individual artist to the growth and health of the sector. For funders with an interest in supporting artists the New Models New Money full discussion paper is well worth a read.

This provides a good segue to an interesting recent development in philanthropic funding of the Arts in Australia…. the new Sidney Myer Fund Arts and Humanities funding model. Full details aren’t due to be announced until later in the year, but what the Fund has revealed is that from 1 July 2011 it will give about 15 artists from around the country $80,000 per year for two years, seemingly with very few ties and binds. For a funder that has for so long supported Arts orgs via commonly used grant-making protocols, this is a huge change in direction. It’s great to see a big philanthropic taking risks and changing direction. I’m sure many artists, arts organisations and grantmakers will be watching with great interest.

Going back to Government funding of the arts in general, though, this time looking to the longer term. I mentioned in my last blog ( Arts Funding: England vs Australia ) that in April this year Harold Mitchell was tasked with leading a major review of private sector support for the Arts in Australia. The review will report on current Government arrangements for encouraging private sector support for the arts, consider potential new models for encouraging private sector support and develop policy options in the context of the long awaited National Cultural Policy. It doesn’t sound too dissimilar to the type of stuff happening in the UK that I talked about last time, where government is trying to leverage greater private support to try to take financial pressure off itself.  There’s been a broadly positive reception of their actions, and no doubt the same will be true here too.  The review is scheduled to be reported on in late October 2011.

It looks like there are some interesting times ahead!

  


Time for Open Philanthropy in Australia?

I hinted in a recent blog that there was growing talk in the philanthropic sector about the need for increased transparency. At the recent Philanthropy Australia AGM, President Bruce Bonyhady AM, ended his yearly review asking philanthropy to look more closely at the role it plays in society.  Two things stood out to me in Bruce’s speech, first was his belief that philanthropy could play a greater role in the advocacy space and second was that the sector needed to find more ways to be transparent. Both issues, that of advocacy and transparency, are important areas for consideration in Australian philanthropy today. We’ll be tackling both in upcoming blogs and today I’ll kick us off we a few thoughts on transparency.

The timing is right for Philanthropy Australia to push the need for greater transparency among trusts and foundations and not simply because so many are working to solve the same problems.  With the announcement of the formation of the The Australian Charities and Not-for-Profit Commission (ACNC) it is likely that we will see increased government interest in way the philanthropic sector is distributing its funds. Already established are minimum distribution requirements for private ancillary funds and a move to see the same placed on all their public ancillary counterparts. But to be honest, if the extending reach of government is the only incentive driving philanthropic transparency in Australia then we as a sector should probably be a little concerned.

The concept of ‘Open Philanthropy’ in the United States has been driving forward some interesting thinking and incentivising transparency in unique ways. The wonderful Lucy Bernholz (you must follow her blog) shared her modest manifesto on open philanthropy early last year and it really struck a chord with me at the time. Transparency improves our ability to address problems through the sharing of data, successes and failures but like all things in philanthropy the ‘how’ can be the really important bit.

The ‘how’ of transparency is something that the Foundation Center in the US has been looking closely at via the Glasspockets Initiative. The principle behind Glasspockets is, in the words of Janet Camarena, the Foundation Center’s  project lead, “all about creating a culture of transparency within foundations”. But in this digital age transparent philanthropy is no longer simply about sharing how much we fund, it’s about how we communicate openly with each other and the broader public. Glasspockets is a true resource for the community and grantmkers alike, providing functions such as a Heat Map showing the frequency with which information is shared by foundations and a tool allowing foundations to submit and post grant data electronically in near real-time (called eGrant Reporting).  Both functionalities are potentially important tools for grantmakers and the broader community, actively informing and mapping where philanthropy is working, who its engaging with and how engaged that conversation is with people at the coalface.

When I see the potential of initiatives such as Glasspockets for grantmaking I get a little excited.  Imagine the possibilities.  Imagine the potential for real collaboration and informed giving! We need to move away from a belief that transparency in philanthropy is simply about better reporting to government and the public via tax returns and annual reports.  I get the feeling that if the incentives are right for increased transparency in Australian philanthropy then the results could be game changing. But an investment needs to be made by philanthropy into itself, and the capacity of the sector, in order to undertake these initiatives and really drive them forward. I hope that this active transparency model is something the ACNC and Philanthropy Australia encourage among funders.

You can follow Caitriona on Twitter via @cat_fay


Buzzword of 2011: Capacity Building

Ok, so it’s only May but I’m going to put my neck out early and call ‘capacity building’ the buzzword of 2011.  A big call, especially with so much talk of ‘transparency’ lately.  Call me cynical but I do worry that capacity building will be to 2011 what ‘collaboration’ was to 2008-2009.  We in the philanthropic sector can talk the good talk but turning the rhetoric into reality is actually bloody hard work. When I talk to my colleagues about ‘collaboration’ more often than not what we end up discussing is ‘co-funding’. And while there are excellent examples of genuine collaborations between trusts and foundations over the last few years, somewhere the definition of what collaboration is has been lost in the noise.

I don’t want to see capacity building lost from the philanthropic agenda.  It’s important for philanthropy in Australia to examine not just the ‘why’ of supporting non-profit capacity building but also the ‘how’.

But first the basics, what is capacity building? The Human Interaction Research Institute which operates the Philanthropic Capacity Building Resources (PCBR) Database describes capacity building as:

“the term used to describe funding, and services such as staff and board training, technology or other capital purchases, fund-raising strategy development, and other activities that help strengthen nonprofit organizations”.

In some circles you might hear ‘capacity building’ referred to as its evil alter-ego, ‘core-funding’.  In philanthropy speak, when someone says core-funding the response you’ll get from a foundation is likely to be ‘you should be funding this yourself’. So for some in philanthropy capacity building is simply a no go area and that’s ok. For those that are interested in the value of funding in the capacity space there are a number of challenges, the biggest of which is the question of how.

Building the capacity of grassroots environmental organisations was the focus of a number of sessions at the 2010 Environmental Grantmakers Association (EGA) Fall Retreat in the US last October.  At the retreat Amanda Martin, Executive Officer of the Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network, brought together a group of Australian funders to hear from Paul Beaudet of the Seattle based Wilburforce Foundation.  Paul explained that at the Wilburforce Foundation they recognised that in order to build the strength of the communities they were working in, they needed to build the strength of the orgnisations they were working with. Rather than develop a grants program to allow organisations to access capacity funds, the Wilburforce Foundation developed a network of service providers that their programmatic grantees could access for support in their own areas of identified need.  The Foundation’s grantees did not need to tell Wilburforce what providers they were accessing for support.  In fact, the Foundation created an entire new entity to ensure they were completely removed from the process.  This allowed their grantees the freedom to genuinely address their areas of capacity need without fearing what their grantmaking partner might think.

What I like about the Wilburforce Foundation approach is that they recognise the imbalance in the power dynamic between grantmaker and grantseeker. As a grantseeker would you feel confident in telling a funder that your organisation’s capacity needs were in financial management? What about seeking support for conflict mediation? Or support to develop your governance structure? As a grantseeker, these might be genuine capacity needs but it’s understandable that many might find it difficult to share these needs with a funding partner.  So with this in mind, can philanthropy ever be directly involved with capacity funding? The answer of course is yes, but the ‘how’ of funding capacity needs to be carefully considered before a foundation dives in.

Ultimately, investing in capacity building is investing in the strength of the non-profit sector and that benefits everyone. If the philanthropic sector in Australia wants to ensure that recent conversations around ‘capacity building’ don’t become empty rhetoric then we need to invest some time and thought (and maybe even some capacity funds of our own) into the ‘how’s’ and ‘why’s’ of funding in this space.

You can follow Caitriona’s other musings via twitter @cat_fay


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