Museum foundation sets big targets

22/10/2019 - 10:04

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Helping to establish a $35 million endowment fund for the WA Museum is the latest step in Jenny Allen’s philanthropic journey.

Jenny Allen says charities need to be professional and business-like. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

Helping to establish a $35 million endowment fund for the WA Museum is the latest step in Jenny Allen’s philanthropic journey.

There is a clear theme running through Jenny Allen’s 20-year career in Australia regarding governments’ capacity to fund social initiatives.

Ms Allen’s approach is informed by years spent in Asia; while living in luxury hotels that her husband managed, she set out to help street kids living in squalor. Through most of Asia, support from government was not an option.

After becoming chief executive of Perth charity Youth Focus in 2000, she found a very different situation.

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“When I joined, they were pretty reliant on government,” Ms Allen said.

“We needed to look further afield. 

“The number of charities was enlarging every year and government, I don’t believe, can be expected to wholly support that industry.”

Ms Allen said Youth Focus established a series of successful fundraising initiatives during her 15 years at the charity.

She credits early backing from the likes of Hawaiian and Woodside Petroleum as important in giving Youth Focus credibility.

Its most notable success has been the five-day Hawaiian Ride for Youth.

“That became part of that corporate world of giving and still is to this day,” Ms Allen told Business News.

“I see that as a great form of philanthropy, by the community and businesses.”

She believes Youth Focus helped change the way Perth people see philanthropy. 

“I believe we really started that wave,” Ms Allen said.

“Maybe not the first (charity) ride but certainly one of the most successful from the very start.” 

She recalls the first Ride for Youth in 2003 attracted 24 riders and made about $150,000 – much more than anticipated.

The 2019 event, with 171 riders, raised $2.1 million.

It took the total fundraising amount to more than $21 million since the ride’s inception.

Only the newly renamed MACA Cancer 200 – Ride for Research, which typically attracts more than 1,000 riders, has bettered this level of fundraising success.

This event, held over two days, has raised more than $29 million since its inception in 2012, with all proceeds going to the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research.

Ms Allen is positive about the number of philanthropists in Perth, paying particular credit to the late Geoff Rasmussen, who chaired Youth Focus for nine years.

“He was a quiet giver, he really didn’t want the recognition,” she said.

“There are a lot of people who give who don’t want public recognition. You’d be surprised how many of these there are.

“The other change I’ve seen is the recognition that a not-for-profit charity needs to run like a business; you can’t do it on the smell of an oily rag.”

In tandem with this is a recognition that charities need to be able to invest in back-end systems so they can run professionally.

New role

That’s one thing Ms Allen has been doing at her new job as chief executive of the Foundation for the WA Museum.

The foundation incurred significant one-off costs last financial year when it updated its accounting, IT, and CRM systems.

Little wonder, as the foundation is greatly expanding the scale of its fundraising activities.

It is one of several philanthropic foundations in Western Australia that support the activities of government entities. 

Others include the Perth Children’s Hospital Foundation, the Royal Perth Hospital Medical Research Foundation and the Art Gallery of WA Foundation.

Each of these foundations is charged with raising private money to support activities that government does not fund – in a sense, reversing the traditional funding model.

Established in 1995, the museum foundation was focused for many years on gaining sponsorships for special exhibitions. That activity continues.

In 2014, the foundation’s board set itself the much more ambitious goal of establishing a $35 million endowment fund to coincide with the opening of the New Museum building in 2020.

The aim of the endowment fund is to generate a consistent revenue stream to support the museum’s education activities and research programs.

To assist its fundraising efforts, the foundation has gone through an exhaustive process to obtain Deductible Gift Recipient 1 status from the Australian Taxation Office. 

That was finalised in January this year with help from law firm Jackson McDonald.

“That’s been a big change and a great asset for the foundation,” Ms Allen said.

“It’s not an easy journey to go down that path, but we’ve been successful.

“You go through a whole process. We went from being a trust to a company limited by guarantee.”

The process included formalising its separation from government; to make this crystal clear, former government minister Julie Bishop resigned from the board.

Ms Allen said the benefits included a better working relationship with the WA Museum.

“We are more separate from the museum in our day-to-day operations, but we are closer in the goals we are trying to achieve,” she said.

Ms Allen believes it has opened new opportunities and helped with fundraising.

“It’s easier when you are talking to the public, to assure them their money is being used wisely and it is safe,” she said.

“People want to be absolutely assured that their money will be used for the purpose they are giving.

“There is no opportunity for government to utilise the funds.”

Goal-setting

The foundation, chaired by Nev Power, has built its endowment fund to about $15 million currently, up from $8.5 million at June last year.

Asked about the prospect of reaching the $35 million target by the end of 2020, Ms Allen remains hopeful.

“I think we will be up there,” she said.

“I will certainly be giving it the best nudge we can as a team here, and certainly our board will be doing the same.”

The foundation’s big supporters include Woodside Petroleum, which has had a 20-year research and funding relationship with the museum.

Woodside was the first company to take up a naming rights opportunity for the eight galleries in the New Museum.

The Woodside Learning Studio will provide flexible spaces to facilitate learning and collaboration for up to 120 visitors at a time. 

Tianqi Lithium has made a $5 million commitment.

The Connections gallery, on the upper level of the New Museum building overlooking the city, will carry Tianqi’s name.

As well as supporting the WA Museum’s ongoing work, Tianqi’s funding will be used for several exhibitions of Chinese culture over a 10-year period.

The Stan Perron Charitable Trust has also been a big supporter, donating $1 million.

In return for this support, the New Museum will feature the Stan Perron WA Treasures in its historic Hackett Hall.

The museum’s famous blue whale skeleton will be hung from the ceiling of Hackett Hall.

Andrew and Nicola Forrest’s Minderoo Foundation has bankrolled the foundation’s annual Minderoo Grant, which was launched last year.

The grants go to WA Museum scientists and curators to undertake projects that are considered beyond the remit of government funding.

For prospective backers, Ms Allen paints an exciting vision for the future of the New Museum.

“I don’t think Perth people yet have an absolute appreciation for what they are going to get.

“It’s fabulous.”  

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