I watched with interest a couple of weeks back as word hit that Graeme Wood and Jan Cameron had tipped in $10million to buy the Triabunna woodchip mill in Tasmania. While Wood and Cameron have already established outstanding philanthropic credentials, many environmentalists would argue that the acquisition of the mill, which they intend to transform into an eco-tourism site, is their greatest gift to the community to date.While some media used language to infer the purchase was philanthropic, others simply referenced Wood and Cameron as two wealthy, conservation-minded entrepreneurs. Environmental philanthropy has long been a game of semantics.
So was the purchase of the mill philanthropic? If we believe that philanthropy is the love of mankind, or the desire to improve the well-being of humankind, then strictly speaking I’d suggest that the purchase certainly came from that place for Wood and Cameron. Regardless of your beliefs or mine, both Wood and Cameron would believe deactivating a native woodchip mill is for the benefit of all people; a healthy environment is good for us all. On the flip side, those in the forestry industry have argued that the purchase will lead to jobs loses, will do little to protect the environment and will be an economic failure as an eco-resort. But consensus on the value of the gift has never been required to define philanthropic acts.
The purchase of the mill has got me thinking; is this a sign of philanthropy moving away from its passive roots? If the purchase of the mill isn’t philanthropy, what is it? Who is it that ultimately gets to define what constitutes philanthropy?
The growth of social enterprises, crowd funding, CSR and giving structures are mixing the world of philanthropy into the world around us. Apart from the Wood and Cameron example, I’ve heard recently of a number of unique approaches to funding and fundraising. For example Anh Do’s gift to the Australian Cancer Research Council of 1% of his book takings looks set to reap some nice financial rewards – a definite act of altruism and philanthropy. I’m also hearing more regularly about the establishment of investment circles, where a percentage of income earned goes to the circle’s charity of choice. And what about sponsoring a friend to grow a ‘mo’ in November, is that an act of personal philanthropy (by both the donor and mo grower)?
No doubt, when the figures are compiled at the end of the year many of these unique approaches and ways to give back to the community will not be recorded in our ‘giving’ data. So, how much should be considered philanthropy and how much should we disregard? Does it need to pass all the public benefit tests before we can celebrate it as philanthropic?
In environment funding, litigation, advocacy and campaigning have always been the bedrock of funding approaches in the United States. It’s been tougher here in Australia. The approach taken at Triabunna Mill by Wood and Cameron is regularly at play in the United States and much of the time it is underwritten by philanthropic trusts and foundations. Perhaps what the environment (and the rest of the NFP sector) needs is less philanthropists and more wealthy, conservation-minded entrepreneurs?
So what the heck does the budget really mean for the Not for Profit (NFP) sector? Well, in short it’s all about reform.
The big exciting news is that we’ll finally get a charities commission here in Australia. The Australian Charities and Not-for-Profit Commission (ACNC) will be launched on 1 July 2012 and will receive a $53.6 million injection from the Government over the next four years. Finally there will be a one-stop-shop for charities, responsible for determining the eligibility of organisations seeking charitable status as well as the implementation of the much sought after ‘report-once use-often’ reporting framework for NFPs. The arrival of the Commission will hopefully lead to the implementation of some of the recommendations of the 2010 Productivity Commission Report into the NFP sector. A Government Taskforce will be established in July 2011 to take responsibility for getting the ACNC ready to launch into operations by July 2012. While the makeup of the Taskforce is currently unclear, there will be a broader public consultation process with the NFP sector and relevant government agencies.
While the launch of the Commission is positive, there have been some mixed feelings around the announced budget crackdown on tax exemptions for businesses run by Not for Profit organisations. The media has focused on the implications of the closing of this loophole for organisations like Hillsong Church which operates the Gloria Jean’s Coffee Shop franchise or the Seventh Day Adventist Church which operates cereal company, Sanitarium. The basic gist of it is that any revenue generated by NFPs from commercial activities that are not directed back to their altruistic purpose will be subject to income tax. Seem’s fair enough? Well, maybe but here’s a great international comparison from Bronwen Dalton arguing that the only winners in this closing of the loophole are the lawyers and accountants.
The final big piece of news from the Budget for the Not for Profit sector is the government announcement that it will introduce a statutory definition of ‘charity’ by July 2013. Basically, someone has decided that a 400 year old definition of charity is simply not good enough. While the broad nature of the current definition has caused problems the review seems to be a reaction to Aid/Watch decision from the High Court late last year. The Government has committed to providing $2.9 million over four years to the ACNC (tough first up job) to assist with the reassessment of the charitable status of entities on the basis of the new statutory definition.
For more information check out the the media release from The Hon Bill Shorten