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Philanthropists Becoming Immune to Tall Poppy Syndrome

27 August 2015 at 12:09 pm
Xavier Smerdon
The “tide has turned” on philanthropy with the movement largely becoming immune to Australia’s famed tall poppy culture, according to the the country's peak philanthropy organisation.

Xavier Smerdon | 27 August 2015 at 12:09 pm


Philanthropists Becoming Immune to Tall Poppy Syndrome
27 August 2015 at 12:09 pm

The “tide has turned” on philanthropy with the movement largely becoming immune to Australia’s famed tall poppy culture, according to the the country's peak philanthropy organisation.

Acting CEO of Philanthropy Australia, Chris Wootton, told Pro Bono Australia News that philanthropists had become more confident in going public with their giving in Australia.

It comes after Australia’s biggest philanthropist, Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, was forced to defend his model of tying his charitable donations to the success of his mining business, Fortescue Metals Group, which had reportedly seen millions of dollars wiped off the value of his charities.

Forrest wrote in the Australian Financial Review that he was “perplexed” by the criticism he had faced in his endeavor to give away $3 billion of his personal fortune to charity.

“…cynics have found reason to attack my charitable contributions to dozens of national and international organisations, primarily through the privately established Minderoo Foundation,” Forrest said.

“My wife and I have contributed more than $220 million to charitable causes since 2001 through cash and shares. We have also publicly pledged the vast majority of our wealth philanthropically during and at the end of our life time through the Giving Pledge.

“I have been repeatedly questioned and criticised for giving shares to charities. This type of criticism is plainly incoherent. Shares in wonderful companies are what I own and I respect them more than cash, as they provide employment and build the industries that make our country great. I give away what I own. I don't see how I can give away what I don't.

“My family and I are perplexed that our efforts to help others attract such scrutiny and derision. Encouraging, not kicking, enterprise and philanthropy helps build the strong society all our kids ‎deserve.”

Philanthropy Australia’s Chris Wootton defended Forrest’s model of philanthropy.

“Philanthropy is all about the generation of wealth and distributing that wealth and obviously those that are individuals and their philanthropy is tied to the success of their business or their entrepreneurial activities, in good times philanthropy benefits and in bad times there’s less funds to go out,” Wootton said.

“That’s just a normal part of the course and essentially it’s just one of those things that you ride with the good times and hold on for the bad times in terms of economy. It’s just the normal ebbs and flows and philanthropy is part of that.”

Wootton said other Australians that were considering becoming philanthropists could be discouraged by seeing the scrutiny that Forrest had faced.

“We want to see all successful business people be philanthropic and obviously when one gets criticisms for just doing the things that happen in business and be criticised for that, it doesn’t help encourage others who might be sitting on the sides, who are very successful, do have financial capacity to be philanthropic in a big way and yet those sorts of criticisms like the old tall poppy syndrome, unfortunately might just discourage someone from just making that jump, because it’s not easy,” he said.

“Even Bill Gates says ‘the hardest thing to do is give away money’. It’s not easy to get it right, to have impact, to be out there doing it sometimes and I think most people seem to think it’s the easiest thing and then be critical of it when things go wrong.”

But Wootton said Australia’s tall poppy culture was becoming nullified by the growing number of people who considered themselves philanthropists.

“There’s still an element of that culture left, but I think we’ve come a long way from philanthropy being only about predominantly dead people and will estates,” he said.

“In the past there were very few (philanthropists) and therefore any criticism would have been a negative, but now I think there’s enough people who are doing it, talking about doing it.

“I think we’ve gone well beyond that so criticisms of one or two here and there I think will fall by the wayside and there’s enough good players in the field doing it, talking about it, to overcome that.  

“Philanthropy now is all about living donors, people who either have financial capacity, have time or they have skills to be philanthropic, and it doesn’t have to be just money.

“So what we’re seeing now is instead of philanthropy being very isolated poppies, we’re probably really seeing a sea of poppies now happening and a whole lot more people are seeing themselves as being philanthropic entrepreneurs and making a contribution to good social change.”

Xavier Smerdon  |  Journalist  |  @XavierSmerdon

Xavier Smerdon is a journalist specialising in the Not for Profit sector. He writes breaking and investigative news articles.

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