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5 min read

Walking the Talk: Launching the ACF Staff Fund

Profile of Dom O'Donnell, Communications and Marketing Coordinator
Written by Dom O'Donnell, Communications and Marketing CoordinatorPosted on 4/6/2020

In late 2019, the team at Australian Communities Foundation got together to launch the ACF Staff Fund. With a focus on filling the gaps, the Fund is our team’s opportunity to support some of the smaller initiatives crossing our desks that may otherwise struggle to attract funding.

Comprised of staff from across the organisation, the Fund’s committee met recently to disburse the Fund’s first grants. Sitting on the committee myself, I’m already learning so much about giving through this firsthand experience. It’s also been a real privilege to have so far been guided by our incredible Philanthropy and Impact Team, who help our community practise effective giving day in, day out.

I caught up with ACF’s Philanthropy and Engagement Manager, Georgia Mathews, and Management Accountant, Jennifer Liu, to chat about our team’s first experience of giving together.

Firstly, let’s talk about how the Fund came about. Where did the idea come from?

Georgia Mathews: Giving is our core business at ACF, so it’s never made more sense for an organisation to have a workplace giving program. Workplace giving builds team culture and allows people to have discussions with their colleagues about the things that matter most to them. More than that, the Fund enables us to walk the talk and practise everyday philanthropy, just like the rest of our community.

It’s always been something we’ve wanted to implement, but the time was just right last year. After having many conversations as a team to decide on our organisational values, the Fund emerged as an obvious way for us to enact the four we landed on: inclusion, agency, courage and fairness. The majority of staff jumped on board right away.

“The Fund enables us to walk the talk and practise everyday philanthropy, just like the rest of our community”

Why did you get involved yourselves?

Jennifer Liu: Workplace giving initiatives not only make meaningful contributions to society; they’re also a platform for staff to openly communicate on issues that resonate with them. As the newest member of the ACF team, I was excited to get involved and learn more about my colleagues and the causes they care about.

I am also embracing this as an opportunity to learn more about what we do at ACF. As someone who has a finance background, my understanding of how philanthropy works and my knowledge of the community sector are both limited, so I am hoping to leverage the skills and expertise of my colleagues to broaden my horizons.

“I was excited to get involved and learn more about my colleagues and the causes they care about”

GM: It was a no-brainer for me – showing people the benefits of collective giving is what I do in my role every day. But I think the idea of a staff fund was particularly attractive to me because it’s an easy way for us to lay the foundations for something that will grow with time and it enables us to be strategic about our giving in a way that one-off workplace giving activities would not necessarily. It’s also an important measure in ensuring our organisational values carry through as our team grows and changes in the years to come.

Now that we’ve just disbursed the Fund’s first grants, let’s talk a bit about that – who are the grantees and how did you find the process of choosing them?

JL: First, we met as a group to brainstorm how we could best allocate the $7,500 we’d raised so far ($3,250 from payroll contributions matched by the ACF Board). In line with the Fund’s focus on smaller initiatives not already garnering philanthropic support, we decided we would award three grants of $2,500 each to small organisations working in regional communities and especially in need of support during the current crisis.

We then each spent time searching for initiatives that best fit the brief and reconvened a week later. We went through our shortlist of initiatives together and decided on our first two grants: one to support Yolngu Radio – a key community media source for Aboriginal people in Arnhem Land – and another for Hope for Health’s Covid-19 Education Program in East Arnhem Land. As for the final $2,500, we decided to set this aside for the next co-funding opportunity through ACF’s National Crisis Response Fund, given its similar focus on initiatives missing out on existing government and community support.

GM: So many members of the team got involved in the decision-making side of things straight away and unanimously agreed to disburse the first grants to Indigenous-led organisations. It shows how aligned the team is with ACF’s theory of change.

It’s true we’ve enjoyed a really high participation rate from the get-go. What do you attribute this to? Do you have any tips for other organisations or groups looking to kickstart or improve their collective giving program?

GM: Well, I think it probably helps that this is what we do in our work and most staff already have an understanding of the key benefits of collective giving – increased impact and the greater opportunities for learning and collaboration.

“We made it clear that anyone in the organisation, whether or not they are making regular contributions to the Fund, can be a part of the decision-making”

But there are some steps the committee took in the initial stages to incentivise staff and maximise participation. Firstly, we invited all staff to help establish some really clear guidelines around what the Fund would and wouldn’t support. We then collaborated to set some attainable goals and expectations, such as how much we wanted to raise in a year and when we would disburse the first grants. We also started a conversation with our Board of Directors about how they could get involved and now they’re supporting the Fund by matching all donations, which we know is one of the more reliable incentives for workplace participation more broadly. Importantly, we made it clear that anyone in the organisation, whether or not they are making regular contributions to the Fund, can be a part of the decision-making.

Lastly, what are your hopes for the Fund? What would you like to see it achieve?

JL: I hope that the Fund continues to grow and that we keep having meaningful conversations, and learning too – not only from one another but also from the community organisations we’re able to support.

GM: I’m really looking forward to finding innovative ways to maximise the impact of the Fund. We’ll certainly be looking for any opportunity to leverage the Fund through co-funding with our broader giving community. We’ll be profiling the organisations we support and inviting others to contribute. We’re also inviting our community to participate by donating directly into the Fund. This is just the beginning – I can’t wait to see the difference we can make together.

ACF Staff Fund

Supporting some of the smaller projects that cross our desk that may otherwise struggle to attract funding.