A survey of 56 philanthropists and corporate foundations outlines the reasons why funders are avoiding mental health causes and what needs to change.

philanthropists funding mental health

Mental health charities receive only 4% of the funding from corporate foundations, community foundations, family foundations and private charitable trusts.

In Australia eight people die by suicide every day and it is the leading cause of death in young Australians. One in seven young Australians experience mental ill-health in any given year. That figure rises to 20% for adults, with half the adult population suffering mental ill-health at some point.

Yet a new report, Australia’s mental health crisis: why private funders are not answering the call, found that while 85% of private funders believe Australia is facing a mental health crisis, only 28% directly and consistently invest in mental health causes.

The report compares mental health charities to cancer charities, pointing out that while there are some high-profile organisations such as Beyond Blue and Lifeline, overall they receive just $1 for every $5 cancer charities receive. This disparity comes despite the fact that mental health ranks just behind cancer in Australia’s top four burden of disease groups and far ahead of cancer in the non-fatal burden of disease (the burden of disease is a measure of the years of healthy life lost from living with, or dying from, disease and injury).

Commissioned by Future Generation, the largest private funder of mental health in Australia, and conducted by EY, the report found that funders are avoiding mental illness due to its complexity and systemic issues in the mental health sector.

“Significant structural issues in the mental health sector are deterring private investment,” said CEO of Future Generation, Louise Walsh. “Private funders see the sector as rife with confusion, duplication and personality-based funding, which is a valid assessment.”

There’s not really a coherent story about mental health – you know – causes, research, services, what works, what doesn’t. I don’t think there’s a very coordinated picture.” Philanthropist, Australia’s mental health crisis: why private funders are not answering the call.

In 2017 there were 573 mental health focused charities registered in Australia (and more than 2,000 charities running ‘sub-activities’ in mental health), which received just 0.8% of the entire gross income of the charity sector. According to Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission (ACNC) data, mental health charities receive only 4% of the funding from corporate foundations, community foundations, family foundations and private charitable trusts. According to the report, 55% of funders not directly supporting the sector were open to funding the sector if they were given more clarity on the sector’s landscape.

The report notes that funders may believe that governments are more than adequately funding the sector, which is not the case. With government funding mostly channelled to crisis intervention and chronic mental illnesses, there is a significant opportunity for private funding of prevention and early intervention support.

The report also found that charities need to step up to communicate more effectively, increase clarity, reduce duplication and report impact.

“Private funders expect to see evidence of impact before making an investment. Mental health charities need to shift their focus on outputs to outcomes, from the pitching stage through to evaluation,” Walsh said. “Charities must also articulate their purpose, create brand awareness and invest in initiatives to attract private funders.”

The report outlines six key reasons private funders are not investing in mental health causes:

  1. Mental illness is complex and the mental health sector is convoluted.
  2. There is significant duplication across mental health delivery.
  3. Most mental health charities have little profile and their messages are not resonating.
  4. Measuring outcomes is a requirement for funding.
  5. They are not aware of their place in the mental health sector.
  6. There are not enough leaders encouraging other funders to invest in mental health.

The report calls on Australian governments, charities focused on mental health and funders to come together to address the mental health crisis by implementing six recommendations:

  1. Governments & Charities: Define the current and desired state of the mental health sector.
  2. Charities: Communicate, collaborate and potentially rationalise.
  3. Charities: Articulate your purpose and raise your profile.
  4. Charities: Focus on measuring outcomes, not outputs.
  5. Governments: Highlight the need and the place for private funding.
  6. Private funders: Seize the opportunity.


Created by Geoff Wilson AO, the Future Generation investment companies, Future Generation Australia (ASX: FGX) and Future Generation Global (ASX: FGG), have invested $30.6 million to date in high-impact Australian charities since 2014.


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