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Eight insights into effective social change philanthropy

As Chair of the Reichstein Foundation, I’ve had the privilege of standing with, supporting, and learning from dedicated and passionate advocates from across Australia for over four decades. In this time I’ve witnessed the transformative power of giving and I’ve also gained a number of insights into how to best approach social change philanthropy. Below are eight of the key lessons that have emerged from my experience.


1. Creating social change requires dedication and time

Social change doesn’t happen overnight. Changing the systems that drive injustice and inequality is a process that requires unwavering commitment. By dedicating our time and resources to a particular issue or movement over many years (and often decades), we can help to create a more significant and lasting impact.


2. Collaboration magnifies your impact

The power of collective action is immense. The problems we seek to solve are too big to tackle alone, and by working together as funders we can pool our resources, share knowledge and learning, and build movements with the power to create sustainable change.


3. Listen to and learn from affected communities

Communities facing injustice and inequality hold the solutions to the challenges they are facing, but often lack the resources to implement them. To succeed in our work, we must listen to and learn from those directly affected by the issues we seek to solve and ensure their expertise is leading the way. Top-down donor-driven approaches simply do not work.


4. Don’t shy away from political engagement

To create systemic change, we can’t shy away from political engagement. Many pressing social issues are driven by and deeply entrenched within political structures and policies, and the advocates working to change these systems need the support of bold and forward-thinking donors.


5. Go beyond grant-making

As funders of social change, we must use our voices, platforms, connections, and power to advocate alongside our grant partners. We should see ourselves as part of the movements we support and actively contribute to the causes we are backing.


6. Trust is the cornerstone of a productive partnership

To truly make a difference, trust between funders and grant partners is paramount. This trust creates an environment where partners are empowered to innovate, adapt, and execute their initiatives effectively. And when funders establish systems and processes built on trust, it frees our partners up to concentrate on their mission, helping optimize the use of resources.


7. Innovation and risk-taking are essential

Funders must have the courage to back initiatives that are trying out new approaches to solving social problems. Sometimes unconventional ideas lead to significant impacts. Philanthropy provides a unique space to experiment, and by supporting initiatives that are willing to explore new approaches, we can potentially discover more effective ways to address social issues.


8. Remain agile and responsive to changing contexts

Agility in philanthropy means being prepared to act swiftly in response to emerging social issues or backing campaigns addressing imminent and evolving problems. By maintaining flexibility and open to changing circumstances, as funders we can step in to provide assistance at critical moments.