The Illuminate Fund’s Erin Davidson has experienced both sides of the fundraising equation.
‘You don’t have to wait till you have a spare $100k to start giving’
After working at the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission and now in her role in the fundraising team at The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation, Erin understands the value and sometimes the complexity of philanthropic support.
Involved in charitable activities since her teens, Erin’s ongoing commitment to making the world a better place prompted her to step into structured giving by opening a Gumnut account with Australian Communities Foundation in 2018. Her fund, The Illuminate Fund, is helping to shine a light on the power and potential of everyday philanthropy.
Erin shared her giving journey (so far!) in this recent conversation.
What was the spark that got you started on your giving journey?
ED: I’d been looking for a way to give philanthropically that wasn’t going to require $20,000 or $30,000 from the outset just to get set up. I knew there were giving circles like Impact100 but it wasn’t quite what I was looking for.
“I did some more research and found the Gumnut account which was perfect because you can start with $2,000 and build it up over time”
While I was working at the ACNC we had a guest speaker come in who explained about private ancillary funds and public ancillary funds and I really liked the idea of building up your investment over time and being able to leave a legacy rather than giving ad hoc.
Why did you choose the name ‘Illuminate Fund’?
Originally it was because, having worked in fundraising myself, I knew that one of the hardest things to raise money for was for things like overheads and keeping the lights on. So, that’s how I came up with illuminate.
It took me a while to pin it down, but I’ve since refined the Fund’s purpose to include support for operational things, specifically for health-based charities, hospitals and medical research, that have a sustainability bent to it. For instance, things that would improve the sustainable running of those organisations.
I’ve been really happy that, for the last couple of years, the Australian Communities Foundation Board has allowed Gumnuts to give a grant even if they’re not at the $20,000 threshold. In my first year I was able to make a $162 grant to the Burnet Institute to get a stationery recycling box and the second year I gave $500 to The Royal Children’s Hospital for the garden therapy program. Both grants combine health and the environment which is exactly what I am aiming to support.
What’s been the most valuable lesson about giving that you’ve learned so far?
One of the lessons that I’m still learning is about impact and that’s why I love Australian Communities Foundation because I don’t have to be an expert. The grants team can use their research to tell me which organisations or projects are having the greatest impact.
That gives me confidence in knowing what’s going to have the best impact with the limited amount of money that I have and what could help generate a positive snowball effect.
One message of encouragement that I’d give to anyone who’s thinking about giving is that you don’t have to wait till you’ve got a spare $100,000, a Gumnut account is an accessible option to make a start.
I realised I was already spending about $2,000 a year on donations anyway so I thought I might as well set up the account to get more bang for my buck and give in a more focussed way.
Why do you think giving is important?
It gives me a sense of purpose. I’ve always been drawn to wanting to make the world a better place; that’s why I work in the not-for-profit sector and why I choose to donate. I’ve been donating, volunteering or fundraising for charities since my late teens/early 20s – I guess I knew that I wasn’t going to study medicine and save lives literally, but this is how I can make a difference.
I’ve always felt very fortunate and blessed. I think my Nan was a real role model for me. I remember being young and going to her tax appointment with her and hearing her accountant tell her off for making so many donations to charity. It made me so proud of her and it was one of my first introductions to philanthropy that I can remember.
What do you love most about being part of the Australian Communities Foundation giving community?
All the staff are lovely and I feel really supported – I know that if I need to bounce an idea off someone that I’ll get really great advice back.
The fact that ACF has divested from fossil fuels gives me peace of mind that my money is being dealt with in an ethical way.
“I know that if I need to bounce an idea off someone that I’ll get really great advice back”
I love the community side of things and all the events – you never feel alone with your giving. I always walk away from the events with an extra little bounce in my step – I’m really proud to be part of this community.