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Australia's biggest givers more generous than ever

5 May 2021 at 4:35 pm
Nikki Stefanoff
With the release of this year’s Philanthropy 50 list it’s clear that high wealth giving is only getting stronger but what about more generalised giving from the public? 

Nikki Stefanoff | 5 May 2021 at 4:35 pm


Australia's biggest givers more generous than ever
5 May 2021 at 4:35 pm

With the release of this year’s Philanthropy 50 list it’s clear that high wealth giving is only getting stronger but what about more generalised giving from the public? 

Australia’s top 50 philanthropists gave away over $200 million more last year than in the previous financial year, according to this year’s Philanthropy 50 List.

The list, compiled by The Australian Financial Review Magazine and John McLeod of JBWere, revealed the top 50 philanthropists gave away $964 million last year compared to $748 million the year before – an increase of 29 per cent year on year.

Most of that giving went to medical research, universities, the arts and the environment with homelessness and housing being a growing cause.

McLeod, who has been compiling the Philanthropy 50 list exclusively for The AFR since 2017, said that the average amount given across the Philanthropy 50 this year was $19.3 million. More than double what it was when he first started putting the list together.

“We had predicted that overall philanthropy would be down [this year] because so many fundraising events wouldn’t be able to go ahead and uncertainty about the economy,” he told The AFR.

“However, it appears that we are already past the worst in 2021 and are maybe experiencing a bit of an upturn. Normally philanthropy does bounce back fast.”

To make this year’s list you needed to have donated at least $4 million, $300,000 less than last year’s cut-off. 

The Paul Ramsay Foundation topped the list with $169 million. Judith Neilson’s foundation and charitable trusts gave away $125 million, and Andrew and Nicola Forrest’s Minderoo Foundation gave away $89 million.  

Pro Bono News spoke to McLeod about what he thinks the list says about the state of philanthropy and whether he thinks this level of giving is sustainable. 

“The list doesn’t tell us much about philanthropy as a whole, it’s more about the top 50 philanthropists, but my thesis for a long time has been that mass market philanthropy is struggling,” he said. 

“We’ve seen the percentage of donors decline for a decade now but at the opposite end of the scale we’ve seen high net worth philanthropy, as highlighted in the list, grow pretty strongly.” 

McLeod said that this pattern was a global problem with similar data being seen in the UK, New Zealand and the US as well as in Australia.

“COVID really affected the mass market being able to raise money through fundraising events. Yet higher net worth givers have had the ability to continue to give as their wealth hasn’t been affected,” he said. 

“Most of the foundations on the list continue to give year-on-year and this year most of them increased their giving, which was the opposite of what might have happened after such an uncertain year. What will happen next year? Who can say but generally people are happy with how governments handled the economic situation. And the wealthy only got wealthier, which bodes well for high net wealth philanthropy.”  

McLeod said that something needed to change in order to encourage mass market giving, rather than high net worth philanthropy, to pick up. 

“I have long been an advocate for some sort of national campaign about what the charity sector does for us and how it improves our lives,” he said. 

“I think we’ve lost that connection to how life is better when education, health, sport or whatever cause you want to talk about, is operating better. [We tend to] ask the mass market to give around a need for a deserving cause, which we should, but we need to be able to move more people into [regular] giving.”


Nikki Stefanoff  |  Journalist  |  @ProBonoNews

Nikki Stefanoff is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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