Guest bloggers

The ACPNS blog is designed to keep readers up-to-date with all the latest news, events and research from ACPNS. Articles are posted regularly by Centre researchers and staff. From time to time we invite guest bloggers to include a relevant piece, particularly our Visiting Academics who come from all over the globe and include some of the best thinkers in the nonprofit world.

Thank you to QUT Learning Advisor Lee Holloway for filming this online tutorial for new ACPNS students.

We now have a new online tutorial available for new ACPNS students! The fabulous Lee Holloway, Learning Advisor at QUT, has kindly taken the time to film this tutorial discussing the learning support services available to students.

Click here to view the tutorial

Please take the time to watch this if you are an ACPNS student as these services can greatly assist with your studies!

We thank Lee once again for her continued support of ACPNS students.

Thank you to QUT Business School Liaison Librarian Janet Baker for filming this online tutorial for new ACPNS students.

ACPNS students can now get a head start on their studies by watching this new online tutorial by the wonderful Janet Baker, the QUT Business School Liaison Librarian. In the tute Janet takes students through the library resources available as well as some tips on searching and information managing.

Click here to view the tutorial

You can watch this fab tute before beginning your studies with us, or have it handy when you need a refresher!

Thanks once again to Janet for providing us with this valuable resource.

Thank you to Dr Sue-Anne Wallace AM, Chair of the Customer Owned Banking Code Compliance Committee, Deputy Chair of the Code Authority of the Fundraising Institute Australia and Vice-President of the Humanitarian Quality Assurance Initiative (Geneva) for this blog about an important initiative.

@Charity sector moves to improve complaint handling

Ten leading national peak bodies working in the charity sector – across the arts, emergency relief, fundraising, community organisations, volunteering, philanthropy and governance – have launched a policy to significantly improve how charities handle complaints.

The new policy will ensure that complaints are handled confidentially and safely, enhancing community trust and confidence in the work of charities. In this regard, the sector will also have access to complaint data which will ensure lessons learnt can be applied to their charitable activities.

Our initiative has been welcomed by the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission’s Commissioner the Hon. Dr Gary Johns who said ‘Improving the governance of charities and how charity boards manage risk and enhance accountability are key concerns of the ACNC. We encourage charities of all sizes to review their procedures and consider adopting these and other like tools to assist them to manage community expectations of charitable activities.’

As a driver of this initiative, I began researching this area of charity activity in 2014. Even before the Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse, it was clear that many charities were not meeting community expectations in dealing appropriately with complaints. This work provides policy templates which charity boards can adapt and use to manage risk and improve service delivery.

Ensuring people in need – particularly those in vulnerable circumstances – have a safe and confidential avenue to raise complaints, is critical to good governance of the sector and minimisation of harm to the beneficiaries of charitable services and others engaged with charities.

Furthermore, this initiative creates accountabilities that exist in the public and private sectors and which should be standard business practice in the charity sector.

Complaints to charities and not-for-profits

Charities and other not-for-profits should provide a safe and effective service to those who wish to make a complaint to or about a charity, whether regarding mismanagement of people’s information and data, use of donations, costs of fundraising or fundraising methods, the provision of services or the quality of the service. Many complaints happen because of alleged services failures, relevant information is not readily available, is difficult to understand, incomplete or misleading, does not appropriately address common concerns or frequently asked questions, is not provided or made available within a reasonable period of time.

Complaints and compliments are best viewed as a positive interaction with the people and communities which charities serve.

Benefits of handling complaints well

Good complaint handling can provide you with knowledge which can be used to:

  • Improve products and services
  • Build better relationships with your donors and those you serve
  • Improve your bottom line
  • Empower your staff to resolve issues fairly and efficiently

Bad complaint handling can cost your organisation

  • Donor and customer loyalty
  • The lifetime value of a donor
  • The public reputation of your organisation
  • Direct financial expenses in relation to the complaint

Consider the following:

  • Is it easy to make a complaint to your organisation? For example:
    • Is the information about who to contact easy to find?
    • Do you have feedback or complaint forms in print and electronic formats?
  • Consider whether it is possible to resolve a complaint informally by talking to the individual and providing an explanation or apology.
  • Are there regular reviews of the issues raised by complaints to or about your organisation?

How to use the model documents

The documents – Model Policy and Model Procedure – are intended to provide guidance to organisations on the key principles and concepts of an effective and efficient complaint management system. These documents and information on how to use them can be found here.


Charities deliver broad social benefits to Australian society across education, health care, social services, religious services, and internationally through emergency relief and development. The total revenue of the sector is $142.8 billion of which $10.5 billion is raised through charitable fundraising and bequests. Around 1 million Australians volunteers to support the work of charities in Australia.

The 10 peak national bodies behind this policy launch are The Australian Council for International Development, Community Council Australia, Public Fundraising Regulatory Authority, Governance Institute of Australia, Fundraising Institute Australia, Our Community, Volunteering Australia, Philanthropy Australia, National Roundtable of Nonprofit Organisations and Justice Connect.

Thank you to Dr Beth Breeze, Director of the Centre for Philanthropy at the School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research, University of Kent for this blog.


What do fundraisers do other than raise funds?

A book on what fundraisers do might be expected to be rather short and unrevealing. Surely the clue is in the name? But three years of studying the army of people who keep UK charities in business reveals the diversity and complexity of the work undertaken by fundraisers. Having interviewed and surveyed over 1,200 UK fundraisers, I propose a new model, ‘the 3 Fs’ to explain how fundraisers Foster a philanthropic culture, Frame needs and Facilitate donations:

Fostering a philanthropic culture

Fundraising success is reliant on the existence of a positive culture of philanthropy, which means that everyone in a nonprofit understands, and is supportive of, the role of philanthropy in advancing the organisation’s mission. Many of my interviewees describe working in charities that lack such a culture of philanthropy. One explained:

I’ve had bitter experiences of working in charities where they just don’t care about the fundraisers: they don’t back you up, they just expect you to wave a magic wand and come back nine months later with a big pot of money and no questions asked. As soon as you start asking for things like contacts, or information, they think that you’re not doing your job.

But interviewees also recognised their reliance on colleagues as sources of information and interesting insights to share with donors, and understood that supporters usually prefer to meet the charity’s leaders and programme staff who can share interesting stories from the frontline:

It’s essential to find colleagues within the organisation who have the charisma and willingness to meet donors. If you don’t have colleagues you can present to donors then you’re stuck.

A lack of collegiality can be evident when colleagues hold – and express – normative negative views about asking for money, as one interviewee related:

I saw a colleague talking to a really important prospect at a party, who could have single-handedly funded a project that I know really mattered to that colleague. So I made my way over to join them. My colleague saw me coming and I heard him turn to this man and say: “Here comes our fundraiser, watch your wallet!”

When this incident was related to other fundraisers, most groaned in recognition and said that something similar had happened – often more than once – to them. For example, another interviewee recalled this similarly excruciating incident: A trustee had agreed to set up a lunch meeting with a wealthy friend who had expressed interest in the charity’s work. Once they and the fundraiser were settled at the table, the trustee stood up to walk away, saying: “Right! I’ll leave you with our fundraiser to do the dirty work”

Despite the difficulty, and what can be construed as unnecessary distraction, of expending energy on fostering an internal culture of philanthropy, it remains a priority for most successful fundraisers, in part because of its simple necessity but also, in the words of another interviewee:

You have to be able to inspire colleagues as well as donors, and persuade them to follow you. Its about conviction and belief. If you can’t do that, you really can’t do the job.

Framing needs

The second ‘F’ refers to framing needs to establish what needs to, and can, be done. A significant barrier to philanthropic action is lack of awareness of the existence and urgency of some problems, or the belief that nothing can be done to mitigate or solve them. So a key role for fundraisers is drawing attention to needs that might otherwise be neglected, and framing them in a way that encourages a charitable response. As one interviewee explains:

Fundraisers are a bit like Venetian storytellers, going down to the wharf to get stories from visitors to take back to their neighbourhoods.

Whilst some people will be grateful to be alerted in this way and will respond as prompted, others will resent the intrusion of ‘moralists at the feast’ who make demands on their private resources. The act of framing is therefore essential and yet also risks exacerbating public hostility to fundraising.

The framing of needs can require deep subject knowledge or the willingness to acquire it. Major donors sometimes have a high level of expertise in the work of the organisations they support, and understandably prefer to interact with someone who can speak proficiently on the topic. In some cases, a fundraiser can call on the help of in-house experts, such as programme or policy staff. As one university-based fundraiser explained: “I bring in a bioscience academic to get credibility when asking for donations in that area”. But most charities are small, and becoming an ‘instant expert’ is another task that successful fundraisers are often obliged to take on:

In all the charities I’ve worked in, the fundraisers are expected to have knowledge only second to the people actually doing the work. I enjoy that, I worked in children’s charities for ten years and I understood all the policy side of things, then I moved to a medical research charity and that was a big change but I liked challenging myself. I didn’t have a clue about [the disease] so the first thing I did was read everything I possibly could – I still am – that’s part of what I love about my job, you’re given the time and you’re expected to get that level of knowledge.

Facilitate donations

The third, and final ‘F’ refers to facilitating donations by providing a trusted and, where possible, enjoyable way for donors to respond to needs. The word ‘facilitate’ derives from the French word facile, and means to make an action or process easy. The insistence that fundraising has nothing in common with begging but rather is about enabling those with resources to implement their altruistic intentions, was a common theme in the interviews, as exemplified by this quote:

You’re giving people the information and the evidence to enable them to do something that they want to do, you’re not standing over them and saying “You must give”!

A substantial amount of time is invested in building positive and respectful relationships with potential donors, but eventually the fundraiser must either make an ask, or support a colleague or volunteer to do so. However, this can be very subtle, as an interviewee explains:

You can’t be very direct, it’s all in the set-up, all those little nuances, the bits and pieces of how you build it and how you engage them. You want to lead somebody to a point where the conversation becomes quite mutual and quite open, It’s really a conversation about helping donors to understand how they can make a difference.

Other interviewees note that the ask can be implicit if the preparatory work has been done well:

I always say it’s analogous to an old-fashioned courtship. People who are ready to be asked, actually ask you. I equate it to a marriage proposal – not many men get down on bended knee until they know the woman will say yes.

The facilitation process extends naturally from the ask to the post-ask experience. The continued care of those who give is a crucial and integral part of fundraising and is tailored, as far as possible, to the needs and preferences of each donor.

In sum, successful fundraisers spend their time on fostering, framing and facilitating philanthropy by creating conducive contexts in which philanthropy can thrive, by inspiring and educating both colleagues and donors, and by setting the stage for effective asking and giving.  None of these are straightforward activities, and therefore require staff who are skilled in both the ‘art’ and the ‘science’ of fundraising.


The New Fundraisers: Who organises charitable giving in contemporary society? by Beth Breeze, is published by Policy Press and is available to ACPNS readers at a discounted rate.

Go to and include the code NEWFUNDAU17 at checkout to receive the special rate.

Please note, the discount will run until the end of 2017 and the publication will take up to three weeks to be delivered.




Thank you to Ian Potter Visiting Scholar, Dr Susan Phillips for this blog.

Reinventing Philanthropy in the Sharing Economy: Lessons from Uber

Philanthropy is facing forces of big change, including technology, donor expectations, relationships with the corporate sector and social investment tools designed to produce both a social and financial return.  With a growing tension between concerns over income inequality and the use of private wealth, philanthropy is also encountering new sorts of criticism.  If philanthropy is to effectively address these challenges and continue to be innovative, it can learn a great deal from Uber, the ride sharing app.  As Tobias Jung and I argued in the concluding chapter of The Routledge Companion to Philanthropy, Uber offers both metaphorical and practical insights for philanthropy in how to navigate a sharing, data-driven economy. These extend far beyond the use of technology per se.

What are these lessons, and how do they apply in Australia?  From the past two months that I have had the honour of spending at the Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies (ACPNS) at QUT as the Ian Potter Foundation Scholar, I offer some observations.

Paying attention to Users and Suppliers

Uber works because it is built around the needs of customers, while creating the right incentives for providers: riders can order the desired level of car, know when it will arrive and are billed automatically (no digging through my handbag to find my wallet), and drivers can work as much as they want when they want.  Philanthropy’s ‘customers’ are also changing, and it needs to pay more attention to them. Crowdfunding platforms such as Big Give, created by the Community Foundation for Central Victoria that Ann Lansberry talked about at the National Community Foundation Forum, is one of many examples of how donors can better identify projects that matter to them. Engaging users is about more than technology, however.  Nonprofits and philanthropic organizations are under increased pressure to engage with their donors, members, users and beneficiaries – and their communities at large – in meaningful ways. Are not-for-profits listening to their members, beyond the perfunctory AGM? How are foundations learning what their users want?

The Uber metaphor also demonstrates the need to pay more attention to the ‘supply chain’ that serves this sector.  Professional advisors (e.g. wealth advisors, financial planners, lawyers, accountants) to High Net Worth (HNW) individuals are important, but often ignored  components of this supply chain. As the Giving Australia survey conducted by ACPNS is likely to show, many HNW households could give much more than they currently do, and fundraisers will need to more effectively mobilize them.  Yet, there is a big gap between what potential HNW donors want to know from their advisors in order to make informed giving decisions and the kind of advice they are getting (at least as revealed in Canadian and US studies).  This link in the supply chain needs to forged more closely.

Data and Transparency for Impact

Uber is built on data: with a GPS record of every ride, driver and passenger, it knows patterns of demand and performance.  Transparency – the rating of performance of suppliers and users – is integral to Uber and its Airbnb and other cousins. Internationally, philanthropy has also become seized with demands for greater transparency. While the public still has a great deal of trust in charities, more than ever they want to know where the money goes and who it benefits.  Foundations have been a particular target for increased transparency, most notably in the US where the Foundation Center’s Glasspockets website tries to pull them into greater openness. Australia seems to still sit somewhat on the sidelines of this debate, which I am told is for two reasons.  First, the Australian culture of philanthropy sees giving as a private act, not to be unduly boasted about, thus creating a bias toward privacy. Second, mandated public reporting to the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission (ACNC) is still relatively recent and this remit does not cover all charities, so the desirable extent of transparency can still be debated.  By contrast, in Canada where all charities – including faith-based charities, independent schools and private foundations – must file annual public reports, the ship of claims for exclusion has long since sailed.  Clearly, the spillover of expectations from the sharing economy leans toward greater transparency. With the ACNC here to stay, working with digital data rather than legacy paper-based systems that frustrate many charity regulators, the value of data about and to the sector as a whole will grow.

The issue is about more than transparency for transparency sake, however.  It is about using data for learning and self-improvement.  The challenge is that small and medium-sized nonprofits often do not appreciate the data they have; they lack the analytical skills to make good use of it, and have few incentives to share data for collective benefit.  This problem is not likely to solve itself.   Supporting data capability, promoting collaboration around shared measurement systems (with appropriately negotiated measures), designating funds for innovation and creating scope for some failure, which is inherent in innovation, will be important. The sector and its funders need to help break down the cycle of under-investment in support systems and training – which is  so pejoratively thought of as ‘overhead’ – by countermanding the perception that an efficient, effective nonprofit is necessarily one with a low ratio of administration costs.

Collaboration is the New Competitiveness

The sharing economy reflects a ‘new power’ that, rather than being controlled by the few, is ‘open, participatory, and peer-driven’ (Heimans and Timms, 2014).  Although Uber is a fierce competitor, it also recognizes the value of collaboration with unusual partners, for instance, with upscale restaurants to deliver meals and with animal rescue shelters to bring puppies for playtime with downtown office workers (while promoting awareness of rescue animals available for adoption). Success in the philanthropic and nonprofit sector, however, still tends to be a solo, fragmented, competitive and image-driven enterprise.  In an environment of scarce resources, nonprofits have learned to excel at competition, and the Productivity Commission’s possible interest in a renewed round of competitive marketization of human services may perpetuate this, reinforcing the fragmentation of services and enhancing a need to create the right incentives for constructive collaboration  for improved service integration.

Where a new power is being exercised in creative ways is through the emergence of community-based giving circles, such as Queensland’s Women & Change.  The value of giving circles is not only that they bring more people actively into philanthropy, but they facilitate peer-to-peer learning as to how to more effectively use philanthropy for social change.  But, collaboration is rarely spontaneous: it must be animated, supported, and governed. This points to the need to continue to build the national infrastructure organizations, such as Philanthropy Australia and Australian Community Philanthropy, as collaboration facilitators and knowledge resources.

A Bright Future. . .

As philanthropy is being reinvented in some exciting ways, the potential for innovative thinking and doing has never been greater.  My observations are that Australia has some advantages over other countries in where it can take philanthropy over the next few years.  Giving appears to be strong, and increasing, whereas in many countries the rate of giving is contracting. Giving circles are engaging new donors, keen to learn how to make their giving more impactful. Family (as well as community) foundations are invested in and collaborating for place-based philanthropy for less advantaged communities. While the credibility of many charity regulators has been undermined in recent years, the ACNC is emerging as a principled, world class regulator dedicated to encouraging good practice and public trust.  And, scholars like those at ACPNS are deepening understanding of philanthropy in a manner that allows us to participate in constructive debates about its future.


BMO Wealth Management, CAGP, Giv3 and PFC. 2014. The Philanthropic  Conversation.

Heimans, J. and Timms, H. 2014. Understanding the ‘New Power’, Harvard Business Review, 92(12): 49-57.

Jung, T., S. D. Phillips and J. Harrow. 2016. The Routledge Companion to Philanthropy. London: Routledge.

US Trust. 2013. The U.S. Trust study of the philanthropic conversation: Understanding advisor approaches and client expectations. New York, NYC: U.S. Trust.


Lesley Harris


Thank you to alumnus, Lesley Harris, for this post on Giving Circles. Lesley is the Founder of ACT of Women Giving and has been involved with the community sector for many years.

I was struck by one of the opening statements at a recent philanthropic forum where the speaker declared ‘we are preaching to the converted’. It surprised me really as I realised that yes, I was converted and determined to improve a culture of community connection and philanthropy in my local area. I want people to appreciate as I do that there is ‘joy in giving’.

Luckily as a person of average means, where it is unlikely that I would ever be able to donate large amounts of money, I discovered the Giving Circle model.

How did all of this come about? I completed a Graduate Certificate in Business (Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies) at the Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies at QUT in 2010 which enabled me to formalise and expand my experience of nonprofit Management and Governance, and awakened an interest in fundraising. On reflection this was largely due to the competent delivery of the fundraising curriculum over 2 units by Wendy Scaife, who introduced the strategy and techniques involved and the notion of ‘the joy of giving’. The qualification was also instrumental to securing a role on two nonprofit boards and providing me with the confidence to undertake consultancy work in the nonprofit sector.

After my studies I was fortunate to undertake an Internship with The Myer Foundation where I had the opportunity to visit a range of community organisations who had been funded by the Foundation. Although I had worked in the nonprofit sector for 15 or so years, there was something about the depth and breadth of projects I was introduced to that deepened my appreciation of the positive impact giving can make.

When I returned to Canberra in 2013 it was apparent that there was untapped potential to further develop a culture of giving and community connection in Canberra. However with few networks at that time, I parked the thought. As an avid reader about all things philanthropic I discovered the Impact100 Giving Circle in Melbourne and The Australian Women’s Donor Network. I learned how the Giving Circle model was particularly attractive to women; quite successful in Australia and was clever in the way it enlisted aspects of networking, engaging members with community through their involvement in the grant selection process; and due to the multiplier effect provided the opportunity for members to collectively make more of a difference than they would be able to via a single donation. That was my ‘lightbulb’ moment where I realised I could implement this model utilising my skills, experience and passion for philanthropy, fundraising and community to unearth the untapped potential I had previously observed.

My vision is to provide opportunities for donors to connect with grant recipients which I anticipate will generate the inspiration I had experienced myself on site visits as an intern.  In January this year, I along with two co-founders launched the ACT of Women Giving that aims to raise funds to advance opportunities for local women and girls to an audience of 55 women. Not all are donating YET! Our progress is steady and I have no doubt will build momentum over time. We are laying some strong foundations in the community and are well on the way to giving our first small grant later in 2016.


Visiting Scholar, Dr Oonagh Breen

We are very pleased to have Oonagh with us from March to May 2016.

By whatever namOonaghe you call them — ‘social impact bonds’, ‘social benefit bonds’, ‘pay for success bonds’ or ‘development impact bonds’ – there is no denying the current interest in social impact investments. Queensland is no stranger to this conversation with Treasury recently inviting expressions of interest in its Social Benefit Bonds (SBB) pilot in the areas of reoffending, homelessness and issues facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The Queensland pilot follows NSW’s successful creation of two SBBs in 2013 and the launch of its Social Impact Investment Policy in 2015. To date, investors in the NSW Newpin Bond have received annual returns of between 7.5-8.9% while the success of the Benevolent Society bond will be measured at the end of its 5-yr term.

Two key challenges with social impact bonds (SIBs) lie firstly in the negotiation of key performance indicators and corresponding state pay-rates; and secondly in the subsequent independent verification of actual outcomes against agreed indicators. Both processes can be long, complex and ultimately expensive. Moreover, even successful bonds do not always come to fruition. The UK’s first SIB, the Peterborough Bond, closed early in June 2015 when it ceased to be compatible with government reforms to the probation service, serving as a warning to future investors that investment returns are not always guaranteed. The UK, now the SIB world-leader with 32 active bonds on the market, recently reviewed the size and composition of its social investment market. Surprisingly, the report revealed that SIBs currently only account for 1% (or £14 million) of the UK’s social investment market.

While nonprofits and charities are normally the entities benefiting from social investment, it is also possible for charities to be on the investment supply side. For foundations interested in receiving some financial return on their investment in addition to a positive social return, in contrast to philanthropic grants, SIBs can be an attractive option.

Despite the existence of well developed trustee investment powers under the UK Trustee Act 2000 (powers which would not be terribly dissimilar from those enjoyed by Queensland trustees under the Trustee Act 1973, as amended), the British Government found it necessary to clarify the law regarding the powers of charity trustees to engage in social investment in its recently enacted Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Act 2016, inserting a new Part 14A into the English Charities Act 2011, which now defines ‘social investment’ and sets out charity trustees’ powers and duties in making such investments. Section 292(A) provides that a social investment is made when a ‘relevant act of a charity’ is carried out with a view both to a) directly furthering the charity’s purposes and b) achieving a financial return for the charity. “Relevant acts” include the charity’s application or use of funds or other property or taking on a commitment in relation to the liability of another person (such as a guarantee) that puts the charity’s funds or property at risk of being applied or used. This definition directly caters for program related investment but mixed motive investment is also possible as s.292(A)(7) states that the fact that ‘a relevant act’ has results other than the two mentioned above does not prevent the carrying out of that act being regarded as a social investment.

Section 292A(5) makes clear that a related act may qualify as a social investment even where funds or other property are not applied or used with a view to generating a financial profit. From a financial perspective, a social investment may be neutral (for example, an interest‐free loan or a rent‐free lease) or even loss‐making (for example, if only part of the initial outlay is recovered). But an application or use of funds that is expected to result in a total loss of those funds is not a social investment.

In its April 2016 survey of Northern Ireland environmental NGOs, New Philanthropy Capital (NPC) found that while 64% of respondents expected social investment to become very/fairly important for them over the next three years, only 14% stated an intention to apply for social investment over the coming year and 58% admitted to having a poor/very poor knowledge of social investment. Given SIB’s small share of the UK social investment market, these findings would likely be replicated if a UK-wide survey were undertaken. NPC’s report recommends tackling the barriers of increasing NGO awareness of social investment options and improving NGO capacity to better manage financial planning and impact measurement in order to unlock the potential for social investment.

Perhaps a challenge that will resonate here in Queensland too?


Visiting Scholar, Dr Diana Leat

We are very pleased to have Diana with us from February to May 2016.

April 2016Front Page News
It’s not often that charities make newspaper headlines but in the UK at present charities are having a hard time staying off the front page. And it’s not good news!

The following are just three of the major recent stories. The closure of Kids Company was big news. This high profile charity was run by a very colourful and charismatic woman much loved by the Prime Minister, David Cameron, and the media. The charity had received around $80 million in government money over 13 years, and in its last days received another grant of around $8 million. The bankruptcy of Kids Company led to enquiries by both the National Audit Office and the House of Commons.

Then there was the ‘Olive Cooke scandal’ on the front page of almost every newspaper. Olive Cooke was a 92 year old woman who allegedly committed suicide because she felt hounded by charities. Olive Cooke was a regular donor to a number of charities and in the year before her death she had received 2800 letters – that’s 9 letters per day. The charities which had been trading her data were unrepentant – beneficiaries trump donors, the end justifies the means. It emerged that this particular case was just the tip of an iceberg: donor contacts had risen from 2.7 bn in 2009 to 20 bn in 2014 and complaints to the Fundraising Standards Board quadruped from 13,000 in 2009 to 52,000 in 2014. Another House of Commons enquiry.

That was followed by the revelation that Age UK was making around $12 million per annum from a major energy provider in return for recommending a ‘best deal’ electricity tariff for older people – but the deal actually wasn’t cheaper. Again the response from the charity was ‘nothing wrong, no apology, it’s a good way of raising money’.

The list goes on. Scandals in the charity world are nothing new but arguably what is interesting about the Olive Cooke and the Age UK cases is that they don’t fit the usual pattern. In the past charity scandals have been about theft, misconduct, personal lifestyle enhancement, mismanagement of resources, and so on. The charity is deviant, it is the rotten apple. Kids Company fits that pattern – it was, at the least, badly managed. The Olive Cooke and the Age UK cases are different; these cases are not about deviance but about common practice. The new scandals are sector inflicted.

It hardly needs to be said that charities can’t afford to lose public trust. Trust, high moral standards, public benefit and lack of self- interest are a huge part of the charity brand. If charities lose trust beneficiaries will be the losers.

The Olive Cooke and the Age UK cases raise ethical as well as pragmatic issues. The reactions to them by the media, the public and the charities themselves suggest an incongruity between the narratives and modern ‘professional’ practices of the charity sector and public understanding of those. The public and the media thought they were watching Little Women and were shocked to realise that the sector is playing Wall Street.


Visiting Fellow, Bob Wyatt, Executive Director of The Muttart Foundation

Bob visited the Centre from Canada in February and March of 2016

BobIn early February, I joined ACPNS Interim Director Wendy Scaife at a meeting of the Social Investors’ Network – a group of area foundations that meets regularly to further professional development and exchange information. My presentation focused on the work of The Muttart Foundation, and particularly its role in seeking to ensure Canada has a strong charitable sector. The members of the Network were particularly interested in two of Muttart’s activities – its role in convening people with different perspectives on an issue and creating a safe environment for discussions, and the history Muttart has in making loans as well as grants to charities.

Fundraising is an issue that affects every charity everywhere in the world. And how governments regulate that activity is often a source of confusion and/or friction. Myles McGregor-Lowndes and I joined Assistant Commissioner David Locke in discussing the issue at a Sydney workshop convened by the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission. David Locke, who joined the ACNC from the Charity Commission of England and Wales, spoke of the significant controversy that started in England last year when media sensationalized the death of a pensioner, saying she was driven to take her life by the unrelenting pressure of charities seeking donations. Whilst the facts of the case did not support the headlines, there were enough horror stories uncovered to cause a full review of fundraising regulation and proposals for a new self-regulatory body. Myles and I discussed the not-so-sensational situations in their home countries, taking time to point out some of the fallacies that lead to regulation, and some of the practices that lead government to overreact.

In mid-February, I travelled to Melbourne with Myles McGregor-Lowndes to meet with the governors and staff of the Ian Potter Foundation, the organization that provides the funding for ACPNS’ Visiting Scholars Program which allowed me to return to Brisbane. By outlining the work that the Muttart Foundation undertakes, there was the opportunity to discuss the similarities and differences between the foundations and the environments within which they operate. Given a recent report by Philanthropy Australia that called for legislative amendments to allow private and public ancillary funds to make program-related investments, I discussed Muttart’s activities in lending money to charities in the form of mortgages and lines of credit. I also discussed the aspects of the Philanthropy Australia report that would allow lending to so-called social enterprises, expressing concern that such a move could be problematic, given the varying definitions given to the term “social enterprise.” I noted that one of the major differences between the Australian and Canadian regulatory systems emerged from the Word Investment case, in which the High Court of Australia allowed charities to undertake any commercial activities so long as the proceeds further the charity’s purposes.