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May 10, 2021

The importance of being philanthropic

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NRCF’s John Callanan with Danielle Brearley and Lee Spykers from the Byron Herb Nursery. Lee is holding a native non-stinging bee hive, which are available for lease. Perfect for pollination time! Photo Jeff ‘Beez Sneaze’ Dawson
NRCF’s John Callanan with Danielle Brearley and Lee Spykers from the Byron Herb Nursery. Lee is holding a native non-stinging bee hive, which are available for lease. Perfect for pollination time! Photo Jeff ‘Beez Sneaze’ Dawson

In a world where eight people have the equivalent wealth of the world’s poorest three and half billion, it is hard to believe that anything like trickle down capitalism actually exists. But there are some positive models for change right here in our region where we have  privileged people committed to making a difference to the lives of people in their local communities.

John Callanan is the chairman for The Northern Rivers Community Foundation (NRCF) which is committed to meeting local needs. The foundation kicked off in 2004 with a very simple vision. Put simply by John it’s about ‘helping people move out from being disadvantaged.’

And thats exactly what has been happening.

‘We started with zero funds and we currently have $1.2 million,’ says John, ‘and since 2005, we have given away $1.09 million.’

Investment fund

According to Callanan, the fundamental difference between community foundations and charities is that, ‘donations are pooled and invested in perpetuity. Only the profits are given away each year. In doing this, we are building a legacy for the future. It’s very much a sustainable model. As a charity, you might raise a million bucks, give away $700k, and spend some on admin but then you have to raise the money all over again the next year. ‘We are building an investment fund and we only giveaway our yearly profits in the form of grants.’

Community foundations are the fastest growing form of philanthropy in the world today.

‘There are 57 in Australia,’ says John. ‘We have the largest footprint of any group in Australia; we cover areas from Tweed to Grafton, from the ocean all the way up past Kyogle, Woodenbong and Casino. We have about 300,000 people in our region and encompass seven local government areas.’

The NRCF has a particular significance in our region because we are above the state average in most areas of disadvantage.

‘Housing affordability, homelessness, intergenerational drug abuse… the list is quite large,’ says John,’ so the is lots of need.’

‘We give our small grants every year. Last year we gave away $219k with grants averaging around $5 to 8k each. We give out one large grant too of $25k to 30k and we gave a unique grant to the Buttery this year of $50k. The smallest was $790 for a cold plate for The Natural Death Centre.’

‘There are 880 community organisations in the seven LGA areas, and so far NRCF has given grants to 89 of those organisation.’

‘We have only touched 10 per cent of the available groups, says Callanan, ‘So we still have a way to go. We only give to those with DGR status or those who are auspiced. We are looking for impact.’

And impact is what the NRCF has been having over the last 12 years of their funding program. They have bought rubber tired chairs for disabled beach access, trained WIRES volunteers in handling venomous snakes, funded Harmony Day, Party in the Paddock for siblings of kids with Autism through Autism Spectrum Australia and they’ve even funded a learn to swim program for refugees at the Lismore pool.

Although the board members are based in Byron Shire, (John jokes that’s because that’s where the money is!), NRCF is clear that they are not Byron-centric. In fact, the majority of their funds are distributed outside of the area.

‘We did an analysis of our output,’ says John, ‘and over 50 per cent goes to youth and the dominant area is Lismore and Casino, because we have identified that as the highest need. We are hoping to move further into Grafton this year.’

Investment committee

The NRCF builds their funds with the guidance of their investment committee.

‘We invest and have an ethical investment charter,’ says John. The most recent push is to encourage people to include NRCF as a bequest in their will.

John Bennett, a long time Foundation member, is the bequest ambassador and has just made a generous bequest to the foundation.

‘John launched the bequest program last Thursday night. He got together with his three kids and told them he wanted to give money to the NRCF and so his kids will get a quarter of his estate, along with the NRCF. It’s a beautiful thing. We have two handfuls of bequests so far.’

Callanan is confident that this will build, mainly because of the mindset of the people who move to the region.

‘People make a choice to come here. They come here because they are committed to the area – they don’t end up here by accident. They move here because they love it and are more conscious and willing to help in regards to the local community.’

Callahan is also active in approaching those who don’t live here, but buy in to our lucrative real estate market for donations to the foundation. He sees it as an integral part of maintaining the kind of community that people ‘buy into’ in the first place.

‘People want to feel connected. And generally they want the chance to do something good,’ says Callanan.

Applications for the next round of grants open in August and will close in September. They will be reviewed in October and cheques will be given out in November.

To find out about grants or to make a donation or bequest, visit www.nrcf.org.au.

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  1. When the law allows eight people to have the equivalent wealth of the world’s poorest three and half billion, then we live in a lawless, unjust and immoral world.


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