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When Charities Miss an Opportunity

3 March 2003 at 12:03 pm
Staff Reporter
Carlo is 75. He's worked all his life to build a business empire and he's thinking about how to share his success. But not one charity or government organisation will take his sizeable donation unless it's delivered on their terms!

Staff Reporter | 3 March 2003 at 12:03 pm


When Charities Miss an Opportunity
3 March 2003 at 12:03 pm

Carlo is 75. He’s worked all his life to build a business empire and he’s thinking about how to share his success. But not one charity or government organisation will take his sizeable donation unless it’s delivered on their terms! Others didn’t even respond to his offer. This is a true story, only his name has been changed. So what’s going on?

Carlo has around four million dollars and a sizeable amount of land he wants to give to charity – but after ten years of trying, none of the charities he’s approached have really taken the time to discuss his dream, to hear what he has in mind or to help see some of it being accomplished in his remaining years.

He doesn’t own a computer, doesn’t know what e-mail is or understand a word processing program. Carlo hand writes his letters in a stylised European manner, and pays for everything with cash, occasionally using his credit card for overseas travel. He doesn’t drive a flash car and, with his wife, likes nothing better than to save a few dollars on supermarket specials.

What he does have is a trust fund where he is earning 7% p.a. on the millions that he wants to give away. He wants to honour the memory of his hard working migrant parents, leave behind a legacy that will help the aged, sick children and medical research; and disadvantaged people in general!

One large established organisation did respond to Carlo’s handwritten offer by saying the best thing would be to hand over his land and let them sub divide and resell! His dream of a charitable facility/respite care/hospice/hospital/retreat etc…etc was quickly declared ‘too hard’.

Other charities responded politely to his kind offer saying they had passed on his letter to ‘the appropriate person’ who would contact him in the near future. They never called.

Now he has decided it’s all too hard, concluding that nothing is likely to happen while he is alive.

Is this a one-off situation or is there some form of selective deafness out there?

The CEO of the Melbourne Community Foundation, Hayden Raysmith concedes that Carlo’s situation is not that unusual but says there are a number of factors contributing to the less that happy philanthropic outcome.

On the donor’s side, Raysmith argues that their own professional advisers, that is their solicitors and accountants, are not always up to date with the latest charitable tax laws, nor do they have good communications with the cutting edge groups within the philanthropic sector.

He says older potential donors also tend to go back to traditional charitable sources and know remarkably little about the charitable system. Their instructions might be as simple and as well meaning as “give it to the salvos in my will” or as complicated as “I want to build a hospital wing”.

Recent changes to the tax laws about the benefits of property donations are also slow to filter through to both the charities and the donors.

Just recently, the dying wish of ‘bohemian’ Australian artist Vali Myers, was for a place where her paintings, drawings and diaries can be displayed for the people of Victoria. But finding the funds to catalogue and maintain her treasures posses huge problems within the Not for Profit sector.

The Smorgon family’s generous art offer to Victoria saw the prized collection find a happy home in NSW because of the perceived ongoing costs to the Victorian coffers. The Pratt family’s offer of the heritage building Raheen to Victoria also found its way into the ‘too hard’ basket.

Hayden Raysmith admits there is a degree of culpability though on the part of Australian charities.

He says many charities prefer their donors dead, the donation to be sent through the mail or on a credit card. Living donors are not well received; in fact they are positively resisted.

There are several niche organisations like the Hayden Raysmith’s Melbourne Community Foundation that actively prefer to have their donors alive.

Raysmith says the attitudinal problems toward living donors also taps into the concept of social enterprises.

He says many NFP’s find it difficult to think outside the charitable box that allows for Not for Profit businesses, community and social enterprises to sustain their core mission.

He says some traditional organisations such as the Brotherhood of St. Laurence, the Adelaide City Mission and a new project, the Abbottsford Convent project with its arts and culture precinct, are addressing the social enterprise issues.

However, for Carlo his dream is turning into a nightmare and he’s left it to his trustees to try to fathom the sector! His sense of hopelessness should be a wake up call for charities large and small.

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