In September of this year, I was fortunate to travel to the USA with members of the Sidney Myer Fund and The Myer Foundation to undertake a study tour of philanthropic organisations. The opportunity to meet with 20 or so major US Foundations and experienced philanthropists was invaluable. An itinerary that was expertly curated by Christine Sherry, an experienced US philanthropic consultant, was complemented by the collaborative nature with which representatives of The Myer Foundation and Sidney Myer Fund and I undertook each meeting.
The purpose of this study tour was to meet with a number of overseas philanthropic practitioners regarded as ‘best practice, forward thinkers’ with a view to exploring the ways in which they approach grantmaking. In particular, I was seeking any new and interesting ideas to bring back to Australia that might inform The Ian Potter Foundation’s philanthropic approach.
The trip also afforded me the opportunity to test the Foundation’s current practice against best practice in US philanthropy as well as the experiences of a broad range of family and non-family foundations, as well as contemplating the views of some leading thinkers in the field.
My conclusions from this trip include:
- focusing funding priorities in nominated program areas will correlate with an amplification of impact
- the not-for-profit sector needs much greater investment in its human capital
- ‘good’ organisations need operational, multi-year funding for capacity building
- increasingly, philanthropy has a role to play in influencing government policy and engaging in advocacy to effect positive social change
- the modern world is faced with a myriad of challenges, and where identified gaps exist, philanthropy can work to close such gaps
- more US-based philanthropic foundations are focusing their efforts to address inequality and climate change.
The Foundation is already acting on many of the above points. Not only have we narrowed our focus in many of our program areas, the Board of Governors recently nominated several key areas of focus for its Major Grants stream over the next four years in the environment and health areas. These include supporting initiatives to mitigate the impact of climate change on the Great Barrier Reef, reduce land based run-off impacting on the Great Barrier Reef, better managing Australia’s fresh water resources in urban and regional areas, improving health services delivery for all Australians and supporting the prevention and treatment of mental health disorders.
The average duration of our grants is now approximately 29 months, we no longer award single year grants, we are seeking to provide great organisations with multi-year support for both project funding as well as organisational support, and we continue to quietly advocate for effective change.
I am also confident that our future philanthropic approach will start to consider and embrace issues including working to identify and close gaps in areas our Board regards as nationally significant, as well as investigating the establishment of a dedicated program supporting the development of Australia’s not-for-profit human capital.
Recently, we have launched a new Knowledge Centre on the Foundation’s website which is a direct result of The Ian Potter Foundation being listed on Glasspockets, a directory of philanthropic foundations aiming for best practice in grantmaking and who are willing to be transparent by sharing their successes, failures and ongoing evaluation of their processes.
Looking back over 2017, it has been a busy year at the Foundation. Our team are all looking forward to a break over the holiday period so we can return with renewed energy in 2018. We wish all our grantees and the wider philanthropic sector a very Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year!