Let's change the way we think about giving to charity - Op Ed, The Canberra Times


The Canberra Times, December 1 2020

Just as coronavirus hit, Dawn was diagnosed with stage four cancer.

The preschool teacher mentioned it to the parents of one of the children in her class. Not long afterwards, the family said they wanted to give her a gift of $10,000. They had been saving it for a holiday, but figured Dawn could better use the money in her battle with cancer.

When coronavirus hit at the start of 2020, countless Australians reached out to help those around them. Three young women who had lost their jobs went out to their first dinner in months to celebrate a birthday. A couple at the next table heard their story, and quietly paid the bill before slipping out. The women were reduced to tears at the generosity of complete strangers.

Today is Giving Tuesday, part of an international movement to encourage philanthropy. The campaign kicked off in 2012 when members of the 92nd Street Y, a community centre on the upper east side of Manhattan, decided that the United States needed a day to counterbalance shopaholic dates such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Assisted by the United Nations, Giving Tuesday has grown into a worldwide movement.

With Australia suffering a recession and a pandemic, there's never been more need for generous philanthropists. This year, a majority of non-profit organisations are expected to make a loss, and many are wondering how they will survive when JobKeeper ends. Big fundraising events such as charity balls and doorknocking campaigns have been cancelled, and millions of volunteers have stepped back.

At the same time, the need for philanthropy is greater than ever. With gigs and exhibitions cancelled, it seems like every artist is a struggling artist. In Perth, the Minderoo Foundation has partnered with the Art Gallery of Western Australia to match donations to a program helping new artists.

Family violence is often intertwined with financial control, so the Brian and Virginia McNamee Foundation funded the Purse Project, a financial capability program to help Victorian survivors of family violence manage their money. It also trains family violence counsellors, with the motto "Always ask the money question".

Giving isn't just for adults. In Geelong, the Kids as Catalyst program works with school children aged eight to 12, encouraging them to become changemakers in their local communities. It's about building the next generation of volunteers and philanthropists, so that young people see themselves as able to shape the world, not just float along.

How can you make a difference? Consider making giving a structured part of your life, rather than just donating to the next charity that happens to ask you for money. Many workplaces offer payroll giving programs, in which you can make a regular gift to your favourite cause - sometimes with the company matching the donation. Spend a few minutes researching the best organisations that work on your favourite issue, whether it's child poverty, diabetes research, or regional renewal.

Giving isn't just a noble thing to do - it can also be a great source of joy. In a famous experiment, social scientists gave a group of people money at the start of the day. Half were asked to spend it on themselves, while the other half were asked to give it away. At the end of the day, the givers were markedly happier. Rather than indulging in a sweet treat or a massage, they'd bought lunch for a rough sleeper or donated to a favourite cause. They were on the "helper's high".

Andrew Leigh is the opposition spokesman for charities, and the author (with Nick Terrell) of Reconnected: A Community Builder's Handbook.


Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.