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Australian Philanthropy – At the Tipping Point?

3 min read

Australian philanthropy has moved decisively forward in the past two years, and its potential for positive change has never been greater.

Are we at the ‘tipping point’ of new heights of significance for Australian philanthropy? If not, what will be the catalyst for this shift?

What is philanthropy?

Four years ago, we defined philanthropy as: “The planned and structured giving of money, time, information, goods and services, voice and influence to improve the wellbeing of humanity and the community.”

We can determine whether Australian philanthropy has reached a tipping point through this framework of money, influence, voice and time.


There is now bipartisan support for philanthropy, and the PAF (Private Ancillary Fund) structure has been simplified and improved.

What are the opportunities to up-scale Australian philanthropy? How can the growth in Australian philanthropy increase from the current level of around 800 PAFs to, say, 80,000?

Together with Effective Philanthropy, and the 2008 Queensland University of Technology (QUT) report Good Times and Philanthropy, Philanthropy Australia has identified a number of strategies to build a stronger culture of giving, including increasing the importance of high net worth and ultra-high net worth, and ensuring that individuals are recognised, not just for their assets, but also by what they give.

Everyone engaged in the sector should share the responsibility of growing philanthropy, to showcase the unique contribution that philanthropy makes towards a civic society, and to promote Australian philanthropy to the stage when it reaches a tipping point.


Governments are the dominant funder and determinant of social policy. In Australia, direct government spending represents more than 24 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP). Philanthropy must influence government policies if it is to grow.

There is potential, and even a necessity, for philanthropists and trustees of foundations to use their influence in a personal capacity, and to champion better public policy changes to enable philanthropy to reach its full potential.


Quite simply, without public education and broad community support it is not possible to create and sustain major change.

The role that public education, media profile and community debate play as preconditions for creating social change and setting political policy agendas have never been higher.

This is nowhere more keenly illustrated than by the failure of governments to act on climate change.


The most significant contribution of philanthropic leaders (philanthropists and trustees) is their vision and capacity to re-frame issues and engage with new ideas.

The work that is being undertaken on the development of indices of wellbeing is a current important attempt to re-frame thinking. This would provide a framework to quantify the impact of philanthropy, by measuring wellbeing before and after a philanthropic project.

Each of these critical elements – money, influence, voice and the expertise which brings new ideas and frames – is evident in Australian philanthropy, but they are not working to their maximum effect. There is music, but not an orchestra. The art of philanthropy is still being developed along with the science. We are all enhancing our capacity, as part of a pluralist and vibrant sector, to create and seize new opportunities.


For my own part, I have been influenced by creating a tipping point in the way disability services are structured and funded.

Despite support and funding, the welfare and charity model that currently frames Australia’s support for people with disabilities, their families and carers, is failing to meet the needs of these people.

Good support is given to very few – the vast majority of people with disabilities are left to battle through a service system that purports to set priorities based on need, but is in fact a lottery driven by crises.

Our submission for a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is based on the suggestion that disability might be re-framed from the current welfare and charity model to a risk, insurance and investment approach.

Like Medicare, this would see every taxpayer contribute to the costs of running intensive care units in public hospitals as a form of insurance payment. It would recognise that disability, like ill-health, can affect any of us at any time.

Bill Shorten has described disability as “the last practical barrier for civil rights in this country”. It would be a tipping point in disability policy and Australia to achieve this – economically, socially and morally.

It has been ‘the planned and structured giving of money, time, voice and influence” that has nurtured and supported the development of this vital reform.

I am confident that this combination will also create a tipping point to cement philanthropy as a major national force for a more civic society.

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