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Philanthropy Australia: a Needed Governance Reshape

Thursday, 4th April 2013

For the first time in a long time, the Philanthropy Australia Annual General meeting will see some competitive voting for the places on its board next week.

As many people in the sector know, Philanthropy Australia is going through a renaissance with new funding, new people, new CEO and new strategic directions. In many minds this is a very good thing. Already we have seen many significant moves and achievements from PA, for example, the achievement of Deductible Gift Recipient status which will allow Philanthropy Australia to get funding from Philanthropists to build the organisation’s capacity and support giving in Australia.

So, PA’s board election is coming up and there are a few contenders that offers a possibility for a change in the distinctly white, middle aged and majorly male profile of its existing board.

Currently seven out of nine board members fit into this description. And the majority of them come out of a business background, which in itself is not unusual or bad. However, as many people are aware, there has been much conversation in the media and on boards about the need for diversity, particularly when it comes to having equal, or close to equal gender representation.

The boards composition needs to change if only for this reason.

Add to this the fact that, whilst its been true to this point in history, men have held most of the money but that is changing. In the USA it’s estimated that women will hold two thirds of all wealth by 2022 (its currently at 60%). That’s because women live longer than men, and they will end up in charge of 70% of the $41 trillion expected to be passed from generation to generation over the next 40 years. These figures come from Boston College’s Center on Wealth Philanthropy, 2009. Whilst I don’t have the equivalent figures in Australia the demographics are similar. So women need to be represented fully.

But let’s add some extra overlays. All the current thinking about solving long lasting and complex social issues through measuring impact and delivering outcomes collectively involves philanthropists and community organisations working ever more closely together. And it’s therefore increasingly important that each understands the other.

One could argue then that as Australia’s peak for Philanthropy, it would be optimal if its composition reflected people with experience in this engagement – and in the case of the community sector 51% of community sector board members are women. (The Australian Council of Social Services see: https://probonoaustralia.com.au/news/2012/09/sector-gender-audit-revealed) which is much higher than private sector boards and 85% of the community sectors workforce is female.

Whilst community sector employees and board members are not necessarily philanthropists, there is an increasingly close connection between grantmakers and grantseekers.

Whilst with full acknowledgement of the role many men – and women- have played in getting Philanthropy Australia to where it is today, it’s a no-brainer to see more representation on their board that reflects what is, and what is to be.

Out of the seven people who have put their names up for election, four are women, and one would be what is called “next gen”. Lets hope the PA members see some need for change and vote-in some board diversity.
 

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Karen Mahlab AM
Karen Mahlab AM is the Founder and CEO of Pro Bono Australia. In 2015 she was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia for her contribution to the Not for Profit sector and philanthropic initiatives.
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