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How can (and should) philanthropy defend charities?

15 September 2021

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Sue McKinnon, Director of the McKinnon Family Foundation, is a longstanding advocate for philanthropy to help defend the rights of charities to do their work.

There is a threat on the horizon for Australian charities

Charities protect our environment and strengthen our democracy. Yet in 2021, they are under increasing threat in Australia — especially in their advocacy.

We spoke to Sue after she shared her advice with members at our recent Thought Leadership Forum on protecting Australian charities. And asked her what can (and should) philanthropists do? This is what she said:

Fund  

Philanthropists can fund Hands Off Our Charities Alliance (HOOC) and other organisations that work directly on the issue of charities rights. For example, The Australia Institute and their democracy work, and the Human Rights Law Centre. The HOOC project on the Project Clearinghouse is currently seeking funding. 

Support your favourite charities  

Support them by continuing to contribute to their advocacy projects, and demonstrate your understanding of the current fraught and challenging circumstances.

Your favourite small charities will be time-poor and under-resourced for clearly understanding this situation. And, to the extent they know about the situation, are likely to be quite spooked. You can help them by getting yourself informed, getting in touch, let them know you understand, and feed them resources that will inform and equip them. 

Charities protect our environment and strengthen our democracy. Yet in 2021, they are under increasing threat in Australia — especially in their advocacy.

Speak up and speak out — do it loudly and do it creatively.

Sue McKinnon, Director of the McKinnon Family Foundation.

Engage in soft advocacy  

Speak with any connections you may have in Parliament in order to build their understanding of the size and importance of the charity sector in terms of employment. And consequently, grow deep and long-term support for the sector as a preventative measure against future attempts to threaten the sector. 

Put your mouth where your money is

Speak up and speak out — do it loudly and do it creatively. At the Thought Leadership Forum, Reverend Tim Costello said that the charity sector is largely invisible to the government. Philanthropists often are as well, especially in areas that involve speaking out against government policy. We prefer to pay other people to speak out on our behalf, but when we speak out, it is a story in itself.

The Newcastle University and Mark Vaile affair in June 2021 is a case in point — the national press consistently declined to cover the story when it ‘only’ involved students and staff, but suddenly it was an interesting story when a bunch of rich people went public. Media attention went off the scale and Mark Vaile stepped down.

The recent RMIT, Crown Casino and Ziggy Switkowski story shows that there can be all sorts of knock-on effects. However, just publishing an ad in a newspaper is not a cookie-cutter approach so I encourage everyone to take a creative look at every opportunity and work out how to hit hardest where it hurts the most (metaphorically and in a non-violent way, of course). 

You can help defend charities’ rights to speak out.

Watch Sue speak at our Thought Leadership Forum

Related links

Protecting Australian charities

Wednesday 8 September 12.00pm to 1.00pm  AEST
Rev Tim Costello AO and charities law expert Peter Seidel on protecting Australian charities.

You can help defend charities’ rights to speak out

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