Philanthropy in the service of Democracy

This week sees the launch of a powerful new toolkit for Australian philanthropy about the how and why of investing in policy advocacy and influence building. Produced by Leslie Falkiner-Rose and Philanthropy Australia, this interactive toolkit includes case studies and resources to guide philanthropic trustees, CEOs and program managers in the decision-making process around advocacy. It opens the philanthropic sector in Australia to an international library of thinking and practice around contemporary advocacy materials.

The Reichstein Foundation is pleased to have supported the development and publication of this toolkit, which we have funded in partnership with The Myer Foundation and Sidney Myer Fund, and with input from the Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network. It will be launched at this week’s Philanthropy Meets Parliament Summit, the third summit since its inauguration by Philanthropy Australia in 2015.

The toolkit could not arrive at a better time.

The earth is facing a major climate crisis, evidenced through a punishing drought in Australia, devastating early season bushfires and a stricken Murray Darling river system. The policy drift and inaction in Canberra on climate issues poses a major threat to the economic, social and environmental well-being of this country.

Fortunately, people on the frontline in local communities – children, farmers and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, along with some of Australia’s leading businesses and finance houses – are acting now and refusing to wait for government. Philanthropy needs to be there to back in these efforts, to help advocates tell the stories of what is possible. We must work with, listen to and support communities and workers directly impacted by a transition away from fossil fuels.

Our national failure to address climate change since the repeal of the 2011 Clean Energy Act is also a story of crisis in our democracy, of how certain stakeholders have used every means possible to capture the public debate and skew policy development. With the banner headline of ‘Philanthropy in the service of Democracy’, the Philanthropy Meets Parliament Summit 2019 will be an important opportunity to demonstrate that philanthropy can be a fearless voice and resource in the service of the common good.

Jill Reichstein OAM


Reichstein Foundation

The Power of Advocacy

As the Australian Parliament considers legislation which many charities fear will restrict their advocacy activities, Philanthropy Australia has released a powerful defence of funding advocacy in a report called The Power of Advocacy.

The Reichstein Foundation’s granting has long reflected our conviction that investing in smart advocacy initiatives is critical to achieving enduring and meaningful change for people suffering poverty and discrimination. We’ve been privileged to worked alongside other trusts, foundations and donors to support some of Australia’s most dogged changemakers, from self-help groups to large established charities.

Smart advocacy is essential to tackling the four great challenges facing us:

  • Growing economic inequality
  • Growing cultural and racial divisions
  • Growing impacts flowing from climate change
  • Growing distrust in democracy and its capacity to resolve these complex issues

Growing numbers of trusts and foundations believe this too. Inspired by the work of Philanthropy Australia, especially through last year’s Philanthropy Meets Parliament summit, there is now a palpable energy and interest in advocacy across Australian philanthropy. The sector’s efforts in support of marriage equality in 2017 was a turning point for many funders. That was a smart investment that achieved a phenomenal result.

We are proud to have co-funded The Power of Advocacy with the Myer Foundation which, along with the Sidney Myer Fund, has always funded across so many great causes and continues to inspire the philanthropic and community sectors.

The Power of Advocacy report is a vital resource that:

  • helps explain the rationales for funding advocacy;
  • talks about the legal aspects (and how the law is firmly on the side of funding advocacy!);
  • addresses some misconceptions; and
  • sets out some fantastic and diverse case studies, some of which involve funders gathered for today’s Roundtable.

So take a look at the report to find out more about the power of advocacy. And check out our video ‘Changing the Rules: Doing Social Justice Philanthropy‘ (below), which shares some of our own case studies, and explains why we #fundtheadvocates!

The Power of Advocacy report was launched at a Roundtable of philanthropic trusts and foundations in Melbourne on Friday 9 February 2018. It was produced by Philanthropy Australia and co-funded by the Myer Foundation and The Reichstein Foundation.


We all got this done!

15 November 2018 was an important day in the history of this country. On that day the ABS announced the results of the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey. 61.6% of respondents said YES to the question, ‘Should the law be changed to allow same sex couples to marry?.’

Today, the voice of the Australian people became law. The parliament did the right thing and has enacted an historic change.

The result is a really significant milestone that goes a long way towards overturning many historic and entrenched wrongs faced by LGBTIQ communities across Australia. It’s an important statement of the love and acceptance in the hearts of many Australians.

There will be much focus on the campaign of recent months and weeks but this is a story of change that has been waged over decades by many courageous people from all walks of life, cultures and regions of this country. It’s a story that embraces activists, strategists, artists, communities, lawyers, funders and many more.

It’s an outcome that is testament to the power of advocacy and storytelling. It’s about how communities can realise their power and build a movement of social change into something utterly compelling and inevitable.

It is also a story of how philanthropy can be an ally for and with communities in the frontline of change. Of how when we act collectively, we can help people make a difference.

Looking back over the decades of Reichstein Foundation funding, it’s apparent how consistently focused and supportive the Foundation has been of LGBTIQ communities fighting for their rights. Through battles over safe schools; support for Catholic teachers and schools to be responsive to same sex attracted students; to fighting discrimination faced by same sex attracted people with disability or same sex attracted people in rural Victoria …. Reichstein has been there. Providing support for GALFA and The Channel are enduring legacies.

The Reichstein Foundation put considerable resources into the YES campaign in the year that ultimately led to the postal survey. And once the survey was announced we partnered with the Australian Communities Foundation and the Limb Family Foundation to invite a collective response from foundations and private donors to support to the Marriage Equality campaign. Ultimately our three foundations as well as ACF sub-funds, Michael and Mim Bartlett; Michael Henry; Greig Gailey and Geraldine Lazarus; Ricci Swart; Annamila Foundation and a number of private foundations and private donors have contributed substantially to the YES campaign. This effort took place alongside the work of major philanthropies including the Snow Foundation, Perpetual, Equity Trustees, The Myer Foundation and MFCo, Ian Darling and others in responding to an urgent call for support from the Marriage Equality Campaign. Tom Snow from YES central, wrote recently that, ‘Quite simply, this result would not have happened without philanthropy. It has been critical.’

Reichstein’s work over the past 18 months has built on the long term leadership and commitment of our executive officers and trustees over many years. The fight for human rights and LGBTIQ rights in particular is built into the Foundation’s DNA and many people have contributed to that.

The battle is not won yet; there are many things to do still – and the survey results in western Sydney and parts of Melbourne show there are bridges that need to be built and more engagement to be done. But for now, let’s celebrate a significant step forward.

John Spierings, Executive Officer, Reichstein Foundation


Exploring democracy and philanthropy

Over the years I have noted the tendency of some governments to restrain the effectiveness of civil society and the advocacy of groups working to improve our society – Jill Reichstein

It was my great pleasure recently to represent the AEGN at a cross-sectoral civil-society gathering at Parliament House. CEOs of a wide range of organisations came together to support the launch of the Safeguarding Democracy report prepared by the Human Rights Law Centre.

The launch was followed by a series of meetings with MPs and ministerial advisers, providing us with an opportunity to advocate in support of the important role civil-society organisations play in our democracy.

The report outlines some disturbing changes brought about by governments of all stripes, which have begun to sour relationships between government and civil society and to threaten the ideals of a free press and free speech.

I attended to add a philanthropic voice to this chorus, in line with my longstanding concerns. Over the years I have noted the tendency of some governments to restrain the effectiveness of civil society and the advocacy of groups working to improve our society. The impacts of this can be widely felt, even by philanthropic grantmakers.

In recent years some environmental organisations have been stripped of government funding and others have had their funding significantly reduced, and environmental activists who challenge the interests of the fossil fuel industry have been likened to “terrorists” by some elected representatives. AEGN members were very concerned last year at the establishment of a Parliamentary Inquiry which targeted tax deductibility for environmental advocacy.

This critical scrutiny goes well beyond the environment movement, however. Refugee organisations, community legal centres, indigenous organisations, homelessness organisations and even the Australian Human Rights Commission have been subjected to efforts to silence them. With our democracy requiring the input of civil-society organisations to work, we risk damaging the foundations of our society if such attacks go unanswered.

Every day at Reichstein we see close up how precarious it is for many civil-society organisations to speak up in defence of the public good. For this reason the Reichstein Foundation was proud to support the Human Rights Law Centre in compiling the Safeguarding Democracy report as a means of documenting the extent of such attacks. AEGN members, The Myer Foundation and The Graeme Wood Foundation, along with The Oak Foundation, pooled resources to enable this important piece of work to happen.

In Canberra for the report’s launch were CEOs or senior staff from:

  • Australian Council of Social Service;
  • Australian Conservation Foundation;
  • Save the Children;
  • Australian Council of Trade Unions;
  • Oxfam;
  • Environmental Justice Australia;
  • Philanthropy Australia;
  • Places You Love;
  • Catholic Social Services Australia; and the
  • Australian Council for International Development.

A highlight of the day was the opportunity for groups of attendees to meet with key decision-makers, promoting the report and speaking out about specific attacks. I was particularly concerned about alerting MPs to the risk of such attacks to reduce involvement in philanthropy and the need for grantmakers to feel confident about funding the wide range of activities effective civil-society organisations are involved with.

It is clear that the wind which had been blowing through Canberra (and which created the need for the report) has died down somewhat with a change of Prime Minister. However, the outcome of this change on the Inquiry into the Register of Environmental Organisations is still unclear, as the Committee has not completed its report.

On a positive note, I received great feedback on the submissions and the philanthropic roundtable organised by the AEGN. This demonstrates the importance of philanthropy speaking out, when governments propose changes which restrict our ability to fund strategically.

Funders often talk about the need for not-for-profit organisations to work together, and the day in Canberra is a great example of what can be achieved when different organisations line up around a common goal or need. There is clear interest from these community leaders to continue working together on this response to the attacks on democracy, which bodes well for our future.

Jill Reichstein OAM

Chair, Reichstein Foundation

This story is re-published, with thanks, from the AEGN 10 March 2016 Member Newsletter.

The activist: Jill Reichstein

Social justice, the environment, leadership, taking risks, impact investing and philanthropy as the R&D arm of the nonprofit sector: The leading Australian philanthropist in her own words. This is a short extract of a candid interview by Nicole Richards published in Generosity Magazine, September 2015.

Jill Reichstein, the picture of dignified composure, is sipping a latte at an outdoor table of an inner city cafe, her genial dog, Missy, lolling contentedly near her feet.

Answering each of my questions in a calm, level voice, she pauses occasionally to rifle through a mental filing cabinet crammed with 40-plus years of grantmaking experience to retrieve the name of a person or project to illustrate a point. Her responses are considered and assured.

On the one hand, it’s hard to picture her protesting on the streets of Paris in 1968. On the other hand, it’s not difficult to imagine her there at all.

The passionate student protestor might have yielded to propriety and the passage of time, but the activist spirit is alive and kicking.

One of the most influential leaders in Australian philanthropy, Jill Reichstein’s name remains synonymous with progressive thinking and bold choices. Using a mantra of ‘change not charity’ the Reichstein Foundation has been on the frontlines of the fight for social justice and environmental sustainability for decades.

What follows is an edited extract of a wide-ranging conversation with Jill held on a grey August day in Melbourne.

NR: After a privileged upbringing in Toorak you took to the streets to protest the Vietnam War and apartheid and ended up in London and Paris in 1968. Those must have been interesting times?

JR: Very interesting times! I was hanging out with a couple of young French students and I was right there in Paris while the riots were happening. It was extraordinary. I was down in the Metro helping people who’d been gassed. I was running along the streets.

I suppose, when you’re young you feel like you can take on anything, and it was the resistance to power that at the time was almighty. The police, who were referred to as ‘les vaches’—the cows—were really violent. They’d sit in their buses all day and drink brandy and then they’d come out and go for the students with their batons. I’ll never forget that.

I was there for a week. And you know, the lights went on for me. It was amazing to be part of such a social change movement. I rang the liberal arts college back in London where I was studying and said ‘I can’t get a flight out of Paris—sorry!’

NR: Some of these actions and activities weren’t so popular with your parents?

JR: Oh, God no!

Click here for the full article (read three articles per month for free on Generosity Magazine): The activist: Jill Reichstein 

A unique opportunity for strategic philanthropy: Tackling racial profiling

In this post, Jill Reichstein gives her blog spot over to John Spierings, Executive Officer of the Reichstein Foundation. This is an extract from an article by John Spierings originally published Generosity Magazine, August 2015.

The United States has been galvanised recently by a series of high profile police shootings of unarmed black Americans. Events in Ferguson, Baltimore, New York, Los Angeles and other cities have highlighted very tense racial relations between law enforcement authorities and communities of colour.

Australians pride themselves that similar events and such serious erosion of public trust and confidence could not happen here.

However the truth is that our criminal justice system, from policing through to courts to our corrections institutions, is heavily racialised; perhaps best exemplified by appalling rates of Indigenous over-incarceration in our prisons.

But less well known is the potential systemic breakdown in trust and relationships between some African Australia communities and police.

If such a breakdown occurred it would result in deep alienation and disengagement; social exclusion and high levels of distrust.

It would also reflect ineffective and costly policing.

In 2013 a Federal Court race discrimination case highlighted allegations of systemic racism within the Victorian police force, most particularly racial profiling of African Australians.

Six young men alleged that while living in and around Flemington and North Melbourne they were subjected to assaults and racial taunts, and were regularly stopped and questioned by police in circumstances where a non-African would not have been stopped and questioned.

They claimed racial profiling by police meant individuals were targeted on the basis of the supposed criminal propensity of an entire racial or ethnic group, rather than for any legitimate policing reason.

Police denied this.

Key advocates in the case included the young men who had been victimised, lawyers at the Flemington Kensington Community Legal Centre (FKCLC) and Peter Seidel, the public interest law partner at leading law firm, Arnold Bloch Liebler.

A vital part in settling this case was the collation and analysis of police data provided as part of the ‘discovery’ process that made clear African Australian youth in the Flemington and North Melbourne area were 2.5 times more likely to be stopped by police than other groups despite having a lower crime rate.

The case was settled on the morning of the initial Federal Court hearing, with Victoria Police agreeing to undertake major reviews of its approaches and practices.

These reviews recommended a series of sweeping reforms including:

– Australia’s first trial of stop and search receipting

– A data collection and monitoring program

– Policy reforms concerning police field contacts

– Substantial reform of cross cultural training provided within Victoria Police.

Overall, Victoria Police’s response to the public review of its field contact and cross cultural education policies is indicative of a genuine intention to address racism and racial profiling.

There is now the possibility of a genuine reduction in racism and racial profiling by Victoria Police members as well as increasing the overall fairness of and human rights compliance by police members.

And where does this fit with the mission of philanthropy?

In response to an overture from Seidel, private donors and the Reichstein Foundation stepped up to fund the forensic data research analysis that helped to expose systemic racial profiling.

Seidel says this was an “exquisitely timed intercession,” without which “we could not possibly have reached what the Chief Commissioner recently described as a ‘waypoint’ of radical change for Victoria Police – in its training, its openness to scrutiny and in all its public interactions.”

And philanthropies including the The Myer Foundation, Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation, the Jack Brockhoff Foundation and private donors have taken the next step and supported leaders of those experiencing victimisation, including Daniel Haile-Michael (pictured above) and Maki Issa, to provide peer support, mentoring and vital community outreach to African Australian youth experiencing discrimination and alienation.

Click here for the full article (read three articles per month for free on Generosity Magazine): A unique opportunity for strategic philanthropy: Tackling racial profiling

Grantmaker concerns over environmental NGO inquiry


Environmental grantmakers across Australia are concerned about the potential for new rules and red tape to be imposed on environment NGOs, reducing their ability to attract grants and donations. Philanthropists including Paddy Pallin, Rob Purves and Peter Sainsbury have outlined their concerns to The Age.

These concerns have been raised in response to the Federal Government’s announcement in late March 2015 that a House of Representatives committee will conduct an Inquiry into the Administration and Transparency of the Register of Environmental Organisations.

The terms of reference for the Inquiry imply that significant revisions to the operation and purpose of the Register of Environmental Organisations and organisations’ deductible gift recipient (DGR) status may be considered.

My 40 year journey as a grantmaker has taught me that there is no neat distinction between advocacy and on-the-ground environmental repair and conservation work. The two activities often complement and inform each other. Some of our best grants – the ones which have realised the greatest environmental outcomes – have been achieved through careful advocacy and fieldwork. The work of Barmah-Millewa Collective at Friends of the Earth to achieve national park protection of river red gum habitat is a case in point. This work was carried out alongside the Yorta Yorta peoples of the Murray River, who gained joint management of the park (pictured).

As a trustee of the Reichstein Foundation, I know first-hand the high levels of accountability and transparency to which the environmental NGOs amongst our grant recipients adhere. We receive detailed reporting on all our grants, enabling us to be sure that the activities and outcomes are appropriate, and that our philanthropic funds are well allocated.

The Inquiry comes amidst some recent changes that could weaken Australia’s democratic culture and its safeguards. It would be of concern if attempts were made to discourage advocacy by NGOs and human rights institutions, which is a feature of our democratic system. That’s why we’ve made a submission to the environmental NGO Inquiry, and we support the submissions made by the Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network (AEGN) and Philanthropy Australia.

See our submission here: Reichstein Foundation House of Reps Enviro Reg Submission May 2015

Jill Reichstein OAM

Chair, Reichstein Foundation

Philanthropy putting learning back on the agenda for Australia

Two years ago Australia was on the verge of a unique moment: a consensus across politics, across States, across sectors and across the Australian community that education funding in this country had to change.

A consensus that the divisiveness and dysfunction in funding that entrenched inequality and denied opportunity for so many had to end.

Indeed, there was a ‘unity ticket’ between both sides of politics to provide future funding on the basis of student and school need, rather than the special claims and pleading of the sectors.

Fast forward and it is as though that moment never occurred. The Gonski reforms are further away from being implemented than ever before: with only token commitment from the Commonwealth; and States such as Victoria legislating to guarantee ‘sector shares’ of funding rather allocating resources according to the Gonski principles.

Philanthropy was prominent in getting the education debate that Australia has to have off the ground.

A key player was David Gonski. As well as being a formidable leader in the financial sector and a former chair of a major non-Government school, Gonski is a significant philanthropist.

Less prominent in the public eye is Ellen Koshland, who has had a life long mission to ensure education opens the minds, the eyes and the ears of all people and its capacity to improve well-being and opportunity. Ellen established the Education Foundation in 1989 to support teachers, schools and communities driving innovation in education. Like me, Ellen has often found inspiration for her philanthropy in the USA where organisations like the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy have identified how philanthropy can be most effective in supporting progressive social change.

Most especially, in this context, she supported the work of the late Jack Keating to analyse why inequality has become so entrenched in school education, explain what the consequences have been and encouraged him to chart new ways forward. Keating’s work for the Gonski review was crucial and helped to deliver the new consensus that till recently seemed so close.

Ellen’s work is an exemplar of social change philanthropy in action – on the ground, in the public discourse, in advancing the common good. She is leading by example in urging philanthropists to deploy their unique advantages to provide not just multi-year funding but long-term backing for serious change.

Ellen aims for nothing less than changing the way Australia thinks about itself as a learning society. This is bold, challenging thinking, which is backed by a smart strategy.

To help achieve this goal, Ellen has committed to a ten year program of change through supporting the Australian Learning Lecture (ALL).

The focus of the initial lecture later this month is deliberately paradoxical – Joy and Data. It is not a combination that we usually associate with education debates that are vulnerable to the attainment of qualifications; throughput and volume of students as the key measures of success.

But combining the joy of learning with robust measures of effectiveness has the capacity to shift the current paradigm in education from the rigidities of NAPLAN to a richer, more dynamic pedagogy for students and teachers.

ALL will put learning back on the agenda for Australia, from high level thinking to practical applications, illustrated through case studies from national and international sources. The State Library of Victoria is the other principal partner in ALL and will bring its outreach to students and vast resources to the table – to ensure that learning is truly full of joy.

I urge you to attend the first lecture on Thursday 21 May by Sir Michael Barber, one of the world’s leading thinkers on education reform. Quentin Bryce, former Governor-General, will introduce the evening.


Jill Reichstein OAM

Chair, Reichstein Foundation


Collaboration and impact the big challenges for philanthropy in 2015

2014 was the year of the ‘mega gift’, with some of the biggest philanthropic donations ever seen in Australia’s history being made. These generous gifts are to be applauded.

These donations are timely – Oxfam has revealed that the combined wealth of the world’s richest one percent will overtake that of the other 99 percent of people in 2016 unless the current trend of rising inequality is checked.

Our challenge in Australian philanthropy should be to make 2015 a year in which we make an even greater impact on the great social and economic issues of our time.

Wise, strategic philanthropy can make a difference when:

  • Low income Australians are grappling with low wages growth, precarious employment, a patchy labour market and rising barriers to education
  • A new juncture has been reached on the path to environmental sustainability with investment in clean energy stalling, the Great Barrier Reef at a tipping point and bio-diversity diminishing
  • Social cohesion is being put to the test as terror levels rise and cultural tensions simmer.

The vision of our nation characterized by shared prosperity, human rights and environmental sustainability is under intense pressure.

The community sector, on its own, has limited capacity to respond effectively to these challenges.

So it is vital that philanthropy steps up at this time to make the investments and support the projects that will advance a common good.

And there are substantial reasons to be optimistic about the future: there is a strong public debate about fairness and equity, reflecting a desire for an inclusive Australian social fabric. Initiatives such Good Pitch and The Funding Network are lifting the quality and impact of Australian philanthropy. Australians are generous funders of traditional charitable areas such as the arts and medical research but increasingly issues of justice and equity, such as the fate of asylum-seekers and the urgent need for prison reform, are attracting growing philanthropic support.

The Reichstein Foundation’s priority over the coming year will be to consolidate our efforts behind a range of outstanding community partners tackling some tough but vital social and environmental issues.

The reform of the gambling industry to limit the social harm it causes; a fair wage system to reward workers in disability enterprises across the country; systemic change in policing to end the practice of racial profiling and discrimination; and support for the environmental movement to tackle climate change and to preserve the places that Australians love will be among our key concerns.

Australian philanthropy is a powerful and growing influence in civil society. Let’s continue to strengthen its reach and impact in 2015.


Jill Reichstein OAM

Chair, Reichstein Foundation