Early visionary beginnings

Lord Mayor Sir John Swanson

In 1923, Melbourne's Lord Mayor Sir John Swanson, worked to establish the Lord Mayor's Fund for Metropolitan Hospitals and Charities with the vision of organising and co-ordinating charitable giving in Melbourne.

A visionary thinker, successful businessman and philanthropist, Sir John was convinced it was possible to provide the city's hospitals and charities with an assured stream of income.

His idea to organise fundraising through a scheme based on a community chest was welcomed by the Charities Board, which had been established in 1922 to coordinate fundraising efforts in the metropolitan area.

The Lord Mayor's Fund for Metropolitan Hospital and Charities was officially opened by Acting Premier Sir William McPherson on 14 June 1923 at the Melbourne Town Hall.

For over 95 years, Lord Mayor's Charitable Foundation has continued to be a connection for donors, charitable organisations and those facing disadvantage. Tens of millions of dollars has been fundraised and granted to charities and public hospitals since 1923.

Sir John's vision has inspired generations of giving, and paved the way for Melbourne to be the centre for philanthropy in Australia.

Lord Mayor's Charitable Foundation continues to be an important and leading philanthropic force in Melbourne.
Back to top
Responding to community need

Beginning with hospitals

In November 1921, Lord Mayor John Swanson formed a special Hospital Committee after he saw the metropolitan hospitals were experiencing difficulties in raising funds for maintenance and received little Government assistance. Hospitals relied heavily on the generosity of the public and philanthropic contributions as they were seen as charitable institutions but as the amount of funds required for maintenance grew, fundraising became an increasingly time consuming activity. Seeing this need, the Lord Mayor proposed that a Fund be set up to relieve the burden that fundraising placed on the hospitals.

After careful consideration and research into other hospital funding schemes, a public meeting was held in March 1922 to present the scheme proposed by the Committee. This scheme proposed establishing a central depot to receive systematic voluntary weekly contributions from employers, employees and others interested in donating. It also proposed that all persons contributing systematic weekly contributions were exempt from payment for hospital treatment but other persons had to pay according to their ability to do so.

The initial expenditure of the Foundation was temporarily provided by the metropolitan medical charities, the basis of payment from each institution was determined by the amount of each of their annual maintenance expenditure. A refund in full was planned to be made to the institutions as a first charge from the money held by the Foundation. The proposed scheme was accepted and Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation was officially launched in June 1923.

The Lord Mayor had already ran a Hospital Sunday appeal each October since 1873, when church congregations around Melbourne were called upon to contribute to the upkeep of hospitals. The Hospital Sunday appeal became administered through the Foundation once it was established and it became one component of the organisation’s broad approach to hospital fundraising.

Even from early on, it was clear that the Foundation was thinking about the future of the hospitals and in 1934, Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation along with the British Medical Association was instrumental in establishing the Hospital Benefits Association (HBA). It was established to effect a system of contributions by which citizens might ensure themselves certain rights in private, public and intermediate hospitals. It was realised at a time when there was insufficient hospital accommodation available in Melbourne. The HBA was Victoria’s first major health insurer and the Foundation became involved because it would guarantee that hospitals received income for in-kind cases. The HBA developed in its own right and became a company selling medical services. This was an excellent example of the Foundation thinking ahead to ensure a sustainable future of the hospitals.
Back to top

Supporting charities

After more than 50 years of Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation providing most of its financial support to metropolitan hospitals, an important policy decision was made in 1969 by the Foundation’s Council.

This decision would enable charities to benefit from a greater share of the distribution of the general fund, which was allocated to hospitals and charities based on a formula recommended from the Hospitals and Charities Commission. This method of distribution ensured that donations would go where they were most needed and relieved the donors of the problem of making decisions with limited knowledge of the requirements of institutions. In the previous years, hospitals had received three quarters of the general fund and charities received one quarter. However, after careful consideration, it was felt that the metropolitan charities should receive a larger share than the one quarter decided upon in the past
“Numerous new charities had began in the field of preventative services which had relieved the work of the hospitals and that there were services which were way down as far as grants were concerned” (Minutes from Executive meeting, 26/6/1968)

So it was decided that future distributions would be made equally to hospitals and charities.

As a continuation of this policy change and taking into account a number of other factors affecting the financing of Hospitals (most notably the introduction of Medicare) the Foundation’s Council, in consultation with the Hospitals and Charities Commission decided that from 1976, three quarters of the distribution would now go towards charities and one quarter towards hospitals.

From that point on, the number of charities which the Foundation supported continued to grow and the amount of requests received increased each year. In 1987, the number of charities that received funds was 114, a 35 per cent increase from 1985. It was the highest number of requests that the Foundation had received so far in its history and it was an indication of the increasing needs of charities. Organisations that were working in the following categories received grants in 1987: Aged, Welfare, Children, Youth, Drugs, Mental Illness, Disabilities, Mothers and the Blind. The number of welfare organisations that were provided with grants almost doubled that year. The Foundation was able to respond to this need through the generosity given by Trusts, Business, Estates and donors and a total of $743,746 was distributed to 29 public hospitals and to 114 charities, which today would be worth over $1.6 million.

Twenty five years later, the Foundation continued to provide support charities and in 2012, it granted over $9.2 million to over 500 charities.
Back to top

Community crisis - responding to disasters

Throughout its history, Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation has responded to assist the community in times of crises caused by natural disasters.

Following the Black Friday Bushfires on January 13, 1939, community leaders prevailed upon Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation to coordinate an urgent appeal to assist the victims. All donations to the Bush Fires Appeal were distributed to assist fire victims. One of the events held for the appeal was a special button day to which Victorians contributed over £2000. A theatrical evening organised by the Lady Mayoress also raised funds for the appeal. A total of £3,421 was raised and distributed by Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation to the Bush Fire Relief Appeal. This is approximately valued at $263,000 in today’s money and considering over half of this was raised in one day, it was a great effort. And while approximately £265,000 (approximately $20,405,000 in today’s money) was raised for the entire relief appeal, it was also interesting to see that the people of Victoria still kept up their normal contributions to the Foundation to support other ongoing community needs.


In more recent times, the Foundation stepped up once again to assist victims of another devastating natural disaster, the February 7, 2009 Black Saturday Bushfires. Including funds raised from a ‘rapid response’ public appeal, the Foundation donated $1,602,000 to agencies working with bushfire victims.
Back to top

Responding to migration

Changing demographic and migration: In 1945 the Government launched the first ‘Migration Program’ intended to increase Australia’s population after World War II. Australia reached agreements with Britain and other European countries and with the International Refugee Organisation to encourage migration, including displaced people from war-torn Europe. Increased migration post World War II and returning war veterans put extra pressure on the health system and consequently on the Fund.
Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation not only has a history of working with the immigrant community, mainly the Italian, Greek and Chinese communities through its public appeals but it has also assisted various organisations through the different waves of migration. Beginning in 1971 with the support of the Australian Jewish Welfare and Relief Society and then as follows:
  • 1986: Ecumenical Migration Centre.
Established in 1963, it assists disadvantaged migrants and refugees by promoting their rights and well-being and recognising their contributions to Australia’s multicultural society.
  • 1996: Central American Welfare and Information Centre.
A peak organisation based in Flemington representing Latin American Melbourne communities. From the early 1980s to the early 1990s Central Americans, mostly refugees from civil war-torn El Salvador came to Australia, with the majority settling in Melbourne.
  • 2001: Vietnamese Community in Australia (Vic Chapter).
The VCA-VC provide the following services for the Vietnamese community in Victoria: General Social Welfare Services, welfare, youth and elderly services, cultural and community development activities, immigration and translation support services.
  • 2002: Melbourne Anglican Benevolent Society – Southern Sudanese Fellowship.
Assists the Sudanese community
  • 2005: Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) and Hotham Mission Asylum Seeker Project (Hotham ASP).
Our organisation has one overarching goal, which is to work for a system that provides for a humane and just treatment of all people seeking asylum.
  • 2009: Victorian Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Coalition.
A peak body representing immigrant refugee women’s organisations across Victoria.
Back to top
Leading the way

Taking the initiative

Responding to the need that had already been identified from the inception of the Foundation, some measures were implemented by the Commonwealth and State Governments to fund hospitals. These included increased taxation, introducing a national Health Scheme and using revenue from Tattersall’s Lottery in Victoria.

As these measures began to take effect and hospitals were being financed through different sources, it was imperative for the Foundation to continue to convey to the public that their contribution was still vital and that the Foundation had an important ongoing role to play within the community. This message was important particularly because “The population had increased considerably due to the influx of new Australians…it was felt that there were people who did not realise what the Foundation did or what it was about” (Minutes from Executive meeting, 22/5/1968)

The Foundation also recognised that since the early 1950s, “It was giving very little to some services which were largely preventative services and these were not getting anywhere near enough assistance” (Minutes from Executive meeting, 22/5/1968)

The Foundation had provided funds to charities that were registered with the Hospital and Charities Commission since it was established. These included up to 1,000 institutions such as benevolent, foundling, maternity and rescue homes, organisations giving relief in affliction, kindergartens and orphanages.

The number of charities and the needs of particular members of the community continued to increase during and post World War II. The Foundation’s committee was aware of these needs and in 1951, it decided to donate £100 to the Old People’s Welfare Council. This decision was made after one of the committee members brought attention to the need of assisting the aged population as at that time one in thirteen were aged over 65:
“an organisation called the Old People’s Welfare Council had recently formed of representatives from organisations which interest themselves in the problems of the aged…this Fund (the Foundation) might consider making a small grant to Old People’s Welfare Council…the welfare of the aged was a most urgent social need of the community today” (Executive meeting, 13/12/1951).

The Old People’s Welfare Council developed into the Council on the Ageing (COTA), which today has been a recent recipient of a Foundation major grant.

Around the time of World War II, the Foundation also launched the Rose Day appeal to assist Free Kindergartens as they were experiencing increasing financial difficulties. Teachers’ salaries had to be increased to meet the rising living costs and some kindergartens were finding it increasingly difficult to continue operating. In addition, building maintenance costs; play equipment and in many cases, food were a big burden on school finances. For example, a kindergarten committee had to raise £500 every three months in order to keep one metropolitan kindergarten with 75 children operating. Although the Government provided a subsidy of £9 a child per year for the upkeep of kindergartens, further financial assistance from the Government was being requested to assist with continued operations of the kindergartens. In the meantime Free Kindergartens relied heavily on voluntary workers and on fundraising, making the Rose Day appeal an important annual event.

The Rose Day and in combination with the Flower Day, Wattle Day and October annual street appeals, distributed funds to over 200 charities for the next 20 years.

It was clear that there was now more of a need to focus on strengthening charities as the number needing support continued to increase during and post World War II. From November 1969, the Foundation began to gradually shift its attention towards supporting charities in a more targeted manner that focused on need. The Foundation also continued to support hospitals by funding specific projects.
Back to top

Changing charity landscape

The late 1980s through to the early 1990s saw a rise in unemployment to 11 per cent, which pushed the number of families and children receiving Department of Social Security pensions and allowances to over 900,000 by the end of 1992. At the same time, welfare agencies also reported a rise in requests for emergency relief and demands for help on most of the welfare agencies more than doubled since the beginning of the recession.


During these less than favourable economic conditions, there was a continuing increase in the number of requests for grants. And so the role of Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation became even more important.

From the late 1980s, funding not only continued to be provided to public hospitals and major charities but also to a number of smaller and lesser-known organisations, which did valuable work but had limited resources to fund raise on their own. One such example was a small charitable organisation called the Australian AIDS Fund (Victorian Division), which the Foundation granted from 1990. The Australian AIDS Fund provided HIV positive men, women and children with supportive accommodation services across the Melbourne metropolitan area. This was an example of how the Foundation was at the forefront of supporting a grassroots organisation working in an area that was emerging as a major health and social issue at that time. The Foundation’s involvement was also timely as the Commonwealth Government had also launched the first National HIV/AIDS Strategy, a policy framework on AIDS, which coincided with the Foundation’s support.

Another example of the grants the Foundation making grants in new areas of community concern were made in the 1990s to the Anorexia Nervosa Fellowship of Victoria, now known as Eating Disorders Victoria. This was a newly formed organisation set up by mental health professionals concerned with the incidence of eating disorders. It provided support, information and hope to people whose lives are affected by an eating disorder. It has now grown into an organisation covering a broader scope of eating disorders including advocacy and prevention and early intervention. This is yet another example of how the Foundation was able to recognise the value of supporting the work of smaller grass-roots organisations and the importance to the community.
Back to top

New health technology

Another example of the grants the Foundation making grants in new areas of community concern were made in the 1990s to the Anorexia Nervosa Fellowship of Victoria, now known as Eating Disorders Victoria. This was a newly formed organisation set up by mental health professionals concerned with the incidence of eating disorders. It provided support, information and hope to people whose lives are affected by an eating disorder. It has now grown into an organisation covering a broader scope of eating disorders including advocacy and prevention and early intervention. This is yet another example of how the Foundation was able to recognise the value of supporting the work of smaller grass-roots organisations and the importance to the community.

The first three projects were chosen based on the themes of children, microsurgery and ageing and were granted a total of $25,500:
  • Royal Women’s Hospital: a Neonatal Cardiorespirography Unit to detect abnormalities in new-born babies ($5,500)
  • The Alfred Hospital: a Carl Zeiss Operating Microscope ($10,000)
  • The Mount Royal Hospital: items of equipment necessary to set up a Gerontology Institute, which is now known as the National Ageing Research Institute (NARI) ($10,000).

The following year, the Foundation’s Council decided that the entire percentage of funds distributed to hospitals would be devoted to eleven special projects. It was anticipated that the continuation and expansion of the project scheme would provide a more positive approach to helping hospitals and charities. Likewise it was hoped that this new approach would also give a new meaning and drive to the fundraising ability and the development of the Foundation’s activities. The Foundation’s Board envisioned that eventually all distributions would go towards specific projects for both charities and hospitals. Active discussions had already begun on the future policy and direction of the Foundation at that time.

Since 1976, over 600 hospital projects in the form of equipment and materials were funded by the Foundation. These included necessary equipment such as beds, laboratory materials, examination tools, surgery equipment and specialty monitors. But grants were also provided towards emerging technology such as a bionic ear oximeter; a glucose analyser and a haemodialysis machine, these grants were up to $10,000 each.

In 1997, the Royal Melbourne Hospital was provided a major grant of up to $150,000 to establish the Brain Imaging Laboratory in the neuroscience unit of the hospital. More recently, in 2008, the Foundation granted a signature grant of $1.5 million to the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre Appeal, which was raising funds to build a specially designed facility for cancer research, treatment and patient-centred care.
Back to top
Future thinking - positive social change

Proactive and engaged granting

In 2013, Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation celebrated its 90th anniversary. To coincide with this milestone, a new brand mark was introduced reflecting the Foundation’s vision to lead and inspire philanthropy in Australia through responsive and proactive grant making, philanthropic services, research and community initiatives.

This is not the first time, however, that Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation has changed its image or adopted a proactive approach to dealing with community issues. In 1998 the Foundation established an innovative program called OK 3000: a project for Melbourne’s homeless youth in conjunction with the City of Melbourne. The program aimed to reconnect newly homeless young people back to support networks in their community of origin whilst minimising their exposure to the damaging effects of street life. Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation provided $100,000 towards this project and a further $50,000 the following year. The program implemented through Melbourne City Mission. This was the first time the Foundation focused a considerable portion of funds towards the development of a significant welfare project.

Then in 2009, the Foundation funded two signature projects targeting homelessness: The Salvation Army’s 24/7 Melbourne’s Road Home and Sacred Heart Mission’s Journey 2 Social Inclusion (J2SI) Projects. These projects have been both innovative and ground breaking and have resulted in many positive outcomes, including influencing government policy.
Back to top

Social impact

From the late 1970s, Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation envisioned that ultimately all distributions would go towards specific projects for both charities and hospitals.

Signature grants of $1,000,000 or more were first introduced in 2008 to allow the Foundation to target significant social issues such as homelessness. Two signature grants were awarded in 2009 to innovative projects focusing on homelessness, the Salvation Army‘s 24/7 Melbourne’s Road Home and Sacred Heart Mission’s Journey to Social Inclusion (J2SI). Both of these projects showed from early on that these would make a positive impact in the community. For example, within the first six months of 24/7 Melbourne’s Road Home commencing, the service had provided crisis intervention to 118 people directly and secured accommodation for 68 people. This result is bound to have a marked impact on the community as the importance for accommodation linked to on-going support is an essential element for providing a long-term solution to homelessness.

Although the work of the Foundation has evolved over these years, its fundamental aim of having a positive impact on the community has remained the same. Beginning with an emphasis on hospitals, the Foundation now focuses its work on specific issues important to the community. The areas which the Foundation has chosen to youth, ageing and homelessness in order to have a more targeted impact.
Back to top