Conor McCarthy and Molly Masiello outline the standout donations and major giving trends of 2014, including the growing role of women.  

Coin stackAt least 46 gifts of $1 million-plus were made in 2013 by our count – almost one a week – and the record for Australia’s biggest individual gift was broken three times.

That growth in major gift philanthropy has continued into 2014 – to the point that philanthropy took top spot on the Australian Financial Review’s cultural power list, where last year it didn’t feature at all.

Who gave what? The most significant impact from philanthropic giving in 2014 will come from a single gift – Paul Ramsay’s bequest of the bulk of his estate (worth over $3 billion) to the Paul Ramsay Foundation. This exceeds the annual giving of all individual Australians: $2.24 billion in the most recent year (2011-2012) for which tax-deductible donation data is available.

Other 2014 highlights included:

• Australia’s largest corporate gift of recent years with Westpac’s announcement of a $100 million scholarship fund.

• The Packer family’s announcement of $200 million in giving over ten years to the arts, the broader community, and indigenous education.

• The Waislitz Foundation’s ten year plan to give $50 million, beginning with a $1 million gift to the Clontarf Foundation and a $1 million partnership with the Global Poverty Project.

• Babak Moini’s $1 million gift to FSHD Global Research Foundation and promise to donate $50 million to medical research over the next 15 years.

• Greg Poche and Kay van Norton’s fourth and fifth $10 million gifts to indigenous health projects, this time at the University of Melbourne and University of Queensland.

• $10.4 million in cash, plus an additional gift in shares, from Professor Brian Trudinger to the University of Sydney, as the university’s capital campaign topped $400 million.

The year also saw philanthropists asking their peers to join them in giving generously. Lindsay Fox, James Packer, Lang Walker, Rupert Murdoch, Harry Triguboff and Gina Rinehart each gave $1 million to the Anzac Centenary Public Fund, and Lindsay Fox publicly requested all the other members of the BRW Rich 200 to donate to this cause.

This suggests not only growth in major giving but the emergence of that Holy Grail: a culture of philanthropy among Australia’s wealthy.

Women’s role growing

As we noted in this magazine last year, the influence of women donors and philanthropic giving circles is also building.

Notable recent gifts by women have included Deanne Weir’s total of $1 million in two gifts to different women’s agencies, Sylvia Hale’s $500,000 to Bridge Housing, and Margarete Ainsworth’s $10 million to NeuRA. The Melbourne Women’s Fund is the newest of the giving circles, focusing on giving by women to women’s causes.

Major gifts growing faster than overall giving

While particularly prominent recently, major giving has been steadily lifting over time. Fundraising Research & Consulting’s list of $1 million-plus donors, available via the company’s website,, now features some 250 names.

However a new generation of philanthropists is emerging, encouraged by factors such as Australia’s ever-increasing wealth, more confidence about asking, and a greater acceptance of going public about philanthropy. Interestingly this strongly contrasts with Australian giving overall.

According to JBWere’s Australian Giving Trends report from August, it has remained flat since the global financial crisis, the number of taxpayers giving has declined, and the number of charities continues to rise.

Where to from here?

One measure of giving potential is growth in wealth. Capgemini’s most recent World Wealth Report revealed Australia now has 219,000 US dollar millionaires and the Asia-Pacific region has 4.32 million US dollar millionaires.

So there are now more wealthy people in the Asia-Pacific than in Europe, and the region is expected to surpass North America on this measure shortly. The pipeline of funds flowing from Australian Private Ancillary Funds (PAFs) should keep driving major giving growth. JBWere reported that PAFs distributed $252 million in 2012, and those distributions are on a strong upward trajectory.

Also increases in major gift philanthropy can be self-sustaining to a certain extent, because major donors frequently become repeat major donors. Of those 46 million dollar-plus gifts from 2013, more than half were given by people who had made previous gifts of this size – often to the same institution or cause.

Generosity overseas bodes well

Another hopeful indicator is that seven figure-plus gifts are rising internationally. The Coutts Million Dollar Donors Report tallies 98 United Kingdom donors giving £1 million-plus gifts (totalling £1.35 billion) in 2012, and 172 Chinese donors giving US$1 million-plus (totalling US$1.18 billion) in the same year.

The United States continues to model what the future of Australian philanthropy might be like, with Coutts reporting 889 gifts of US$1 million-plus in 2012.

While the future of major gift philanthropy in Australia looks bright by a range of measures, what is important in making that happen, of course, is donors seeing real impact from their giving. A Top 50 Philanthropic Gifts of All Time list – released last year by project partners Pro Bono Australia, The Myer Family Company, The Myer Foundation/Sidney Myer Fund, Swinburne University and Philanthropy Australia – saw donations lauded for their impact on Australian society.

If those large gifts of recent times start earning headlines for what they’re achieving, not just the size of the cheque, Australia will really be on its way to making this form of philanthropy sustainable.

Conor McCarthy is a consultant at Fundraising Research & Consulting, and Molly Masiello is research manager. FR&C specialises in prospect and donor research, donor development and major gift/prospect management consultancy.


Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography at

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