From the Welcome to Country with Uncle Allen Madden, the opening welcome by Philanthropy Australia CEO, Jack Heath and the engagement and inclusion of Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders from start to finish, the 2022 Philanthropy Australia Conference was the most inclusive, thought-provoking, inspirational and motivational event I can remember attending.
The plenaries were a mix of sobering state of global affairs, including an impromptu and highly emotional presentation by His Excellency Vasyl Myroshnychenko, Ambassador of Ukraine to Australia, and panels comprised of Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders, change-makers, researchers and activists from Australia and beyond, who challenged and inspired us to think differently and to put our words into action. There were definite moments of discomfort, that invoke reflection and contemplation of a shift in thinking. What more could you want from a conference program!
The following is but a short summary of the rich content and discussions that took place over a packed three days, full of great discussions and reconnecting with so many friends and colleagues from organisations spanning intermediaries, funders and for-purpose organisations.
Pay what it takes – a masterclass recap
The Pay What It Takes movement is gaining significant traction and was the focus of the masterclass I attended. At the centre of the discussion, is how we present indirect costs to running our projects, in the budgets we are submitting with funding requests.
For me, this question raises many critical issues, which have already, or are, being examined in the ongoing research to support Pay What It Takes. If charities keep putting the message out there that every dollar raised goes to a particular project and not to administration or overheads, then why should funding partners need to give us untied funding? It undermines the reality that all businesses, for-profit or for-purpose, need running costs. Even if you are completely volunteer run, there will still be expenses.
A much better way to frame it that was discussed, is “every dollar goes to mission.” Every position in your organisation, every running cost, is enabling your organisation to keep doing what it does. How well you manage that from an accounting and reporting perspective of course is still, and always should be, open to scrutiny as part of the due diligence process.
The discussion between one very large, and one newly formed smaller family foundation, came back to the same key messages, which we know to be consistent and true of the majority of funding partners: create a trusted space for the partnership so there is open dialogue about how much money is needed, and why that amount is needed. Applicants must be prepared to share the true costs of program delivery, including the indirect costs, and be able to explain these costs.
So, the message is loud and strong! Be clear about what your running costs are! Don’t hide them and pretend it costs less to deliver your services than it does. You are doing yourself and the sector an injustice by presenting false information. And the burning question — what percentage of organisational costs should be attributed to core funding? (Core funding was agreed upon by the workshop participants as a favourable term). It will vary of course according to the nature of the organisation. An average that was discussed was 30%. It was noted that this figure should be interrogated, and organisations should be clear about what the indirect costs are on a per-project basis, so their partners can completely understand how their investment is being used.
Trusted partnerships and creating impact together — strong conference themes
The theme of creating trusted partnerships and creating impact together was the strongest theme that I took away over the course of the three days, combined with the discussion on the power balance between the partners. Which led to the highly pertinent discussion around the terminology we use. The age-old discussion on whether the term philanthropy has meaning for people (setting aside the fact that many people cannot apparently pronounce it) versus, for example, giving. And using lasting rather than sustainable. But the most confronting discussion and certainly one I heard the most dialogue about in the breaks, was presented to us by the amazing Dr Salmah Eva-Lina Lawrence, Director Systemic Change and Partnership, International Women’s Development Agency.
Dr Lawrence framed it that if we keep using terminology like third world versus first world, developed or under-developed, we are automatically creating a power imbalance. She posed the well-documented concept of a majority and minority world, which removes the pre-conceived power imbalance for many in the audience.
This discussion was then challenged further by the brilliant passion of First Nations Businesswoman and leader, Naomi Anstess, who pleaded with delegates to consider listening and learning from our own Australian and Torres Straight Indigenous populations to understand that they know their culture best, and therefore, what works in creating lasting and positive opportunity and change in their communities. Naomi’s passionate belief, which is hard to negate, is that by supporting and enabling Indigenous Businesses that strong self-determined economic development will play the biggest role in helping to Close the Gap, as it will create Indigenous intergenerational wealth transfer.
Back to partnerships — they take time to develop was the consistent message. True, trusted partnerships can take at least twelve months. Particularly when discussing participatory grant-making, which there is a lot of research around and conversation about. Chief Impact Officer at Thankyou, Peter Yao, gave the awesome example of Thankyou paying their prospective partners for their time over the twelve-month “getting to know you” process. They acknowledge and respect the time and effort it will take for-purpose organisations to work with them to collate and present the required information about how they run, why and how. And how they can work effectively together to create scale and catalytic impact.
Impact — so much discussion on impact. That lasting change is the success we aim to achieve. Essentially, if you aren’t monitoring and evaluating your work, you need to start NOW. From the Hon Dr Andrew Leigh MP, Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury to Kevin Starr of the Mulago Foundation, and every other speaker I heard, creating lasting positive change (impact) is the common goal between corporate foundations, government and philanthropy, in working with for-purpose organisations both in Australia and overseas. Kevin Starr also described impact as the ultimate expression of love, humanity and justice.
To sum up, Philanthropy Australia has the ambitious target of doubling structured giving in Australia by 2030. Given the inspiring conversations, engagement and noticeable activation of delegates in wanting to work together in surpassing this goal, the conference definitely left us with a sense of there being much to be hopeful for our future generations.
Well done to the Philanthropy Australia team on a highly relevant, thought-provoking and highly-charged program. An outstanding event.