Harold Mitchell says he gives for the same reason he takes – because he wants to build things, better things, things that improve and enrich lives. Greg Johnson sat down with the media boss and discovered a passionate yet assertive lover of society who believes strongly in the value of philanthropy.
While the 69-year-old doesn’t portray the image of someone who has many regrets in life, he has learned the importance of being open about his philanthropy during his journey.
“I did everything anonymously in the beginning, but later I felt it would be helpful if I told more about it,” he explains. “It wasn’t so I’d feel better; it was so that more would give. It’s been part of my journey in philanthropy, absolutely.
“I did many things, including a $1.5 million gift to an arts organisation on the proviso that they didn’t tell anybody – including my family,” he laughs, recalling his 2001 donation to the National Gallery of Australia towards the purchase of After Cezanne. “I realised later that it helps others if they know you give something.”
A reminiscent smile adorns Mitchell’s face when asked if he knows just how much he’s given away over the years. His support staff indicated that $6 million had been granted through the foundation, but that even Mitchell didn’t know the total tally including his private donations. “They’re absolutely right – it’s another amount, but no, I don’t know,” he responds.
Mitchell expects to become the chairman of his foundation in 2012, as his focus shifts more towards philanthropy. While the foundation’s support has been predominately in the arts and health over its first decade, Mitchell expects the scope could widen over coming years.