Corporate giving change

10/12/2008 - 22:00


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CORPORATE giving has evolved rapidly in Western Australia, with companies increasingly likely to provide money for good causes.

Corporate giving change

CORPORATE giving has evolved rapidly in Western Australia, with companies increasingly likely to provide money for good causes.

Wesfarmers is often put forward as one of the earliest examples in WA of structured corporate philanthropy, with its former managing director Michael Chaney viewed as the champion of that strategy which has led others down similar pathways.

While Wesfarmers' commitment is most obviously seen in the arts spectrum, it believes being a good corporate citizen across the board is equally as important.

These days, companies of all sizes contribute corporate funds to a wide variety of causes.

One of the most high profile is the Rio Tinto Future Fund, established in 2001 when Rio Tinto was coming under fire for its takeover of Robe River Iron Ore and lacked a coherent approach to supporting community objectives.

The fund has had $24 million committed to it since 2001, and distributed $1.7 million in 2007.

Most in the not-for-profit sector acknowledge the role that corporate philanthropy plays, though many see the objectives changing as its sophistication grows and what was once giving morphs into something resembling sponsorship.

Telethon Institute for Child Health Research's Fiona Stanley is cautious about criticising corporate support, acknowledging that it's risky to bite the hand that feeds.

Nevertheless, Professor Stanley said corporate donations were increasingly tied to specific concepts and there were more often requests to have the donors' staff involved in the project.

"I think this is very difficult for us," she said.

While environmental groups, for instance, can involve a company's staff directly in a project, it's an awkward proposition in the sensitive area of child health research.

"We find that hard, to involve people in research," Professor Stanley said. "Research can be quite sensitive, it's too confidential."

Another issue for the institute is that tying money to a particular project plays havoc with the way such organisations are run, often corralling funds for specific purposes, rather than investing in the administrative side, which is often regarded as unsexy.

"I have to raise $6.5 million a year to run our institute," Professor Stanley said. "We have nearly 500 people. We need to find people who don't mind funding the cleaners."

She said this was a trend she had noticed and that many corporate donors understood the need for core funding to keep the lights on.

Professor Stanley pointed to oil giant Shell's commitment to additional core funding for its Australian Early Development Index project, a partnership that won it a gong at the Prime Minister's Awards for Excellence in Community Business Partnerships in 2007.

Pushing the extra funding back to core usage had been a direct result of offering Shell more feedback from the existing project, something of benefit to both parties.

"There are ways we can do it. The way of the world is they want to be more involved. Perhaps we need to be innovative in that," Professor Stanley said.


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