Big business backs new charity - Ruby Connection

28 March 2014

The Funding Network (TFN) Australia is a new philanthropy model for everyday Australians – a bit like a “giving circle on steroids”. It’s easy to join and understand, and it makes philanthropy and having a real impact accessible, believes TFN co-founder and CEO Lisa Cotton.

TFN recently held its first event for 2014 at the pointy end of town in Sydney. A ‘smokin’ affair – literally – the event on March 12 was the day of the fire on the Barangaroo construction site (below). At 2pm on Wednesday March 12 a massive fire began underground in the Barangaroo construction site affecting - to a greater or lesser degree - businesses operating in the area. City traffic was grid locked and as the afternoon wore on and commuters prepared to go home, or, in the case of TFN’s guests, began to arrive for the evening event, they had to deal with the roads and traffic chaos caused by the emergency. Caught in a dilemma, TFN’s Lisa Cotton had had to decide whether to postpone the event, or, go ahead. The TFN event was scheduled to take place in Macquarie Group’s Shelley Street premises, very near the fire. In the end – and with the all-clear from Police and Emergency Services given to Macquarie Bank - Lisa and Macquarie executives, as well as the four social change projects pitching for funding at the launch event, chose to continue.

TFN had estimated a possible $40,000 would be raised on the night through pledges from donors. When the proceedings wound up, a total of $99,000 had been received in individual pledges. The Macquarie Group Foundation contributed matched funding, bringing the figure to $189,000. The four presenting social entrepreneurs were speechless, Lisa reveals. “By the time everyone arrived they were a little stressed. We had a broad range of people there. Everyone had a fantastic time and many connections of the heart and mind were made on the night,” she says.

Jackie Ruddock, who runs The Social Outfit, a fashion based project for training refugees, was one of the projects pitching for funding on the night. She had decided to walk. “Jackie had a tailor’s dummy with her,” explains Lisa with a short laugh. “She dumped it at a pub in Pyrmont, propping it up at the bar. It was too heavy to carry all the way and be on time.”

Dr Fred Mulder founded The Funding Network (TFN) in the UK in 2002. Mulder, a dealer in original prints (etchings, engravings, lithographs, and woodcuts), particularly works by Picasso, is also a major philanthropist in the UK: “I got involved with a group of like-minded people, with whom I learned how much more interesting it was to have a peer group of givers to talk things over with, and how much further my limited funds went when pooled with those of other people”. Mulder, who wanted to see the model scaled and developed globally, met Eugenie Harvey (the daughter of Australian TV’s Geoff Harvey). She now lives in the UK and helped launch the social change movement We Are What We Do. Mulder approached Eugenie to develop the global gig.

Then, a few years ago, Australia’s “grandfather” of social enterprise, Steve Lawrence (who died in 2012) saw TFN at work in the UK and with Lisa Cotton was keen to try the model in Australia. One thing led to another and a national steering committee was set up, culminating in three pilot events in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth that ran through 2013. Lisa, who worked closely with all the parties to establish the national organisation, is now TFN’s CEO. She has a lengthy history in philanthropy and not-for-profit work, including seven years as Director of Social Investment at Social Ventures Australia (SVA).

Originally from Perth, Lisa moved to Sydney as part of her role with Gold Corporation, which minted winners’ medals, gold coins and medallions for the Sydney Olympics. From there she joined advertising agency DDB and at the same time began doing pro bono work for not-for-profits (NFPs). “That was when I began to transition from corporate work into the sector. The transition point for me was joining SVA. It sat at the intersection of philanthropy and NFPs and gave me insights into what it was like to be a social entrepreneur and what it was like to be a funder and how the two intersect,” says Lisa. Social change organisations are early stage businesses and like any business, Lisa believes, they need funding, but in a different mix. Getting projects up and ready for larger philanthropic or corporate funding is where a group like TFN plays a role.

Individuals can join the Australian network for a yearly fee of $100. As a member you can nominate social change projects to pitch for funding at TFN events and sit on a selection panel. At the events anyone can pledge, member or non-member. Prior to an event, the four successful projects receive pitch training, an integral part of TFN’s capacity building approach. It’s the authentic, at-the-coal-face stories that convert wannabe donors to pledges, Lisa believes.

Once the six-minute pitches and questions and answers are finished the projects leave the room to “rest and recuperate”, and that’s when the TFN member nominator gets up and personally endorses the social change project they have put forward. What follows is a lively facilitated pledging session with an aim to raise $10,000 per project and, according to Lisa, that’s when crowd behaviour kicks in and the addictive part begins.

In the end the projects are invited back in and the totals are announced. “For the projects the money is fantastic, but what comes through time and again is the affirmation they receive that what they’re doing is considered worthwhile,” says Lisa. “Small projects,” she continues, “by their very nature, operate in isolation. It is a lonely journey and you have to be persistent, tenacious and really believe in yourself and what you’re offering. Put them in front of an audience of 100 or more people and I know they walk away feeling energised, empowered and justified. This is more than money. The process is not just transactional but transformational. It’s about the building out of relationships.”

TFN defines early stage social change projects as having a turnover on average of $800K per year. “The money TFN helps a social change project access may not be a deal breaker, but what TFN provides is a powerful platform for social entrepreneurs to speak to networks that they wouldn’t ordinarily be able to access en-masse,” says Lisa. “Our role is to enable. We bring people, networks and resources to these social entrepreneurs,” she explains, going on to cite the example of one of the pilot projects from last year, The Malpa Project. Malpa received some funding through TFN at one of our events, and one of the donors then swiftly moved on to provide the project a three-year grant of $150,000,” says Lisa. Malpa works together using old ways (traditional indigenous bush medicine) and new ways (modern western medicine) to teach young aboriginal people to be health ambassadors, and to strengthen communities.

Since its official launch last month, TFN now has 100 members. The member fee contributes to the running of organisation. By year’s end, Lisa is aiming for 500 members. Nominated projects must have DGR status and the selection panel’s due-diligence covers their financials, operations and leadership. Successful projects must also provide a report at the end of 12 months identifying the impact the funds have had. “We acknowledge there is an element of risk,” says Lisa. “After all, these are early stage businesses. However, unless we seed fund new ideas and new ways of looking at issues, we will continue to face the same intractable issues,” she finishes.

The four projects chosen to pitch for the recent event were Jackie Ruddock’s The Social Outfit, refugee training in fashion; Abarna Raj’s Palmera, Sri Lankan agribusiness; Jan Wright and Aunty Rita’s Ngroo, Aboriginal early childhood learning; Jordan O’Reilly’s Fighting Chance, disability employment opportunities.

by Louise Upton, Editor (read the original article on the Ruby Connection website)