Last week I spoke on a panel at the Generosity Forum in Melbourne on the three most important things I had learned while working in philanthropy.

My top tip was that impactful philanthropy requires courage.  

I believe that philanthropy has two key roles: firstly, supporting innovation by leaders in the not for profit sector to find solutions to tough community problems; and secondly, helping build the capacity of the not for profit sector.  

If philanthropy wants to support innovation, knowledge as well as courage is required.  You can reduce risk through building a strong knowledge base of the areas that you are supporting and by undertaking due diligence.  As I said at the Generosity Forum: if you don’t like learning, you shouldn’t work in philanthropy!

My second and just as important tip, was to use all the tools in the Philanthropy Toolbox so that you make as much impact as possible.  

Philanthropy is not only about making grants, although that is an important element and part of learning about an issue. There are other tools: impact investment, research, policy work, community education and convening.  This is the ability to bring people together in a safe space as an independent player not dependent on government and commercial pressures. 

So how do the tools work together? As an example, the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation where I am CEO has made major grants to affordable housing projects for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. We provided a grant of $600,000 to Vincent Care for the redevelopment of Ozanam House leveraging $10 million of Victorian Government funding, together with in kind contributions from suppliers and reduced fees from the developer. This project is tripling the accommodation available on the site to people with complex needs who would otherwise be homeless. Importantly it includes three types of housing so that people can begin a pathway out of homelessness. 

We have also invested $3 million in an Affordable Housing Loan Fund with Social Enterprise Finance Australia (SEFA) to provide another source of finance for not for profits developing affordable housing. The first $1.4 million has been drawn down by Habitat for Humanity Victoria for working capital to support its sweat equity housing program for low income families. 

In terms of research and policy, we are funders and active partners in the Transforming Housing Partnership at the University of Melbourne. Through this we have learned a great deal from housing experts from many sectors, supported some excellent research and participated in contributing to a submission to Plan Melbourne Refresh. Supporting these cross sector networks is an important role that philanthropy can play. They help us work together to look for solutions to tough problems. We are still learning and expanding our work in this space.

My third tip was that philanthropy must be nimble and open to new ideas.

It is almost a cliché to say that we live in fast changing times but it is true.  Technology is changing so fast and the challenges of climate change are in front of us. It is important that philanthropy adopts contemporary forms of digital communication and looks outwards to learn and build new partnerships.  Our partnership with Climate Works on the Generation Yes campaign and our support of EXIT as part of ClimArte's 2017 Art+Climate=Change Festival are great examples of this.

Catherine Brown
Chief Executive Officer


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