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Australian mental health charities miss out on philanthropic dollars


28 October 2019 at 5:25 pm
Maggie Coggan
Just 28 per cent of private funders are consistently investing in mental health causes  


Maggie Coggan | 28 October 2019 at 5:25 pm


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Australian mental health charities miss out on philanthropic dollars
28 October 2019 at 5:25 pm

Just 28 per cent of private funders are consistently investing in mental health causes  

Australian philanthropists are avoiding mental health charities because of confusion, duplication, and a lack of funder leadership, new research finds. 

The Future Generation survey, conducted by EY, interviewed 56 philanthropists and corporate foundations to find out why they were not doing more to support mental health.    

Despite 85 per cent of survey respondents believing Australia was in the midst of a mental health crisis, only 28 per cent consistently invested in mental health causes. 

The report pointed out that while the number of mental health charities has almost tripled since 2000, funding has not kept pace, ranking 17th out of 26th in the list of income by main activity. 

Future Generation CEO Louise Walsh told Pro Bono News a major reason funders were avoiding mental health was that charities were not making clear to funders where the gaps were. 

“Funders are confused and they don’t really know where that sweet spot is, where that gap in the funding is, and if they could actually make a difference,” Walsh said.

She said that the sector was rife with duplication of services, and that better collaboration was needed within the sector to clear that up.  

“So many of these charities are [individually] releasing things like apps and they truly believe they’re going to solve this problem,” she said. 

The report echoed this sentiment, calling for more collaboration among charities to focus resources on support tools such as telephone support, chat lines, online forums, apps or online assessments. 

Private funders were also found to believe that apart from two or three big names, mental health charities lacked brand awareness. Even larger household names such as Lifeline, headspace and the Black Dog Institute received minimal private funding.  

For every $5 that cancer charities received, mental health charities received $1. This is despite the fact that mental health ranked just behind cancer in Australia’s top four burden of disease groups.  

Walsh said while charities were often focused on delivering projects, building brand awareness had to be a priority if they wanted to attract funding. 

“As part of the budget for their projects and programs, they need to focus on building their brand,” she said. 

A lack of evidence-based outcomes was also noted as a key factor driving away funders. 

“Funders expect to see evidence of outcomes before making an investment,” Walsh said. 

The report pointed to one private funder of eight mental health charities that undertook a review of the outcomes of its funding investment from 2016 to 2018. Only two of the charities rated “above-average” in showing robust evaluation methodologies with well differentiated outputs, impacts, and reporting. 

But the onus is not all on charities. The report urged funders to show leadership and “seize the opportunity” to support the mental health sector. 

This included being open to investing in new and emerging forms of mental health support, taking risks, and investing in a charity’s brand building capacity. 

“By taking a leap of faith, funders play a role in building the number of funding success stories that in turn attract other funders,” the report said. 


Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

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

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