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Creating a legacy of giving for future generations

22 March 2021 at 7:21 pm
Maggie Coggan
Dr Wendy Scaife has dedicated her career to researching and equipping future generations on the power of fundraising and philanthropy in Australia. She’s this week’s Changemaker. 

Maggie Coggan | 22 March 2021 at 7:21 pm


Creating a legacy of giving for future generations
22 March 2021 at 7:21 pm

Dr Wendy Scaife has dedicated her career to researching and equipping future generations on the power of fundraising and philanthropy in Australia. She’s this week’s Changemaker. 

Like most in the fundraising industry, Wendy Scaife fell into the sector by accident. But in a career spanning three decades, she has achieved a number of influential and significant milestones that will impact the sector for many more decades to come. 

She helped establish Australia’s first fundraising and philanthropy university course at QUT in 1989 and is now head of the Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies; she launched the Giving Australia report, a comparative study of fundraising across 26 countries; and she is leading a 10-year research partnership with the Perpetual, Corbould and Gluyas Foundations on aspects of planned versus spontaneous giving.

Scaife has also supplied professional development to thousands of ACPNS students, FIA members, community participants, board members and others wishing to work in the not-for-profit sector. 

For her efforts, she was recently awarded the Arthur Venn Lifetime Achievement Award at the Fundraising Institute Australia Conference 2021.  

In this week’s Changemaker, Scaife discusses her guiding values, the legacy she wants to leave behind, and why people are so important in any environment. 

What was it that first drew you to philanthropy and fundraising?

So I guess like most people, I fell into it. In my own life I volunteered and did bits of community fundraising, but it was really in my work life when I became an academic at QUT in the 80s and I was lecturing in business communication that I was asked, like a lot of academics, to go on this committee or that committee or do mentoring or that that kind of thing. And that took me into a lot of charities. 

I guess what happened as a flow on that lovely time that I spent volunteering and being part of organisations, was that QUT decided it wanted, for the first time ever at a tertiary level in Australia, to offer a degree in fundraising and philanthropy. They asked me to take it on and put together the first course. They sent me to the states to study fundraising, and learnt from the late great Hank Rosso and Kay Sprinkel Grace and some of the wonderful practitioners and teachers of fundraising. I then came back and with a lot of help from people from FIA we set up the course that’s been running since 1989. 

What is a piece of advice that has guided you throughout your career?

It would always be to act on your values. So I think that is what philanthropists do. It’s what fundraising organisations do. It’s what givers do. Kay Sprinkel Grace has that magic definition, that fundraising is enabling people to act on their values. I think that for me, as a leader in an organisation, I try to ensure that our organisation knows its values and acts on them. And they’re not just words that are written down on paper or on the website, they are something that we use to guide each decision that we make as a team. 

What’s one thing that you would like to achieve before you stop working?

Having come from working in a not-for-profit organisation and being a not-for-profit leader and fundraiser and coming over to the research side, my goal…was really to try and make practice more evidence based. [I was encouraged to do that by the organisation I worked for]. So that it reaches closer to that ideal of what a profession is and how a professional operates. So for example, a dentist has a range of principles and strategies and techniques that they know work because they are tried and tested, and they’re based on research that proves that they work. So I guess what I’ve tried to do is make the sector more research savvy, more research based with the view that you’re able to do a lot more with less if you are working in that very strategic way and putting your resources, your people, your time, and your dollars into what will actually create an impact. 

What I would really love to see is that people use research more, [and] regard it as a very practical tool, not something that academic boffins do, and [that they] demand and participate in research more. So I think to make that a part of every fundraising and philanthropy and social enterprise professional’s thinking is what I would really love to see.

And what is the thing that you love most about your job? 

The people. We’re very fortunate in that we work with people who are leaders or [who are] wanting to lead in this sector. So our theory of change, when we set up the centre as both a teaching and a research centre, was that if we can encourage leaders to be everything that they can be and to be confident because they’ve got knowledge and they’ve got networks and they’ve got the ability to go and get fresh knowledge, then that was how we felt that we could make the most impact on the sector and therefore on the community and on the outcomes and the social impact. So the people that I meet in our classes are just superlative and so smart, inventive, innovative, dedicated, different and brave.

And when you’re not working, what do you do in your spare time? 

I chase cows! We live on a farm and own cows which gets interesting during the drought. But it’s not so bad at the moment which is good. 

I also play the clarinet in a community band. I’m not great, but it’s the most wonderful band, because it has people aged from 11 to 80-something, and of all different skill levels, which is beautiful. So that’s my music family and that’s my language that stops me from getting Alzheimer’s because I’m having to read and think in a different language of music. But also I love performing at lots of community events regularly. There’s something in not being a soloist, you know, it comes back to the people again – things just sound so much better and are much better if you’re collaborating with a lot of other people who bring all sorts of different skills and talents.

Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

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

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