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Philanthropy is Energised by the Power of Advocacy


Tuesday, 20th February 2018 at 8:48 am
Krystian Seibert
Philanthropy is excited about the opportunity to achieve impact through funding advocacy, writes Krystian Seibert, the advocacy and insight manager at Philanthropy Australia.


Tuesday, 20th February 2018
at 8:48 am
Krystian Seibert


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Philanthropy is Energised by the Power of Advocacy
Tuesday, 20th February 2018 at 8:48 am

Philanthropy is excited about the opportunity to achieve impact through funding advocacy, writes Krystian Seibert, the advocacy and insight manager at Philanthropy Australia.

The Civil Voices report, which was published by Pro Bono Australia and the Human Rights Law Centre in December, had many concerning findings in it about the state of not-for-profit advocacy in Australia.

However, one which stood out to me was that three quarters of respondents believed that philanthropists would rather fund service delivery over advocacy activities by NGOs.

It’s true that in the past, many philanthropic foundations were reluctant to fund advocacy – partly the result of legal uncertainty about whether advocacy was charitable.

However, this has changed.

Thanks to the Aid/Watch case and the Charities Act 2013 (Cth), we have one of the best legal frameworks for advocacy by charities. It’s clear the advocacy undertaken to further a charitable purpose is itself charitable, and that philanthropic organisations can certainly fund it.

Admittedly, we are confronting some very problematic changes to the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (Cth) that may make things harder – but it’s great to see all parts of the not-for-profit sector opposing these changes, which are certainly not a foregone conclusion.

At Philanthropy Australia’s Philanthropy Meets Parliament Summit, held in Canberra in September last year, we spent the entire second day focused on the impetus to fund advocacy and examining best practice case studies. There was a real buzz in the room – it was clear that “advocacy’s time had come” and philanthropy was excited about the opportunity to achieve impact through funding advocacy.

Philanthropy Australia has continued to focus on this theme into 2018, and on Friday 9 February, Philanthropy Australia launched its new report, The Power of Advocacy.

The report, which is a useful resource for philanthropic organisations, is designed to:

  • explain what policy advocacy is;
  • outline the rationale for philanthropy funding policy advocacy;
  • set out the law regarding funding policy advocacy;
  • address some misconceptions; and
  • present eight case studies of philanthropy funding policy advocacy.

It’s not only of interest to philanthropic organisations, but it’s also a very useful resource for not for profits. If you’re exploring ways to fund innovative new advocacy initiatives to make a difference in the community, then it’s a useful tool to start a conversation with potential funders about “the power of advocacy”. I would encourage not for profits to use it!

It’s important to be clear however that we need a range of strategies to achieve change. No one way is necessarily better than another. Responding to those in immediate need will always be part of the fabric of Australian charity and it will always be something which philanthropy has a focus on. But it’s not an either/or proposition.

As we confront wicked and complex social and environmental problems we need all the tools available at our disposal. And more and more philanthropic organisations are increasingly using these different tools – be that funding advocacy, supporting collective impact approaches or expanding into impact investment.

As mentioned above, the report highlights eight fascinating case studies where philanthropy has funded advocacy. I wish I could share all eight in this article, but I’ve only got enough space to highlight three (make sure to read the report because they’re all great!).

Erasing Historical Criminal Convictions for Homosexuality

Despite the de-criminalisation of homosexuality in Victoria in 1981, many people still had criminal records stemming from prior years. In 2014, a coalition of NGOs was successful in securing legislative change in Victoria to expunge these convictions. Following this, the Eric Ormond Baker Trust provided the Human Rights Law Centre with a $30,000 grant to build on this achievement in Victoria by pushing for similar change right across Australia. Since the introduction of the scheme in Victoria, all other states and territories have either introduced expungement schemes or have committed to introducing them.

The Home Stretch

This campaign aims to achieve legislative change throughout Australia to extend the age at which young people must leave out-of-home care from 18 to 21 years old. The Victorian campaign has received $500,000 between the David Taylor Galt Trust, the William Buckland Foundation and Gandel Philanthropy. The Sidney Myer Fund has committed $233,000 over three years to support the national campaign. There’s already been one win for the campaign, with the Tasmanian government committing to extend out-of-home care to 21. The Tasmanian Opposition has also made this commitment.

Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

In 2006, the Poola Foundation and the Dara Foundation were approached to support the establishment of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). ICAN aimed to coordinate a global campaign to push for the elimination of nuclear weapons. In September 2017, it was instrumental in the negotiation and signing of the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. At the end of 2017, ICAN was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in Oslo, “for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons”.

These case studies make me wonder, when I write an update to this report in five or 10 years’ time, what will the new case studies be?

Australia’s not-for profit sector is dynamic, innovative and creative – I just know that there are some fantastic ideas ready to be turned into initiatives.

That doesn’t mean that every philanthropic organisation will say yes to every proposal, but philanthropy is certainly now very aware of the “power of advocacy”. That makes me excited about all the social and environmental change we can achieve using advocacy in the years to come.

About the author: Krystian Seibert is the advocacy and insight manager at Philanthropy Australia and an adjunct industry fellow at the Centre for Social Impact at Swinburne University.

Krystian Seibert writes for Pro Bono News on a monthly basis.


Krystian Seibert  |  @ProBonoNews

Krystian Seibert is an industry fellow at the Centre for Social Impact at Swinburne University of Technology and has a strategic advisory role with Philanthropy Australia.


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