Leo D'Angelo Fisher Columnist

Leo covers management and leadership issues, business trends and corporate strategy. He is a former senior business writer at The Bulletin and a former host of The Business Hour on 3AW.

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Gift of giving a tough sell

Published 25 May 2011 17:09, Updated 02 June 2011 07:42

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Queensland mining and resources veteran Bob Bryan insists that he does not know what he is worth. He will instead buy the BRW Rich 200and hopefully give himself a “nice surprise”. But Bryan is more forthcoming when it comes to discussing his foundation, which disburses about $2 million a year to education and health programs in disadvantaged communities.

Unlike many wealthy Australian philanthropists, Bryan is keen to discuss the importance of “giving back”.

“The only reason I’m talking to you today is the fact that I believe that this is the best way of encouraging others to consider philanthropy as a way of making a difference,” Bryan says.

In an attempt to lift the lid on how much the BRW Rich 200donate to charitable causes, BRW has completed its biggest ever examination of the issue. The results are alarming. Only 0.2 per cent of their wealth can be traced back to donations. Seventy per cent of the BRW Rich 200 have known associations with charities but two-thirds of them give an unknown amount. Their reticence to disclose the donations may be due to embarrassment; those that give a known amount, give just 1 per cent of their wealth.

A common criticism is that Australia’s wealthiest individuals and families lack the generosity of their counterparts in the United States. Myer Family Company ’s, head of philanthropic services, Peter Winneke , bemoans Australia’s “embarrassingly small philanthropic sector given our staggering wealth”.

Australian Taxation Office data shows that 37 per cent of the 7905 Australians who earned $1 million or more in 2007-08, did not claim a deduction for making a gift to charity, he says.

Wealthy Americans give away 4 per cent of their income each year, compared with just 0.5 per cent in Australia, he adds. In asset terms, affluent Americans give 10 to 15 per cent of their net worth to philanthropy. Wealthy Australians allocate less than 3 per cent.

“We constantly perpetuate the myth that Australians are generous and we’re not,” he says.

Winneke has a challenge for the philanthropic sector: “We need to establish the first $1 billion foundation in this country to build momentum. We then need other families with assets of $10 million to put 10 per cent of family wealth into a foundation and talk about it.”

Wealthy Australians don’t discuss philanthropy because Australia doesn’t have a “culture of giving”, Winneke says. Publicly discussing philanthropic activities might be considered boasting, he suspects, unlike the US, where philanthropy is considered a social obligation for the wealthy.

“We need to encourage donors to talk about their giving because that’s what it will take for giving to become the norm as it is in the US.”

Since the 2001 introduction of “prescribed private funds” – since renamed “private ancillary funds”– tax-effective structures designed to encourage family foundations, 863 funds have been established with an aggregate “corpus” of $2 billion.

In the past 10 years, these funds have distributed more than $600 million.

But Winneke is unmoved.

“Eight hundred and sixty funds may sound impressive but we have 8000 millionaires, so we should have 8000 funds not 860,” he says.

“We can transform the philanthropic sector overnight if wealthy people stopped leaving all their wealth to their children and started thinking about philanthropy as a tool for achieving positive change in society.”

The Myer Family Company provides investment and financial services for members of the Myer family and the philanthropic sector. It represents 60 family foundations.

When it comes to giving back, Perth investor and philanthropist Jack Bendat ($578 million) is out and proud. And he wants others to take his lead.

“There is no question that Australians and Americans are different in the way they approach philanthropy,” Bendat says.

“Americans are upfront – they don’t hide and say, ‘I can’t tell you what I am doing or who I am giving money to’. If I am giving money, they can use my name. It brings other people to give.”

Bendat, 86, made his fortune in shopping centres, regional radio and television and as part-owner of Perth’s Burswood Casino before selling the stake to the Packer family for $77 million. The Bendat Family Foundation has supported youth charities, the arts and the Bendat Family Comprehensive Cancer Centre at the St John of God Hospital in Subiaco.

Bendat has no difficulty explaining his philanthropy. “If you make money, you must give something back,” he says. “You don’t need it when you die, so why not use it? Instead of going to the bank, I go to the Bendat Cancer Centre, with my name on it, and I am very proud of it.”

Another Australian philanthropist who is vocal about the power of giving is George Koukis ($326 million), founder and chairman of banking software company Temenos Group .

Koukis migrated to Australia in 1968 and worked in various information technology roles, eventually becoming regional managing director of financial software company Management Science America. In 1993 he founded Temenos, which is listed on the Swiss stock exchange.

Like Temenos, Koukis is based in Geneva, from where his George Koukis Foundation supports medical research, including “millions of pounds” for St Thomas’ Hospital in London, which has established the George Koukis Chair in Molecular Medicine and Arthritis Research UK.

“Charity needs to be elevated to a higher dimension in our society,” he says.

Koukis is a thoughtful, even anguished, benefactor and is mindful of ensuring that “funds reach their proper destination” and that real long-term benefits are achieved.

“If you gave a dollar to a beggar in the street you have done something good but you cannot claim that you have alleviated poverty,” he explains. “I may have helped a few thousand people but we [the Western world] killed a million people in Iraq, displaced millions more [and] official delegations go to Africa to eliminate poverty but instead sell them guns and bombs, so I feel I’m not winning even though [my] intentions are good.”

Despite sometimes feeling overwhelmed by external events, Koukis is an optimist and believes in philanthropy as an agent of change. At the Future Leaders for the World conference in Istanbul in April, Koukis announced an annual scholarship program for future leaders to produce “men and women of integrity, the visionary leaders the world desperately needs”.

Peter Bond ($597 million), chief executive of Brisbane-based clean-fuel producer Linc Energy , the company he floated in 2006, considers philanthropy an obligation.

“I believe that if you’ve been blessed and fortunate to live a wealthy and well-rewarded life, there is an obligation to give back,” Bond says. “And in some ways how any person chooses which path or in which manner to give back to his or her community will become the true reflection of their life.

“Wealth is rarely a measure of worth, it is what we choose to do with wealth that becomes the measure of a worthwhile life.”

Two years ago Bond appeared on Channel 9’s The Secret Millionaireprogram during which he went undercover to work with some of the nation’s poorest and most disadvantaged people in Sydney’s Redfern.

Bond donated a total of $300,000 to two local charities and three individuals he met on the program but the impact on his life has gone much further.

Proving that giving back comes in many forms, Bond has started his own production company, Rough Diamond Media, to produce “feel good” television shows. More conventionally, he is also in the process of creating a foundation.

“My appearance on The Secret Millionaire made me want to kick-start my philanthropic efforts in a much more meaningful and structured way,” he says. “Also, it showed me that the media have such a big role to play.

“Shows like The Secret Millionaire where you get a great ‘feel good’ message whilst being entertained is something we need more of on Australian television.”

For Deborah Seifert , chief executive of Philanthropy Australia , the peak body representing the philanthropic sector, such examples of giving make her optimistic about the future of philanthropy in Australia. “A number of high-net-worth individuals make a huge contribution to our society, but there’s also room for improvement,” she says. “We are optimistic that more and more Australians are coming to understand the joy of giving and making a genuine impact on society.”

Bob Bryan started the Bryan Foundation two years ago. The former geologist turned mining entrepreneur and property investor says it has formalised “a life-long interest” in promoting education in disadvantaged communities, particularly in indigenous communities. The foundation funds existing charitable groups – “rather than attempting to reinvent the wheel” – which it sources through the non-profit advisory service Social Ventures Australia.

The program he is most proud of is the Sydney-based Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience , which assigns volunteer university students to mentor Aboriginal high school students with the aim of encouraging them to complete their secondary education and go on to TAFE and university educations. Bryan has funded AIME to introduce the program in Queensland, initially in Brisbane.

“I support the view put forward by [indigenous leader] Noel Pearson that education is the key to overcoming disadvantage in the indigenous community,” Bryan says. “Imagine if we could generate a dozen young up-and-coming Noel Pearsons. What would that mean for indigenous communities in this state? I hope to live to see my 12 Noel Pearsons.”

Bryan, ($235 million) debuted on the Rich 200 rankings in 1989 when he sold his controlling interest in Pan Australian Mining, He is reported to have invested $30 million from the sale of a subsequent company Queensland Gas Company, to set up the foundation, but declines to discuss figures.

Of the foundation’s work, Bryan says: “I get as much satisfaction, perhaps more, giving my money away as I have had in making it.”

Return to BRW Rich 200 2011 list

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