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Top Philanthropic Gifts of 2018

20 December 2018 at 8:50 am
Maggie Coggan
This year saw more record breaking philanthropic donations than ever, across education, the arts and civil society. There were also louder calls from environmentalists, urging the sector to use its money and power to fight climate change. These are 2018’s biggest gifts, wrapped up.

Maggie Coggan | 20 December 2018 at 8:50 am


Top Philanthropic Gifts of 2018
20 December 2018 at 8:50 am

This year saw more record breaking philanthropic donations than ever, across education, the arts and civil society. There were also louder calls from environmentalists, urging the sector to use its money and power to fight climate change. These are 2018’s biggest gifts, wrapped up.

Jane Hansen and Paul Little AO made history at Melbourne University, donating $30 million to the university the largest the university had received to date to set up a unique funding model which will see the construction of a student residence, “Little Hall”, with the revenue to provide funding for student scholarships over the next four decades.

Hansen, an ex-investment banker and founding patron of the Hansen Scholarship Program, hoped the program would give opportunities for students to study, when their personal circumstances might otherwise deny this.     

A partnership between Monash University and Gandel Philanthropy, also saw a scholarship program to financially assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students established as part of the university’s largest philanthropic campaign, “Change It. For Good”, which aims to raise $500 million from 50,000 donors.

John AC Gandel and Pauline Gandel contributed $1 million to the William Cooper scholarship, which was created in honour of the Indigenous activist and his connection with the Jewish community.

Earlier in the year, they also combined their passion for the arts and culture sector and education through a multi-million-dollar partnership with the National Museum of Australia, which promised to take Australian history into classrooms nationwide.

Their $1.5 million contribution to the $6.5 million project was the largest donation the museum had seen, and will allow students to key moments in Australia’s history via interactive smart boards, iPads, videos, virtual tours, 3D scans and trivia quizzes.  

National Museum chair, David Jones, said the support of the Gandels was critical to ensuring the project became a reality.

“Gandel Philanthropy’s vision and far-sighted investment in the understanding of Australian history underpins the Defining Moments Digital Classroom, which will enable the National Museum to build a world class interactive educational resource for teachers and students nationally,” Jones said.

The art world benefited from the generosity of philanthropy this year too, with the Art Gallery of New South Wales raising close to $100 million in private funding, including a record $20 million gift, to support an expansion of the site.

The $20 million was gifted by Isaac Wakil AO and Susan Wakil AO last year, and was hailed the largest monetary donation in the gallery’s 147-year history.

Andrew Cameron AM, chair of the Art Gallery of NSW Foundation board, said the expansion was a vital project for the arts in Sydney, and one that couldn’t have happened without without private support.

The gallery hailed it as possibly Australia’s most significant public-private partnership in the arts, with $96 million in philanthropic pledges, added to the NSW government’s funding of $244 million for the project.

Philanthropy also started to play an increasing role in supporting civil society, with Guardian Australia and the University of Melbourne launching The Guardian Civic Journalism Trust in March, to provide funding for journalism projects that advance debate and citizen participation in areas such as the environment, Indigenous affairs, inequality, human rights and political accountability.

Guardian News and Media contributed an initial gift of $50,000, while the The Balnaves Foundation provided a three-year grant for Indigenous affairs reporting, and the Susan McKinnon Foundation provided a three-year grant for investigative reporting on governance and political accountability.

In November, prominent Australian philanthropist Judith Neilson, with a net worth of over $1.7 billion, contributed $100 million to create an independent journalism institute in Sydney, aiming to celebrate and encourage quality journalism in Australia through education, grants and events.

Neilson said she recognised the need to support evidence-based journalism and the pursuit of truth in today’s fractured media landscape.

“I am delighted to support the establishment of this institute and I will look to experienced journalists and other experts to manage and guide its work,” Neilson said.

“I know that traditional forms of journalism are going through massive change and Australian journalism and intellectual life needs a shot in the arm.”

While she will be a patron of the Institute, she said she wouldn’t play a direct role in it’s management, allowing it to be fully independent.

This was followed by the unveiling of the Public Interest Journalism Initiative, which is designed to deliver a more sustainable public interest journalism ecosystem through better funding, policy reform and innovation.   

In a year of tumultuous environmental scientific reports, and political inaction, Australian conservation and environmental organisations called on the philanthropy sector to play a bigger part in climate action.

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) called on Australian philanthropists to give generously, after the charity received its single largest philanthropic gift ever of US$165 million (A$210 million) from a couple in California.

The donation from Jack and Laura Dangermond allowed (TNC) to acquire the Bixby Ranch, an “ecologically important piece of wild Californian coastline and neighbouring hinterland” located near Santa Barbara, which the country director for TNC in Australia, Rich Gilmore, said Australians could learn from.

“Australians are every bit as successful and generous as their US counterparts, and we hope philanthropists in Australia will be inspired by this gift and step forward to play their part in conserving Australia’s incredible natural wonders,” Gilmore said.

The Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network’s (AEGN) climate briefing supported this later in the year, and said there were many opportunities for philanthropists to lead or join coordinated and decisive action to address climate change.

AEGN CEO Amanda Martin told Pro Bono News philanthropy’s role in tackling climate change has never been more important, and said foundations of all different types could apply a “climate lens” to their grantmaking. She added philanthropy was in a unique position as it was independent and not beholden to the electoral cycle or shareholders.

“This means it can operate with a flexibility that is currently required regarding climate change,” Martin said.

“And of course it can help via giving funds away, but I also think given the influential position of many philanthropists in Australia that this influence can help raise public consciousness on the issue.”

Sarah Davies, CEO of Philanthropy Australia, told Pro Bono News 2018 saw the philanthropic sector grow in scale and impact, growing braver and more collaboratively.

“Australian philanthropy continues to grow, both in scale and impact, as our practice evolves and we start to really exploit all the tools at our disposal,” Davies said.

“I think 2018 has seen us grow braver and more collaborative, as we’ve witnessed the importance and power of informed, collective voices in championing social change.”

In 2019, she said philanthropy would continue to explore themes of power, aspiration, aspiration, social licence to operate and accountability in philanthropy.

“I hope we continue to develop our use of advocacy and partnership in addressing system change and also look to building the capacity and capability of civil society more broadly,” she said.  

“More giving, more partnership and more participation.”


We previously stated that Judith Neilson’s net worth is $7 billion. That figure is incorrect, and the article has been since corrected to reflect her actual net worth of $1.7 billion. 

Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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