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Karen's thoughts on the Social Economy

A History of Giving

Thursday, 26th May 2016

Guide to Giving I have difficulty believing how old Pro Bono Australia’s Guide to Giving is (and, by extension, how old I am!) and what an important role it still plays not only for Pro Bono Australia but also for the community by reaching more than one million users.

I started Pro Bono Australia in 1999. But the Guide to Giving had been around since… 1990? as a new publication for the Mahlab Group, the publishing company I ran previously. Its first edition was tiny – 12 pages!

It was started as a way to give professional advisors a list of charitable organisations from which their clients could choose to donate to at tax-planning time or in making their wills.

In those days there was no charities commission or centralised place to find Not for Profits. The Australian Tax Office had a list of Not for Profits but had no idea about the number or types of charities there were. So we started the publication by sifting through a pile of printouts from the tax office, about a meter high, and put into a database all those charitable organisations we thought would be relevant to advisors. That database provided the basis for the Guide to Giving.

Soon after its first edition, I had the dream of starting a new organisation. My aim at that time was to use then-emerging technologies, such as the internet and email, to grow philanthropy and help Not for Profit organisations become more effective and efficient.

So I moved the Guide to Giving asset out of Mahlab Group into a new company that I called Pro Bono Australia. As well as providing a straight directory reference for professional advisors, I had a sneaky subplot of wanting to use the Guide to Giving to make it easier for people to connect to causes and make donations, thereby increasing philanthropy in Australia.

Guide to Giving and Probono Australia Timeline

This subplot is no longer so “sneaky” and philanthropy has become more recognised and mainstream, but in essence we gave voice to the movement that has grown the “for-good” sector – or, as I sometimes call it, the social economy.

Since those early days our Guide to Giving has provided a major revenue source that supports the services Pro Bono Australia provides free of charge – news, VolunteerMatch, our surveys – all of which are vital to the sector.

I’m writing this blog because it’s selling season for the Guide to Giving and we wanted to share with you its history and the important place it holds.

Our IT work on enhancing its value to users is happening as I write, so we look forward to continuing to make the G2G an accessible and worthwhile service.

Karen Mahlab AM is the Founder and CEO of Pro Bono Australia. In 2015 she was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia for her contribution to the Not for Profit sector and philanthropic initiatives.
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