How giving clubs are changing the face of philanthropy
By Christine Long (For the Sydney Morning Herald)
Like a lot of other people, Bryony Green's initial experiences of giving were spontaneous bursts of generosity. "There were things that would come up on my social media feed and I would donate," says the 31-year-old Melburnian.
May and June are the biggest months for giving ahead of the end of financial year because people are looking for tax deductions and community organisations are actively asking for donations, according to the website givenow.com.au. The second peak is December in the lead up to Christmas.
The pattern of giving when asked shifted for Bryony when she and a friend, Sarah Wickham, 30, did their masters in philanthropy and social investment. Together, they formed a giving circle with a few friends. Each person donated $50 and together they decided how to direct their combined funds.
"Someone would suggest a cause – it could be the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre – and we would all donate there," says Green, adding their giving became more "purposeful and planned".
This month, Green and Wickham have taken it up another notch, co-founding an online collective giving platform, Good Mob. It allows individuals to come together, pool their donations and, as a group, direct their combined funds to their chosen cause.
"A lot of people can only give $20, $50 and they feel like that's just a drop in the ocean," Green says. When they pool it with others and have a say in a larger amount of money, it "makes them feel empowered; it makes them feel like their donation actually means something".
That feeling is driving different forms of collective giving across Australia.
Wendy Scaife is the project director of Giving Australia 2016, a project led by QUT's Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies along with the Centre for Social Impact at Swinburne University of Technology and the Centre for Corporate Public Affairs. It is Australia's largest study into giving and volunteering and was last updated 10 years ago.
"One of the key elements that we would see has changed in that past decade is the emergence of more collective giving," she says.
Those choosing to be "tribal" in their giving are motivated by a range of reasons.
"People tell us that they are stimulated by this; that they enjoy doing this together with kindred spirits; and that they learn by doing it; they learn more about their giving and they become more committed to giving and, if they can, giving not just the dollars but their time, their expertise, their voice, their connections, and that's the real philanthropy beyond the dollars."
The Impact 100 WA giving circle was started five years ago and there are now giving circles in Fremantle, Melbourne, Sydney, South Australia and the Brisbane-based Women and Change.
Typically, they involve 100 people donating $1000 each year to make a collective grant of $100,000 to a charitable organisation. Members vote on which organisation to support from a short-list of possibilities.
The Impact 100 giving circles are structured through foundations such as the Sydney Community Foundation, the Australian Communities Foundation, or in Impact 100 Melbourne's case, the Lord Mayor's Charitable Foundation.
That means donations are tax deductible and the funds are held by the foundation, which charges a fee for its service. Currently, donations made via Good Mob are not tax deductible but that is on the drawing board, says Green.
Rikki Andrews belongs to Impact 100 Melbourne. Now in its fourth year, its total donations should reach $500,000 by the end of 2016.
It is currently sifting through 22 expressions of interest from not-for-profits responding to this year's "diversity and inclusion" theme. Those will be whittled down to 10 by the group's grant committee and members will choose between four finalist organisations at an annual dinner this year.
Andrews says its first grant allowed a volunteer-run organisation supporting education for newly arrived migrants and refugees to employ a director, whose role was to grow the organisation and seek additional funding.
It now receives "considerable funding" from other donors and other charities are keen to licence its model.
But like any volunteer-run activity, giving circles can have their challenges. Members can vary widely in their understanding of philanthropy and community issues. Getting the word out is always a challenge too, says Andrews.
"We'd like it to be like some of the American Impact 100 groups where they've got 1000 members and they give out $1 million a year – that would be fantastic."
Sarah Davis, chief executive, Philanthropy Australia, says giving circles work best when they set good parameters. That includes discussing values and priorities; how to make decisions; what roles people will play and timelines.
"One of the challenges with this is there are so many good causes; there are so many exciting projects; there are so many different ways of supporting the community. Unless you have those parameters set up it might be easy to get a bit overwhelmed."
Another more recent development in collective giving is the event-based Funding Network where individuals, businesses and foundations, come together for a pitch event, says Scaife.
Three charities may pitch a particular project, for instance.
"Each of the groups is told they will be walking away with probably about $10,000 but typically they end up walking away with nearly $40,000 because there's a bit of excitement in the room."
Looking forward, Davis sees the growth of global giving circles helping tackle problems such as health pandemics, mass migration and displacement, and environmental issues.
"I think we will see [collective giving] grow exponentially in a number of different areas."