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Top philanthropic gifts of 2019


18 December 2019 at 5:33 pm
Maggie Coggan
Mental health and the environment catch the attention of philanthropy in 2019 


Maggie Coggan | 18 December 2019 at 5:33 pm


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Top philanthropic gifts of 2019
18 December 2019 at 5:33 pm

Mental health and the environment catch the attention of philanthropy in 2019 

This year saw philanthropic records broken, Australia’s wealthiest digging deeper into their pockets than ever before, and new ways of giving come to life. We take a look back on the biggest gifts of 2019.   

Forrests set the record… again  

In May, Andrew and Nicola Forrest’s $655 million contribution to their Minderoo Foundation surpassed the couple’s previous record donation in 2017 of $400 million, making it the largest ever single donation by any living Australian philanthropist. The donation took their total contribution to the foundation to $1.5 billion.         

Andrew Forrest said the donation would be used on new initiatives and to expand on the existing work of the foundation including cancer research, early childhood development, ocean health, and eliminating modern slavery, and he hoped the donation would inspire other high-net-worth individuals in the Asia-Pacific region to show leadership with their giving. 

“I call on them to join us in committing the same leadership, enthusiasm and purpose that created their wealth, to the causes they are passionate about,” he said.

“It is time we came together humbly and courageously to build a culture of philanthropy in the Asia-Pacific region and collaborate for change.”

Wealthy Aussies dig deep 

While mass-market giving numbers were down, this year’s Philanthropy 50 list revealed Australia’s top philanthropists were giving away more than any other year. 

The Paul Ramsay Foundation once again topped the list, donating $85.8 million over the year. Major increases included Gandel Philanthropy, which jumped to $16.7 million from $10 million, and the Stan Perron Charitable Trust, up from $4 million to $12.8 million.               

Later in the year, the Ramsay family bestowed $38 million to the Art Gallery of South Australia. The bequest is one of the most generous Australian cultural gifts of all time and the most generous donation in the gallery’s history.    

Sarah Davies, Philanthropy Australia CEO, told Pro Bono News the bequest not only highlighted the importance of culture and storytelling in the arts to Australia’s identity, but the importance of bequests. 

“In the next 10 years we face into the greatest intergenerational transfer of wealth we have ever seen and are ever likely to see,” Davies said. 

“The importance of bequesting into the community and culture and the environment is critical, and I think this gift is a fabulous signal of the importance of bequesting as well as the importance of cultural gifts.”  

Mental health scores big  

In July, an institute to detect and treat severe mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder, faster and earlier launched thanks to the largest philanthropic gift to mental health Australia has ever seen.

The Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health, named after the late Monash economics graduate David Winston Turner, was funded through a $50 million endowment fund. 

The money went towards scholarships, five large-scale research projects, and two research clinics where research and treatment for severe mental health conditions like obsessive-compulsive disorder, substance addiction, dementia, depression, ADHD and schizophrenia, will take place.  

Professor Kim Cornish, who leads the Turner Institute, told Pro Bono News that a gift as large as this meant they could make a significant difference to people suffering from severe mental illness. 

“As a researcher, your entire career is chasing grants for discovery, but this gift has allowed us to translate it and take programs to scale,” Cornish said. 

“We can bring these programs to remote communities, all the way across the southeast corridor of Melbourne, and even nationally.”

Philanthropy steps up for the environment 

Calls for action on climate change were louder than ever in 2019, and in the face of missing government action, philanthropy stepped up to the challenge. 

In October, The Ian Potter Foundation and The Myer Foundation joined forces, committing $5 million each over the next decade into a freshwater management research and policy centre, on the basis they are able to raise a further $25 million from external parties.

The national centre will convene experts, policymakers, industry, and communities to assist government to deliver policy settings to achieve improved and sustainable management of Australia’s freshwater resources. 

Davies said this was an excellent and exciting example of philanthropy being used as a way to leverage systems change.  

“This is a perfect illustration of philanthropy’s role in being able to initiate and leverage,” she said. 

A retired couple’s $1 million gift to conservation charity Bush Heritage in March saw a 203 hectare block of land in central Victoria purchased so the charity could restore lost and threatened vegetation.

“There’s a lot of potential to have all its natural processes restored, which means animals [can] breed, discover new territory, and find sufficient food sources, and plants can have genetic diversity to be healthy and to spread their seed around,” Bush Heritage’ Victorian reserves manager Jeroen van Veen said.  

Davies said a growing understanding of the environment and how broadly it affected all other aspects of the social sector meant funding climate solutions and conservation projects was now a top consideration of philanthropists. 

“What we’re starting to see now more explicitly are trusts and foundations putting an environmental lens across all of their grant-making,” she said. 

“So if you’re a grant maker and are into homelessness and housing how do you put an environmental lens across the top? You’d be looking at energy efficiency and the built environment.”  

Davies said it was exciting that in 2019 philanthropy looked beyond dollars given away, and was focusing on the themes and practices of giving instead. She said she hoped it would only develop further in 2020 and beyond.      

“Philanthropy is uniquely positioned to be that agitator and inventor and that supporter for innovation in systems change, and I think we need to have more conversations about it,” she said.


Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

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

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