In the second article of our series, Dr Christopher Baker and Associate Professor Wendy Scaife reveal what can be learned about the generosity of wealthy members of society.


giving australia 2016 philanthropyThe generosity of affluent Australians is clear in our communities and beyond. Billions of donated dollars, land tracts, art collections, shares and other gifts have enabled outcomes small, large and, all together, substantial.

The individuals behind these outcomes often give quietly but in another sense, they stand out. Why? The Australian Taxation Office’s annual tax deductible donations data perennially points to four out of 10 high net worth taxpayers who lodge a return not claiming for any donations.

Arguably, if nonprofits knew more about what drives and engages – or disengages – Australians with significant giving capacity, even more outcomes could flow. Similarly, more insights into the often very private thinking of institutional philanthropy – our philanthropic foundations – would be useful to nonprofits seeking to partner with them.

Enter Giving Australia 2016. This recent study considers four distinct giving viewpoints: philanthropy and philanthropists, individual giving and volunteering, business giving and volunteering, and the nonprofit perspective.

This article is the second in the F&P series. As a sample from the full report Philanthropy and Philanthropists, it highlights a few of the most pertinent messages for organisations’ thought and action. These findings come from: a review of previous research; 11 focus groups and 29 interviews with people and organisations active in philanthropic grant-making; an online survey of 105 philanthropists and foundations; and relevant information from a telephone survey of Australian households (captured more fully in the Individual Giving and Volunteering report that will be covered in an upcoming issue of F&P).

The Centre for Social Impact Swinburne led this part of the Giving Australia research, collaborating with the Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies at QUT.

Culture of philanthropy

Generosity’s ‘holy grail’ might be described as a personal, family, organisational and national culture of philanthropy where giving is joyfully the norm. People involved in this study were vocal about the influence of their family, community, ethno-religious and racial backgrounds or a combination of these. These factors influenced how, why, where, to whom and how often they gave. Many attributed their giving to values learned at an early age from their families/communities/religions.

The message for nonprofits is to be aware of how intrinsic these backgrounds may be in the lives and choices of individuals who give, and to explore more about how diverse cultures may shape giving in different ways.

With many nonprofits reflecting sometimes a mainstream culture among their own staff and volunteers, it may be possible to expand thinking and build new relationships with other communities of givers who care about the cause. Considering the profile of the board/fundraising committee/development office may be one starting point. Other nonprofits have usefully altered their service delivery signage to honour and better serve the needs of non-English speaking clients and donors.

Reading more on how to build an internal culture of philanthropy in an organisation is another tactic to refresh approaches to building external cultures of giving as well. Cultural competence and courteous, appropriate research about people who may enjoy giving to particular types of causes are essential skills of the development professional and CEO these days

Collective giving on the rise

Linked to the previous point, giving can be seen as an almost tribal behaviour at times.

The power of group giving emerged in the first Giving Australia study (ACOSS 2005). In everyday settings such as homes, workplaces and schools people were giving increasingly together and going beyond their normal (or sometimes non-existent) giving to do so. Being part of these groups often meant more deliberated giving and larger amounts.

In 2005, giving circles and collaboration among foundations were yet to achieve the traction evident today.

Giving Australia 2016 affirms an even more central role for giving as a group and highlights giving circles, dragon’s den style pitches to groups and more collaborative giving by a number of foundations as being on the rise. Feedback about group giving was generally very positive.
Against the backdrop that the Giving Australia 2016 household survey provides of a lower giving participation rate for adult Australians and a potential levelling of giving, it makes sense for nonprofits to really think more about collective giving.

More than a third of respondents to the Philanthropy and Philanthropists survey participated in collective giving. They noted a desire to encourage more people into giving, and saw access to like-minded donors and to vibrant nonprofits as benefits derived.

Similarly, community foundations, such as Bega Community Foundation and Mackay Community Foundation, were noted as valuable providers of locally accessible ways to give through sub-funds with the benefit of local connections and knowledge about community need.

The corporate world has harnessed tribal theory to better grasp what happens in relation to customer loyalty. Nonprofits might do the same to better serve donors, thinking about engaging with a group and its leaders, and understanding its ‘rituals’ and how involvement as a group with a cause adds a dimension of satisfaction and commitment to that giving.

For nonprofits, the collective giving trend means the potential to showcase their goals to a group that has self-identified their shared interest in community needs and that will also act individually if inspired. It is also part of the democratisation of a giving trend that sees Australia’s many ‘everyday’ donors able to join with others for maximum impact, such as in a giving circle (groups of people who pool their donations and jointly decide how to allocate them), and often stretching their annual giving amount to do so.

Nonprofit personnel are also typically givers and joining a giving circle personally brings new knowledge, insights about pitching well and networks. The internal equivalent is a donor circle where nonprofits gather people interested in funding their particular cause
in a more deliberatively collective way.

Other themes

Beyond culture and collective giving, Philanthropy and Philanthropists highlights themes on affluent givers’ minds such as impact and giving mechanisms. It explores gender and age matters as well as giving to particular areas of interest, such as the environment.

Social services, education and health emerged as the top three areas for grant-makers in this survey and more than half of them reported a significant change to their grant-making processes in the past decade. Alignment with personal passions, sound governance and perceived competence of the nonprofit influenced which nonprofits they selected.

Change themes reported were: the value of transparency, evaluation and openness to longer-term investment in need, and engaging with communities in the co-creation of solutions to local challenges. Eight in 10 funds had a web presence and more than half were using social media.

In the future, many participants saw mergers and strategic partnerships between nonprofits as very desirable, as was a longer-term vision by the sector generally.

For more information see the free Giving Australia 2016 resources, which to date include fact sheets, a summary and full literature review of giving topics, a background paper and the full Philanthropy and Philanthropists report. Available at

A background to Giving Australia 2016

The Giving Australia 2016 report is:

• Australia’s largest ever research on giving and volunteering

• only the second Giving Australia research ever conducted (see Giving Australia 2005)

• designed to help organisations in the nonprofit sector and inform governments and others by providing a wide range of data

• a collaborative effort of two university centres (the Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies at QUT and the Centre for Social Impact Swinburne), a business research centre (the Centre for Corporate Public Affairs) and four peak bodies (Philanthropy Australia, Fundraising Institute Australia, Volunteering Australia and the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal)

• funded by the government’s Department of Social Services and is an initiative of the Prime Minister’s Community Business Partnership.

Dr Christopher Baker & Associate Professor Wendy Scaife

Dr Christopher Baker is on the Board of the Inner North Community Foundation, a sub-fund holder with the Australian Communities Foundation, and a member of the giving circles Impact100 Melbourne and The Funding Network. Associate Professor Wendy Scaife is Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies Director, a Women & Change member, a Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal grants committee member and a researcher.


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