Mention the word ‘philanthropist’ to many Australians and it’s likely they’ll picture a stereotyped rich male businessman or lone hero benefactor. But an increasing number of ‘ordinary’ people are putting their hands in their pockets and their hearts on the line to make a difference.
It’s not small money we are talking about either. According to Philanthropy Australia, an estimated 14.9 million Australian adults (80.8% of the population) gave $12.5 billion to charities and not-for-profit organisations in 2015-16.
Giving generously is getting easier with the rise in online fundraising platforms and workplace giving options. Several not-for-profits are also supporting donors to amplify their impact by joining giving circles and groups.
Collective giving differs from traditional philanthropy by offering a democratic and engaged mechanism of participation. Members come together and pool their money (individuals can choose how much depending on their capacity), then vote to decide how the funds will be spent. Giving circles were started by women in the United States around 20 years ago and while hundreds now exist, the majority of members continue to be women.
And there is great power in the collective. A 2017 report by Creative Partnerships Australia found that 17 known Australian giving groups had raised more than $8.5 million for social enterprises since 2011.
Alicia Curtis is co-founder of 100 Women, a collective giving circle based in Western Australia. Since they started five years ago, 100 Women have granted $500,000 to support projects focused on the development of women and girls locally, nationally and internationally.
“People often want to contribute but lack the time, connections or expertise to know how or who to give money to. We offer a robust grants process on behalf of members and they love to be involved,” Alicia says.
The group has around 160 members and big plans for growth. “We have a significant untapped market of donors in Australia,” Alicia says. “People don’t realise they can get involved in philanthropy and have an impact. You can be young, at the start of your career, or from a diverse cultural background.”
Greater awareness and expansion of groups has significant potential to make a difference. “We are encouraging members to be creative and engage with their networks. If everyone got one more member we could easily hit a million dollars and that is a really exciting goal for us,” she exclaims.
Alicia didn’t deliberately set out to create a giving circle. The inspiration came from reading the book Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. “The stories of female oppression had me in tears,” she recalls. “The women didn’t have access to health, education or economic activity. I would never allow for my sister to not have access to such basic rights. I questioned why we were still allowing this to happen. Why weren’t we giving women the same rights or choices?”
In that moment Alicia realised that she wanted to do something and that what was needed was money. “I knew a hundred women who could give a hundred dollars a month,” she recalls. “I told my best friend about the idea and she loved how tangible it was. She’d been involved in grant making projects so knew what to do. ‘Right. Let’s make it happen’ she said”.
While collective giving wasn’t new to Australia, Alicia was adamant that their group would be solely focused on women and girls. “Unfortunately, we still don’t have equality for women,” says Alicia. “There is often an unconscious bias when it comes to funding projects for women; they don’t get the attention they need and get left behind. We continue to hear of axed support services and cuts in budgets, even though we know one woman dies every week from domestic violence. Who and why are we making cuts to funding?…It’s critical that women are involved in making decisions about what they feel is important to fund.”
One hundred percent of money raised by 100 Women goes to grant recipients. Operations are funded by sponsorship and an army of volunteers do the leg work. They don’t want to just put their money in, they also want to contribute their time, skills and contacts. “People come very committed to what we are trying to achieve,” says Alicia. “So much can be done when people are passionate and committed.”
Jacqui Alder has been an active member for two years and joined because the organisation’s purpose and values were strongly aligned with her own. “As a woman born in the 1960s with a migrant background, and raised in a household with constrained finances, it’s a cause close to my heart,” she reveals.
Jacqui sits on the advisory board and co-chairs the membership committee. She was inspired to take on the role following a positive experience serving on the grants committee. “What I love is the impact our grants have. It’s one of our guiding principles in the grant making process. At $30,000 our grants are relatively small, so we focus on giving where the amount will make a big difference“ says Jacqui.
Being involved in a giving group isn’t all about altruism either – it can also make you feel better. “These days, we are suffering from a meaning deficit disorder,” explains Alicia. “People are a bit lost and disconnected from what gives them true happiness. Collective giving makes them smile because they can use the small amount of money they have for good.”
Being part of a collective also provides access to a supportive network of people who share the same interests and values. “We started as a giving circle but what we have created is a nexus of women (and men) who have come together to create change. The new approach to networking enables people to connect at a deeper level and a deeper purpose.”
Alicia admits she has always been fortunate in business to be around supportive women, and to be involved in projects that support other women, “It’s incredible when you realise the ripple effects that come from women openly supporting other women.”
Alicia firmly believes that 100 Women brings to life the notion that providing women opportunities to better their health, education, and well-being has an effect beyond a single individual. Research suggests that a woman multiplies the impact of an investment made in her future by extending benefits to the world around her, creating a better life for her family and building a strong community.
“Giving circles like 100 Women create power and influence in our community to do good. We are female focused and men friendly, and about everyone contributing to a world that offers the same opportunities,” says Alicia. “It may not be huge amounts of money, but we are creating small ripple effects that you can ignite.”