TFN Australia reaches $1m milestone

22 September 2014

Raising funds for small non-profit organisations can be hard and unpredictable. But from time to time even the most judicious audience can surprise and remind us that sensitive and sympathetic hearts still beat under level heads. So it was at The Funding Network event held in partnership with Australian Communities Foundation at JBWere in July, where four social entrepreneurs pitched for $10,000 each to a 100-plus audience at the Collins St premises.  

The first hint that this was no formulaic fundraising platform was a disruptive smattering of skinny jeans and business suits among the crowd of regulars piling in from the CBD. JBWere ensured nourishment and extra chairs for the latecomers; and the diversity in the room, both on and off the podium, quickly dispelled any preconceptions of ‘pitch fatigue’.

Last to the stage was Sally Tonkin, a softly spoken occupational therapist. Sally heads up St Kilda Gatehouse, which works alongside those involved in street sex work as a result of abuse, addiction and other hardships. She spoke compellingly about Ruby who at 11 years of age had drug and alcohol issues and was targeted by a pedophile ring that traded her body. Ruby is now participating in St Kilda Gatehouse’s Young Women’s Project where counsellors see a spark in Ruby’s eyes that lights up with hope about possibilities for her future. This confronting topic and St Kilda Gate House’s interventions captured the audience’s imagination who dug deep to give $31,000 in 10 only minutes with pledges starting at just $100.

The pledges tipped total funds generated by The Funding Network at its collective-giving events to over $1m thanks to the generosity of everyday Australians. These funds, plus substantial in-kind support, have been directed to 36 small, innovative non-profit organisations like St Kilda Gatehouse, which are led by passionate people who are brimming with potential but who often lack capital and access to networks that would help their programs grow.

Launched in February, following pilot events in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth last year, TFN is spearheading an increasingly popular mainstream interest in collective giving.

“One of the casualties of our fast-paced society is the sense of community which often provides identity and purpose”, said TFN Co-Founder and CEO Lisa Cotton. ‘TFN is a highly inclusive model that addresses this need. It’s making philanthropy accessible to all and is helping people to understand that they don’t have to be wealthy to be active givers and to make a tangible difference in others’ lives”. 

While anyone can attend TFN events, TFN is a member-driven organisation. Members, who join for $100, share a common passion for social change and a desire to learn. They are empowered to select organisations to pitch for $10,000 each at an event.

“I felt I was socially aware and often read that charities, corporations and government were part of the long-term solution to addressing poverty and disadvantage, but I didn’t know much about philanthropy and what was going on in the social sector”, said TFN Perth member Beverly Ward. “Being a member and attending events is not only a highly connected way of meeting like-minded people, but they are also fun and really informative”.

TFN weaves together networks and connects the right resources to the right projects. This has been hugely beneficial for the participating non-profit organisations that are often challenged with accessing networks efficiently or at a critical time in their growth. TFN works with these organisations to help refine their pitches, and then connects them to people who want to do more than give money. Many guests offer substantial in-kind support, volunteer and introduce other supporters.

“Pitching Milkcrate Theatre’s work at a TFN Sydney event was such an extraordinary opportunity for us,” said Maree Freeman, Milk Crate’s Artistic Director. “The funds raised and contacts made were well beyond what we had hoped for. And the training and support provided was excellent and equipped us with skills that we will use in the future”.

TFN is not just resonating with the public. Another dimension of the model has been its ability to swiftly build a wide spectrum of partnerships and alliances.  TFN has a national board with directors from Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. More than 50 people have joined its Leadership Councils and 160 members are playing an active role in the model’s growth. TFN founding partners, Macquarie Group Foundation and AMP Foundation, have hosted events and leading corporations, including Minter Ellison, PwC, JBWere, Bankwest and Pitcher Partners, have provided venues. In addition, Federal Government arts funding body, Creative Partnerships Australia, has provided matched funding as an incentive to drive new money into the social sector.

A range of corporate and individual donors have provided funding support to run TFN’s operations because they see the model as a new way to draw people into the sector. These include Macquarie Group Foundation, AMP Foundation, Lotterywest, English Family Foundation, Eureka Foundation, Hantomeli Foundation, WeirAnderson Foundation and the Steve Lawrence Social Innovation Fund.

TFN’s UK Founder, Dr Frederick Mulder’s has also been a key funder. Dr Mulder’s dream is to see TFN help shape the knowledge, attitudes and practices of a generation of new philanthropists around the world.  If what’s transpired since TFN Australia began is any indication, the TFN board is confident this can happen.