Written by Fiona Higgins
Giving is extremely rewarding. However, it can be difficult to work out where to focus. Here are some useful tips to get started.
Choose a focus area
Of the countless worthy causes to support, how do you decide where to focus your giving? One helpful tool is the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). The SDGs are a collection of 17 global goals set by the United Nations General Assembly. They cover social and economic development issues and provide targets to achieve in each area. This can help you focus on the critical issues which urgently need addressing. The SDG Transforming Australia report further highlights areas where Australia is falling short, including climate action, inequality, domestic violence and overpopulation in prisons.
Pick something that matters to you
It’s important to find causes that inspire passion. Which ones speak to you? What keeps you up at night or gets you fired up when you’re reading the newspaper?
Do your research
Once you’ve chosen your focus areas, find out as much as you can about them. This can take time. Don’t be shy to dip your toe in the water by supporting a few charities initially and using this as an opportunity to learn from them, remembering they’re the frontline experts. It can also be useful to learn who else is funding in your chosen sphere – philanthropists tend to be collegial and willing to share due diligence and insights with peers. APS can facilitate that process and introduce you to organisations and other funders.
Understand the role philanthropy plays
Most funding in the charitable sector comes from government and corporates, but philanthropy can play a crucial and unique role in society as it is not beholden to electoral cycles or market pressures. Private philanthropy is free to make decisions in a more flexible and less bureaucratic way, and can be nimble and react quickly. Philanthropists can take risks, think more strategically and long-term, and provide the kind of support that can be transformational, including multi-year, untied funding.
Pick a charity to support
A charity’s website can be a good place to find out about a charity’s focus, governance and financial health. Before committing to funding, it can be useful to take a ‘look under the hood’ of a potential charity partner. Charities must report to the Australian Charities and Not for Profits Commission (ACNC) annually and include financials (provided they have an annual revenue of at least $250,000).
After a preliminary scan of publicly available information, you may want to ask the charity:
• What do you do? – can they explain their program logic simply and clearly?
• Why do you do it? – is there a clear need to which the organisation is responding?
• What does success look like? – what is the end goal, and does it align with their activities?
• How will you know you’re getting there? – are they measuring their outputs and outcomes?
If you are looking to take things to the next level, APS has a due diligence checklist and templates for grant applications, progress updates and acquittals.
Think about impact reporting
It’s important to be upfront about your expectations with charities. Whether you expect regular written or verbal updates, or an annual report will suffice, let them know. Be reasonable in your request and don’t ask for information you’re not going to use.
Measurement is important and requires attention; however, it should be proportionate to the level of funding, the area funded and the capacity of the organisation. It would be unreasonable to put in place a complex outcomes measurement framework for a $5,000 grant to a grassroots organisation.
Get your family involved
Families often have very different passion areas – and that’s okay. If you truly want engagement from your spouse, children, siblings or parents, a good place to start is by asking them whether they want to be involved, and what they want to support. Each family is different – some like to make decisions together, while others prefer to allot a pot of money to each individual to decide what they want to support.
Whatever you choose to do, we hope you find it enriching and rewarding. Simple things done well are much more effective than complex things done poorly, so try not to over-engineer your giving.