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New world generosity for the New Year

By James Boyd - posted Tuesday, 15 January 2013


"Too many have dispensed with generosity in order to practice charity," Albert Camus famously wrote. A few years ago, this might have been said about Australia, but as someone working in cultural philanthropy and championing the nationwide growth of collaborative giving, I have witnessed a rising tide of Australian generosity. If you're not catching the wave, you might be missing out.

In its annual special issue, The World in 2013, The Economist predicted that the next ten years or so will be particularly important in shaping the future of philanthropy. In Australia, the past ten years have been particularly significant, since the Howard government made changes around laws pertaining to private philanthropy. Over 1000 new private philanthropic foundations have been set up since 2002, with a shared value exceeding $2billion. In addition to this important high end philanthropy, we are also seeing an exciting shift in giving at all levels, that's regeneratingthe Australian philanthropic landscape and the language.

We're moving from what I call Old World charity to New World generosity. Generosity is a powerful social generator for change for good. Its surge can start the engine of prosperity. The word genus, from which generous comes, means humanity. New World generosity is about our shared humanity, the cycle of giving and gratitude, and the sharing of plenty and abundance.

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Charity and generosity are very different beasts. Charity, for all its good work, still has the whiff of the Dickensian poorhouse about it, with notions of the deserving and under deserving poor. Charity comes from the word carus, which means dear, containing the suggestion it might be costly, perhaps a bit more than we can afford. We talk about 'charity cases', people with their empty hands out with nothing to give in return. But we don't talk about 'generosity cases'. The Pay It Forward Movement captures the drive of generosity. It is built on the idea you don't have to pay back what you have received; instead, you can pass it on. Generosity moves, it shifts, it changes, it transforms: lives, each other, and our selves.

New World generosity is driving a new level of interest, engagement and passion in Australian philanthropy. The concept of collaborative giving groups is an example that is taking hold here, and it's a reflection of changing times. In 2012,the first Impact100 group formed in Western Australia started by a group of friends who wanted to contribute something significant to their community.Groups in Melbourne and Brisbane are to follow in 2013.

Based upon the hugely successful US Impact 100 movement, founded by Wendy Steel in Cincinnati in 2001, the idea is simple: encourage 100 people to give $1,000 annually, pool the funds and as a collective make high impact grants to local community organisations. The groups work on a 12 month cycle, aiming to engage donors for the long-term by making their experience as much about having impact as learning more about their communities. It is easy see the appeal; give $1,000 and have the experience of being a major donor giving $100,000, plus involvement in a social and rewarding environment where donors see the benefits of a group gift above and beyond what they could achieve alone.

All philanthropists have one thing in common – they want to make a difference. The only way to ensure a donation has impact is by knowing what you want to achieve and how best to achieve it. But, as many philanthropists and would-be philanthropists have discovered, finding good investments is often easier said than done and that's why sharing the learning experience works so well. In the US, collective giving is becoming increasingly popular, and their ability to offer significant education to donors is making the search for impact much less of a guessing game.

US research also suggests exciting spin-off effects of collaborative giving groups. 76% of participants report that their awareness of community problems increased; 35% contribute additional money to charities met through their involvement; 65% end up volunteering; 32% offer pro-bono support; and nearly half of participants end up on non-profit boards – something the Australian non-profit sector is always searching for.

New generation giving is another area of New World generosity, and the philanthropists are younger, not older. An example is Kids in Philanthropy a group which aims to raise awareness in children from more advantaged backgrounds of the poverty and need in disadvantaged Sydney communities. Their ultimate aim is to bridge the increasing divide between children and create opportunities for knowledge sharing, friendship, a spirit of sharing and cultural exchange.

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The Indigenous Communities Education & Awareness Foundation (ICEA) in WA is another youth-driven initiative encouraging young Australians to take an active and ongoing role in promoting reconciliation. The ICEA Waves Program engages Indigenous youths with surfing culture, encouraging the wider community to understand and appreciate Indigenous perspectives of environmental connectedness and sustainability. To passersby, their energetic surfing carnivals might just look like a beach party, but so much more is going on. The program uses sport to break down cultural barriers and develop familiarity with the ocean, providing a great opportunity for mutual respect building between young Australians.

It's an exciting time in Australia as we take advantage of the private wealth being created here – and it's not all happening among the very wealthy. A mind shift is taking place. This mind shift will truly change the culture of giving in Australia, rewarding both beneficiaries and givers. It's growing among new generations, as social and cultural entrepreneurship takes hold among Generations X and Y – and even Z.

Powerful philanthropy in the future will be fuelled by New World generosity, not merely the Old World charitable impulse. It's about wealth generation, rather than eking out what we've inherited in the Lucky Country. There is a lot to look forward to in Australia if we pay it forward. We're a wealthy country, and more and more, we're a generous country. By giving generously now, we can benefit generations of Australians to come. Catch the wave in 2013.

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About the Author

James Boyd is the Western Australia Manager of Artsupport Australia, 2010 FIA Perpetual Scholar and committee member of Impact100 WA.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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