Celebrity or anonymity, it’s all philanthropy

by | Aug 18, 2008 | Blog, Uncategorized | 0 comments

Gosh but it’s been chilly in the mornings at my place. So I was glad to warm my heart at the news, published in today’s Sydney Morning Herald, of the launch of Mission Australia’s new program called the Michael Project (press release here). The program aims “to stop the revolving door that spins the homeless from shelter to shelter” by providing guaranteed access to a range of services designed to help homeless people become independent. The program is complemented by a substantial research project that will follow 150 clients over one year, to help establish hard evidence about what works in helping people out of homelessness.

The Michael Project’s ambitious suite of services and research was made possible through the generosity of a single donor, who wishes to remain anonymous. While I applaud the donor’s decision to invest in this project, anonymity – still a common choice among major donors – is not the most persuasive tactic in encouraging other potential philanthropists to consider sharing some of their hard-earned investment income. Not-for-profit organisations seeking to tackle some of society’s more complex issues, like homelessness, would benefit from more major donors willing to speak publicly about their social investment decisions, or at least acknowledge their contributions. Nothing is more persuasive than leading by example, whatever your peer group.

In this light I would like to remind readers about a very different but powerful contribution to the issue of homelessness, which lies at the other end of the publicity spectrum. Ian Darling, the prominent founder of the Caledonia Foundation, funded and promoted the production and distribution of a documentary, The Oasis, about Australia’s homeless young people, with the specific aim of putting youth homelessness back on the national agenda. (Interesting speech here.) The documentary screened on ABC television earlier this year, and was surrounded by intense media attention, as was the National Youth Commission’s report that the Foundation funded. A copy of the film is being donated to every secondary school in Australia, every philanthropic foundation, and to leading Australian corporations.

Two very different approaches to the same complex problem. Darling’s social investment decisions assume that raising awareness is a critical pathway to addressing a social issue, while the anonymous donor must believe that, whatever the social outcome of the donation, its private origin is irrelevant. Philanthropy is not a competition. It is not a race. But it is heartening to see the efforts of these two donors, who signal Australia’s increasingly sophisticated philanthropic culture, in which such diversity now exists.

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