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What is Changing in Australia’s Philanthropy Sector?

Wednesday, June 28, 2017  

By Daniel McDiarmid, Principal Consultant at AskRIGHT
I started my fundraising career in Australia more than 30 years ago and I can say that 2017 is the most exciting year so far. Every week comes with revelations about great generosity, claimed breakthroughs in fundraising techniques, scandalous charity management, innovations in social enterprises or other news.
I will share with you some of the adventure on this side of the world:

The surprising findings from Giving Australia 2016

Giving Australia 2016 is the largest research effort into philanthropic behavior, designed to understand how, why and how much Australians give to charity. It revealed that more money is given away now than ever before, but:

  • A lower proportion of Australians gave money away in 2016 than in 2005
  • The rate at which Australians put a charity in their will is stuck at 7% of all wills -- this rate did not increase despite a decade of promotion by thousands of charities, including a co-ordinated approach that includes digital screen ads.

The panic about fundraising practice

The fundraising profession is in panic because for many years it has given the spotlight to international and homegrown speakers who have promoted on-street credit card sign-ups, data-sharing and over-use of direct mail and phone calls, and it now fears a backlash like that which has pulled up fundraising in the UK. Reviews of ethics, practice, and legislation are all in process.
A new (draft) code of conduct requires that fundraisers not exploit vulnerable people and requires every solicitation to include opt-out information.
Charities’ exemption from the do-not-call register is at risk.
The popular press is increasingly reporting on the high cost of fundraising. Alleged corruption in key veterans and surf life-saving organisations is adding fuel to this fire.

The Charity Regulator is put at risk

The Government has signaled that the contract of the head of the newish charity regulator will not be renewed at the end of September 2017. Many charities have petitioned for her continuation.

The tax system does not support giving for all sectors

We are a funny place in which giving for religion is not encouraged through the tax system, and support for schools is limited to buildings, libraries, scholarships and schools in a really poor area.

The growth of academic centres

These developments are not happening in an intellectual vacuum. In the last decade the number of academic centres studying philanthropy and the management of non-profit organisations has grown from one to six and some, like the Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies, do research as well as anywhere in the world.

The overall giving is up, with larger donations and successful campaigns

The story sounds gloomy but there are bright sides. Although the proportion of Australians who give decreased, overall giving is up. This I partly because people who structure their giving through private foundations and similar arrangements are giving more.
Australia has very large and successful university campaigns at the Universities of Sydney, Melbourne and Western Australia.
We have imported excellent fundraisers both the UK and the USA, and we have grown a few at home as well.
Andrew and Nicola Forrest just made the single biggest donation by a living Australia $400m to several causes - complete with announcement by the Prime Minister and actor Russell Crowe.

Australia performs well in philanthropy

On world rankings, our level of philanthropy sits between 3rd and 5th usually vying with Canada, Britain and New Zealand for the placings behind the USA.
We like to think that Australians are a generous lot. We don’t give away as much as we gamble, but we don’t talk about that.

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