Charlotte Grimshaw reflects on what is happening in major giving in Australia.

RadarIn 2014 when my colleagues at Fundraising Research & Consulting (FR&C) wrote about trends in major gift philanthropy for this magazine, the exponential growth in high value individual philanthropy in Australia was still news – to such an extent that the Australian Financial Review put philanthropy at the top of their list of major cultural influencers in their annual ‘Power List’.

This year philanthropy didn’t feature on the list at all, but that doesn’t mean the trend has disappeared. Rather the sustained growth in major giving means it is becoming the new normal.

Is a $1 million gift still newsworthy?

FR&C keeps a list on our website of all the recent donations of $1 million or more that we can find on the public record made by individuals in Australia. When we created it in 2012 we called it the ‘Top 100’ givers; it’s now becoming the ‘Top 300’, as we add in the latest gifts.  

In 2013 we counted at least 46 known gifts of $1 million or more, nearly one a week. This trend has continued through 2014 and into 2015. But we are seeing more multi-million gifts; such as Isaac and Susan Wakil’s $10.8 million gift to the University of Sydney, or Judith Neilson’s $10 million gift to fund a Chair at UNSW. Also, the same individuals are making significant repeat gifts. Judith Neilson is funding a $41 million cultural project in Sydney, and Dr Chau Chak Wing – who funded the Frank Gehry building named for him at UTS – has followed this with a $15 million gift to the University of Sydney.

Some growth is clearly due to the successful campaigns of two of Australia’s more sophisticated fundraising operations – the University of Sydney’s ‘Inspired’ campaign aims to raise $600 million by 2017, and the University of Melbourne’s ‘Believe’ campaign is seeking $500 million by the same date. It also reflects the continuing growth of individual wealth in Australia. This year’s Capgemini World Wealth Report identified 226,000 ‘high net worth individuals’ in Australia in 2014, up from 219,000 in 2013.

Major gift and capital campaign consultants are observing that donors increasingly want outcomes and measurable impact, and many of these substantial gifts are highly targeted – such as Barry and Joy Lambert giving over $33 million to the University of Sydney for medicinal cannabinoid research, prompted by a family member’s medical issues.

Quite rapidly this has created a context in which a $1 million gift simply isn’t big news anymore – and also many more donors are willing to speak publicly about their giving, to encourage a culture of philanthropy.

Alongside this, more of Australia’s wealthy are channelling their giving through Private Ancillary Funds (PAFs). This is likely to make their giving more targeted and some fundraisers say it’s leading to more measured giving over time rather than larger one-off gifts – although clearly not in the cases above.

New ways to give

Over the past two years the number of registered PAFs continued to grow – the Australian Taxation Office at August 2015 lists 1,350 active PAFs, up from 1,069 at the 2013 financial year-end.

But these are not the only structures affecting the ways that the better-off can support charitable initiatives in Australia. Just recently Geoff Wilson of Wilson Asset Management established the ASX listed Future Generation Global Investment Company, aiming to deliver sound returns to investors, while devoting a percentage of profits to youth mental health issues in Australia. It’s the second of these funds he has established. The first, the Future Generation Investment Co, raised $200 million in investment at launch and this year gave $1.6 million to children’s charities.

In future there are likely to be more initiatives where social impact investments or social ventures change the landscape around conventional philanthropic giving. Also giving circles are continuing to grow, such as the Impact100 initiatives now established in several Australian states.

Fundraisers: rising to the opportunity?

Geoff Wilson is quoted as saying “People are generous if you ask them and you just need to co-ordinate that generosity.” The university campaigns referred to above are proof that asking the right person in the right way works: so are Australian not-for-profits rising to the challenge and becoming more professional in their approach to major gift fundraising?

In our experience, over the past two years many charities previously not running a major gift program have realised the possibilities and are establishing programs. And it seems there is a better understanding that potential major donors are already among your existing donors and networks. So there is more interest in and some increased understanding of the role of prospect research, although we still hear stories of board members wanting to start a campaign with a copy of the BRW Rich List.

One big challenge we see organisations dealing with is staffing. Finding the right people for these important fundraising roles is difficult. Keeping good staff is also hard; we know it’s an issue in fundraising generally, but particularly so in major gift philanthropy where establishing lasting relationships is pivotal to the job.

But alongside this is a broader challenge: too often, we see a charity appoint a major gift fundraiser and assume this one person will ‘solve’ their major gift fundraising. The other challenge, then, is for not-for-profits to properly invest in major gift philanthropy, commit leadership time to it, and make it a whole-of-organisation initiative – or risk missing out to the organisations already doing so.

Charlotte Grimshaw is Principal of Fundraising Research & Consulting. FR&C specialises in prospect and donor research, donor development and major gift/prospect management consultancy; and has worked with over 400 Australian clients since 2003.


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