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How do we unlock the value of philanthropy in Australia?

14 December 2021 at 7:00 am
Jodi Kennedy
As Australia continues to face ongoing challenges, supporting the for-purpose sector to reshape and rebuild demands new approaches to funding and more of it, writes Jodi Kennedy from Equity Trustees.

Jodi Kennedy | 14 December 2021 at 7:00 am


How do we unlock the value of philanthropy in Australia?
14 December 2021 at 7:00 am

As Australia continues to face ongoing challenges, supporting the for-purpose sector to reshape and rebuild demands new approaches to funding and more of it, writes Jodi Kennedy from Equity Trustees.

In order to continue to support the work and resilience of the for-purpose sector, we need to remove barriers to giving and focus on “democratising” philanthropy. This means making it simpler for Australians to start (or build on) their giving, in a more affordable and strategic way. 

We also need to be more responsive and flexible funders, learning from our experience of recent natural disasters to step back and empower the sector to do what it does best with our funding. 

Our newly released Giving Review, shows that despite the economic impacts of the pandemic, our annual giving increased in the 2021 financial year, yet there is still so much opportunity to be leading greater and more effective philanthropy in this country.

The need for philanthropic funding is fast outgrowing the rate at which we are encouraging and enabling everyday Australians to give. Without the technology to innovate our giving, we miss the opportunity we have to make philanthropy something every Australian can be part of. We believe that philanthropy is no longer something that can, or should, be left to HNW individuals.

In the 2021 financial year, Equity Trustees distributed just over $96 million to the community, up from $91 million in 2020. There were less funds due to the impact of the pandemic on investment returns for foundations, however the overall giving was driven up by a significant increase in charitable bequests, totalling $20.8 million, compared to $7.6 million the previous year.


group of people standing next to crates

Credit: Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal (FRRR) -Future Drought Fund’s Networks to Build Drought Resilience

The important lesson to take from the last year is that philanthropy delivers most value when it remains committed to flexibility in meeting the rising and changing needs of the community. 

Despite disruption to funding patterns and partnerships with the for-purpose sector, along with additional service delivery, operations, fundraising and resourcing challenges, philanthropy did its best to continue to provide much-needed funding to organisations across a diverse range of sectors and causes.

As a major funder, we at Equity Trustees are passionate about supporting the sector to grow its capacity to continue to adapt to changes exacerbated by the global pandemic, so it can deliver its critical services more effectively and sustainably. 

Sustainable funding

The important work of for-purpose organisations is all too often constrained by a lack of sustainable funding to plan around. 

As a result, we are committed to funding capacity building for the sector, including investing in longer term supports such as core infrastructure, people and technology where we can, rather than short-term or project-based grants. 

We also view our granting activities through a “funding for impact” lens, to direct our funding toward solutions that deliver lasting positive change. One of the ways we do this is by funding intermediaries when it’s appropriate, as we know they have far greater reach and local networks to drive impact and resilience in areas of need.


Person beekeeping collecting honey from a hive

Credit: Journey By Light Photography / Sweet Justice.

Some examples of initiatives we have funded to drive sustainability, include the Swinburne Social Start-up Studio, which helps to develop social enterprise businesses to tackle social and environmental challenges while also contributing to the economy and building sustainable means of combining social and commercial outcomes.

We are also proud to fund First Australians Capital in their Regenerating Indigenous Entrepreneurs program. Funding Indigenous businesses and unlocking valuable capital for entrepreneurs helps strengthen the sector and wider Australian community and is helping to create new employment opportunities to lift the overall unemployment rate for Indigenous Australians from 49 per cent in 2018-19. 


Founders of Deadly ED Kane Wright and Joshua Brown standing together

Founders of Deadly ED Kane Wright and Joshua Brown wearing their merchandise – one of the businesses the FAC program helped make a reality. Credit: First Australians Capital.

Creating closer connections

Philanthropy can amplify the voices of communities who traditionally may not have had a say in decisions made on their behalf.

One of our approaches at Equity Trustees is to provide funding to support for-purpose organisations to engage people with lived experience of systemic inequity. 

One such example is the Housing For The Aged Action Group (HAAG). HAAG built evidence and created collaborative networks to tackle Australia’s growing homelessness crisis. The group is now ramping up its advocacy based on lived experience and is encouraging other states to adopt and adapt its “Home At Last” service, which offers free and confidential support and advocacy to low-income older people who are experiencing homelessness or at risk of becoming homeless.


Woman sitting on a bed

A person who was at risk of homelessness in her new home. Credit: Housing for the Aged Action Group (HAAG).


The funding is never enough. But sustainable partnerships between philanthropic funders and the for-purpose sector are what resilient, effective and adaptable solutions are built on.

Australia has faced its fair share of crises in recent years and no doubt there will be others in the global reset ahead. It is when we are in untested or unfamiliar terrain that philanthropy must work hardest and take calculated risks to find – and back – new ways to innovate and lead greater and better philanthropy to support the sector to drive the social change needed. 

The 2021 Annual Giving Review is out now. 

About Equity Trustees

Equity Trustees was established in 1888 for the purpose of providing independent and impartial trustee and executor services to help families throughout Australia protect their wealth. As Australia’s leading specialist trustee company, we offer a diverse range of services to individuals, families and corporate clients including asset management, estate planning, philanthropic services and responsible entity (RE) services for external fund managers. 

Equity Trustees is the brand name of EQT Holdings Limited (ABN 22 607 797 615) and its subsidiary companies, publicly listed company on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX: EQT) with offices in Melbourne, Bendigo, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, London and Dublin. Philanthropy services are provided by Equity Trustees Wealth Services Limited (ABN 33 006 132 332) (AFSL 234528), part of the EQT group of companies. 

Jodi Kennedy  |  @ProBonoNews

Jodi Kennedy is the general manager of charitable trusts and philanthropy at Equity Trustees.

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