Public philanthropists make their donations count

Date: Sep 13, 2011

A number of modern philanthropists have spoken out recently about the benefits of making public donations.

According to a chancellor at the University of New South Wales, there is a value to giving that extends beyond the financial assistance provided.

David Gonski - a vocal supporter of philanthropic actions by Australia's wealthy population - talked to The Australian about the knock-on effects that a charitable donation can have and how it was important that the actions be made public.

He related the story of the $15 million contribution towards the extension of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) made by a respected chairman when it seemed that the project was doomed for failure - with many backers apparently removing their financial support.

Gonski said: "When Simon Mordant, a well-known and well-respected banker, came out and said he would give $15 million to the MCA, I think there would have been about 100 or more people who work with Simon who would have said to themselves 'If Simon is doing that I am going to give something'.

"The concept of peer leadership works in anything."

He went on to say that wealthy Australians tended to be less charitable than their peers in other countries - and when they do give, it tends to be under a shroud of anonymity.

On the topic of giving less, Gonski said that it may be due to increased levels of awareness amongst charitable givers of the responsibilities they were placing on their receivers - with many savvy business people requiring their money be spent on certain projects.

"People used to assume the money they gave to an organisation would be used properly. The new philanthropist is as careful with their giving as they are with how they make their money," he told the Australian.

"The old days of ringing up the chairman's wife and expecting them to give money are gone."

These observations come on the back of comments made by famous entrepreneur Dick Smith, who accused many of Australia's wealthy of being "selfish" before promising to publicly shame those that did not begin publicly donating to worthy causes.

Smith said that he was "disgusted" with the state of charitable giving, stating that "'In America, I'm told that if you are wealthy and you're not known as a philanthropist, you are a social pariah."

Property settlement agreements can be made during the estate planning process that allow worthy causes to access funds or assets, providing public recognition of the organisation's efforts in the process.