Alchemy, wine and feel-good funding! - Generosity magazine

5 March 2014

In the dark foyer of Sydney’s AMP building, suits and skirts collapsed into heavy armchairs at the end of another long business day last week. “There never seems to be enough time”, someone grumbled in private discussion. Agreement wrinkled silently among the waiting strangers.

“The Funding Network launch?” a desk attendant asked. The weary mob shuffled into elevators and pushed up on obligatory banter.

Twenty-two floors later, the mood was somewhat heightened. The view of a soft harbour sunset helped, as did bubbles and nibbles. Old friends reunited, colleagues connected, and now-chummy elevator buddies settled in to talk, not about work, but about philanthropy. This was now a room full of philanthropists. A gaggle of givers. 

“Why should you support The Funding Network?” asked co-founder and chief executive Lisa Cotton of the crowd that had come for the launch of Australia’s new shake-up of cocktail party, auction room, telethon and giving circle, in which funders listen to six-minute pitches from four social change projects.

“Too much giving in Australia is done in a quiet room on June 29,” said TFN Chairman and founder of The English Family Foundation Allan English. “Not really exciting is it?! Here, we’re getting together with other people to share a commonality – a mutuality about bringing about change – you get the feeling that we are part of something bigger than ourselves.”

“I’m a trader in the market, so it’s the bidding process that I like,” said Rob Keldoulis, founding TFN partner and Chairman of Dalai Lama in Australia. “When you come from a finance background, it’s easy to write a cheque, but there’s also a disconnect. It’s fun to watch the nonprofits pitch, write your cheque on the spot, and still walk away with time to spare. The fact that you can put in 100 bucks and feel genuinely a part of helping these up-and-comings – it’s great.”

“The Funding Network is an elegantly adaptable model,” TFN Pledging Facilitator and Chairman of the Kokoda Track Foundation Patrick Lindsay told the crowd. “Corporates can use it as an experiential workplace giving operation, and foundations who use it can do so knowing that the projects pitching have already been through a due diligence process before they come into the room.”

“There are so many early-stage organisations working in this country in the very cracks of society, but they rarely have a light shone on them,” Cotton said. “TFN provides them not only funding, but really important access to networks they wouldn’t ordinary find.”

Cotton emphasised that the bringing of The Funding Network model to Australia was a dream she shared with the late Steve Lawrence, a founding director of Social Leadership Australia and social innovation pioneer who Cotton described as a “towering figure in the social enterprise movement.”

“The spirit of generosity generated in a room of likeminded people enjoying social storytelling in a marketplace setting – it’s a kind of magic,” she said. “It’s called The Funding Network, but what happens isn’t just transactional – it’s transformational.”

“I could spend $100 on dinner after work,” said philanthropist and director of the Weir Anderson Foundation Deanne Weir in the elevator at the end of the night, “but I can have such a better time here.”

Get in the door! TFN membership is now open and costs $100 p.a. Only members can nominate social change projects to pitch at TFN events, but event participation is also open to non-members for a registration fee of $30.

By Sam Gibbs, Editor (view the original article in Generosity magazine)