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Growing The Pie for Giving to Schools


Thursday, 28th February 2013 at 11:32 am
Staff Reporter
Michael Liffman is the founding Director of Swinburne University's Asia-Pacific Centre for Social Investment and Philanthropy. Liffman has a background in philanthropy, social policy, research, and community work and was CEO of The Myer Foundation and President of the Australian Association of Philanthropy. This post was originally published on the CSI Blog.

Thursday, 28th February 2013
at 11:32 am
Staff Reporter


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Growing The Pie for Giving to Schools
Thursday, 28th February 2013 at 11:32 am

Michael Liffman is the founding Director of Swinburne University's Asia-Pacific Centre for Social Investment and Philanthropy. Liffman has a background in philanthropy, social policy, research, and community work and was CEO of The Myer Foundation and President of the Australian Association of Philanthropy. This post was originally published on the CSI Blog.

The regular, and justified, lament, most recently described in an Australian Council for Educational Research report, that public schools benefit so little from philanthropy – especially compared with their private school counterparts – reflects a number of cultural and historic factors. These have been well canvassed, most recently by the Gonski review. 

The most fundamental, and possibly hardest to shift, is Australian expectations, embedded in our origins, of the role of the state in regard to the provision of core service to its citizens.

Indeed many would argue that the expectation that the state ensure that universal, quality education is available to all, at minimal cost, is a desirable one, and to expect too much of philanthropy would be to undermine a long-held civic value – as well as to be unrealistic.

That said, one way in which greater giving to state schools could be fairly easily encouraged would be for the restrictions on tax deductibility to gifts to schools to be made less narrow, and certainly no more so than those that apply to public schools.

At present, put simply, to attract tax deductibility, gifts cannot be made to the general operations of state schools, nor to particular projects within them, but only specifically to buildings or scholarships, and then subject to certain conditions.

This reform is not a complicated one, nor a novel suggestion, and there is no one better placed to advise the government on how to achieve it than Gonski.

Such a change would encourage the deeper shift in attitudes to supporting public education which is needed if private giving is to reach any real scale.

However there is another agent of change in this arena which I would like to see playing a greater role here. It is well-known that our elite private schools have a huge capacity to raise funds from their own constituency for their own needs – or perhaps priorities, as not everyone would agree that, for instance, a Leadership Centre is a real need.

While the diligence of such schools’ development offices, and the generosity of their donors, is impressive, they seem to show little embarrassment in encouraging their often privileged benefactors to direct their giving at the extension of that privilege.

And of course it would be foolish not to recognise that giving often reflects the immediate loyalties and circumstances of the giver, and such loyalties are often the well-spring of much of the good that is done in the community.

So here is my suggestion. I would like to see a privileged private school base its fund-raising effort on an undertaking that of every dollar it received, one-third would go to its own purposes, one-third to a local state school partner, and one-third to a school in a developing nation.

This would do real good, beyond the extension of privilege, and also offer its parent body a satisfying and meaningful blend of self-interest and philanthropy.

Moreover, I assert, admittedly without evidence, such an approach may well raise sufficient extra funds this way for the school’s own take not to be diminished. So, who will be the first to give it a try? 




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