Questions may be swirling concerning the state of Australia’s economy, yet the generous are digging deeper than ever. Conor McCarthy and Charlotte Grimshaw delve into this spike in major giving. 

It has been a fantastic year for major giving in Australia. At the time of writing, there have been 19 $1 million-plus gifts made this year. That’s just over one per fortnight on average.

Andrew and Nicola Forrest became the first Australians to join The Giving Pledge in February, promising – along with the world’s richest like pledge founders Bill Gates and Warren Buffet – to give away at least half their wealth, which Forbes’ latest estimate puts at around $2.85 billion. The record for Australia’s largest individual gift was broken this year … twice. First was Graham and Louise Tuckwell’s $50 million pledge to the Australian National University, bested by Clive Berghofer’s pledge of $50.1 million to the Queensland Institute of Medical Research in August.

This bumper year is part of a broader trend. Major giving has been an increasingly substantial part of the Australian philanthropic landscape for some years now. Fundraising Research & Consulting’s list of donors who have given $1 million-plus (available on the company’s website) now lists over 200 names, including seven whose giving totals over $100 million each.

A look at the tax figures supports this sense that major giving is playing an increasingly important role in Australian philanthropy. The Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies at Queensland University of Technology has published several working papers analysing the tax deductions claimed by individuals against their philanthropic giving. In 2009-2010, a total of 3,760 people gave over $25,000 each for the year, but that small group gave $481 million; almost a quarter of all individual giving that year.

Some of these gifts were made to Private Ancillary Funds (PAFs), so there will be a lag in some funds making a direct impact to causes. The general picture painted by tax data, however, is that of the 80-20 Pareto principle: a small number of Australian donors are making a considerable impact through major giving.

So why is major giving gaining new prominence in Australian philanthropy? We suggest five reasons:

1.  A continued rise in wealth: ten years ago, $85 million would get you on the BRW Rich 200. The price of entry today is $235 million. There’s also been huge growth in upper-middle-class wealth. Capgemini now estimate some 208,000 Australians have wealth exceeding $1 million (excluding their primary residence and consumables).

2.  PAFs: the creation of over 1,000 PAFs over the past decade, managing over $2 billion in funds, has created a significant pipeline for major giving.

3.  An increased culture of asking: several Australian institutions have initiated major campaigns, like the universities of Sydney and Melbourne which each launched campaigns this year seeking hundreds of millions of dollars. Many organisations across Australia’s nonprofit sector are also building or growing their capacity in major gift fundraising, as they seek to realise their potential in this area.

4.  Donors going public: a 2011 report on major giving in Australia suggested that one encouragement factor would be if people felt more comfortable speaking about their giving and more role models stepped up. While some are still giving anonymously, most are recognising that publicity prompts others to give.

5.  Repeat major giving: many very large gifts this year were repeat gifts – often to the same institution (repeat givers marked by asterisk below).

There’s still a lot of unrealised potential for major gifts, considering the gap between the number of major donors (around 4,000 people giving at the $25,000+ level) and the number of Australian millionaires (over 200,000). While Australia’s biggest philanthropic donor is still Irish-American Chuck Feeney, the Forrest family’s giving pledge means this will certainly change.

Australian major giving looks to have come of age, and the good news is, there’s still considerable room for it to go much further yet.

Charlotte Grimshaw and Conor McCarthy

Charlotte is principal of Fundraising Research & Consulting and Conor is managing director – Australia. FR&C specialises in prospect and donor research, donor development and major gift/prospect management consultancy.


Figure A: List of $1 million+ major gifts in 2013 (to date)

Andrew and Nicola Forrest

Joined the Giving Pledge, gave $1 million to The Salvation Army

Clive Berghofer*

$50.1 million to Queensland Institute of Medical Research

Graham and Louise Tuckwell

$50 million to the Australian National University

Harold and Bevelly Mitchell

$12.5 million to Victoria University

Christopher Chen

$10.5 million to the University of Queensland

Marguerite (Gretel) Ainsworth

$10 million to NeuRA

Sean Howard

$10 million to the University of Sydney

Allan and Maria Myers*

$10 million to the University of Melbourne

The Myer Foundation, the Ian Potter Foundation, and Martyn and Louise Myer

$10 million to the University of Melbourne

Geoff Churack

$1 million to University of Notre Dame Australia

Jeff Underhill

$1 million to Capalaba Lions Club

Terry Snow

$8 million to Canberra Grammar

Anonymous donor

$5 million to the University of Sydney

Len Ainsworth*

$5 million to Sydney Children’s Hospital

The Gates Foundation*

$4 million to the University of Queensland

John Higgins*

$2.3 million to the University of Melbourne

Michael Hintze*

$1 million to the University of Sydney

Betty Amsden*

$1 million to the Victorian Arts Centre

Dick Smith

$1 million to Australian Lions Foundation

*Denotes repeat gift to the same organisation

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