If companies want their donations to have an impact, they should start by giving larger amounts to fewer causes.

nyone can give money, but it is hard to do it well. It’s a salient warning from Louise Walsh, chief executive of funds management provider Future Generation, which donates its asset management fees to charity.

Walsh, a former CEO of Philanthropy Australia, argues that a good way for companies to start giving effectively is to donate larger amounts to fewer causes.

Ensuring that a corporate donor is getting the most bang for its charity buck requires a deep understanding of the social or environmental issue, the areas within the cause that need the most attention, and the individual not-for

“You’ve got to know who’s who in the zoo,” Walsh says. “You can come unstuck if you come across a charismatic CEO.”

Limiting the number of causes is important, given the philanthropic arms of most companies and corporate foundations are generally not flush with staff and hefty operating budgets. “The smaller the fund, the more strongly I would advise them to focus their efforts,” Walsh says.

Further, by limiting the number of causes, the donor has a better chance of “moving the dial”, she says.

In 2010, Deutsche Bank Australia introduced a “charity of the year” program. In 2017 it morphed into a “charity partner program”, which supports a single charity for an extended period in an effort to “make a more sustainable difference”, says Lee Merchant, the bank’s co-head of global foreign exchange in Asia and chairman of the charity committee.

Deutsche is in the third year of its partnership with the Clontarf Foundation, which uses sport to help improve the prospects of young Indigenous men. Clontarf aims to almost double the number of boys in its programs to 15,000. Merchant says: “We want to be part of that journey.”

eutsche Bank’s investment in Clontarf is just over $200,000.

Future Generation was established by Wilson Asset Management five years ago and this year donated $9.5 million. It now funds charities that support mental health and youth at risk.

The company has just completed a review of both cause areas, as well as the individual charities, and is likely to narrow its focus to just one cause. To ensure the money is used optimally, Future Generation might also require individual charities to work together.

Working with other funders is attractive to Walsh, but she notes it is complicated and would require a high level of trust between the corporate donors.

Impact through numbers

Some industries take the collaborative approach one step further and get their constituents to join forces in areas where they can make a difference. Renee Bowker is executive director of Telco Together Foundation, whose members include Telstra, Optus and Vodafone, as well as suppliers, such as Ericsson and Nokia, and re-sellers, such as iiNet.

Telco Together, which has donated more than $1 million since 2016, is expanding its remit beyond donating money collected through staff fundraising and customer bills to encouraging industry collaboration to tackle domestic and family violence and modern slavery. One of the projects is expected to be launched in 2020.

Bowker says that while telco companies like the concept of working together, and recognise the impact that could have, finding common initiatives to support – and where they could craft their own message – has proved more difficult. Some companies are more inclined to help victims, while others prefer to look at prevention.

Discussions are at an early stage, but the telcos are looking at how they can assist victims, or reduce the incidence of violence through their services and policies. Telecoms companies are often one of the first ports of call for victims, who may want to ensure an abusive family member can’t get information about their whereabouts or listen to their messages.The Property Industry Foundation co-ordinates another industry-wide initiative. It addresses youth homelessness by building transition houses, which are operated by the likes of the Salvation Army. In 2017-18, the foundation disbursed $3.3 million, of which just over half went to building accommodation.

“The magic is the in-kind donation,” says CEO Kate Mills, referring to the fact that the 130 key donors in the property and construction industries often donate materials and labour. It helps that many of the individual donor companies are used to working with each other, she says.

See the full list of Australia’s 50 top corporate givers in AFR BOSS magazine on Friday.

By Sally Patten
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