Philanthropy and private giving 101

It is true that there are people out there who want to give you money, just to make your art. What strange and wonderful creatures are these beings? Philanthropists…aka your new best friend.

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What is it?

The act of giving, by individuals or businesses, for community benefit. It can be money, property, expertise or time. And it is a gift, not a business deal. But unlike charity, where we all chip in after a natural disaster, philanthropy is more long-term and strategic. It’s about building something.


Philanthropy in Australia

It’s often said that Australia doesn’t have a giving culture, compared to the US or other countries. But there are 5000 philanthropic organisations here, giving away more than $500 million a year. That’s a lot of money we didn’t have to raise through sausage sizzles. Just think of the health gains.

Most philanthropy in Australia involves foundations (rather than individuals) giving money to not-for-profit organisations. The important part about this is that most foundations will only give to organisations with Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR) or Tax Concession Charity (TCC) status. That’s a lot of forms and hoops for the tax office.

But there’s good news for artists. Individuals and organisations without DGR or TCC status can still fundraise and offer tax deductibility to their supporters through the Australian Cultural Fund, which is managed by us!


Types of foundations

This is the where we get to the legal speak – not quite as exciting as the folding stuff in your pocket but it’s good to know where the money is coming from. These are the classifications:

  • Private foundations – established by an individual, usually through a bequest, and run by trustees who give out grants based on the donor’s priorities. Many established to support the arts (hoorah!), e.g. The Ian Potter Foundation.
  • Family foundations – established by a family and usually run by family members, e.g. The Myer Foundation.
  • Community foundations – for individuals, companies or groups with an interest in a specific geographical area, such as a town, region or state, and run by a board of people from that region, e.g. The Fremantle Foundation.
  • Corporate foundations – run with the profits from a company, but established as a separate legal entity, e.g. The Macquarie Group Foundation.
  • Government-initiated foundations – run with income from government coffers, or particular sections of it, such as money from gambling or tobacco taxes, e.g. The Victorian Women’s Trust; Lotterywest.
  • Trust companies – full-profit businesses that manage foundations, trusts and bequests, e.g. ANZ Trustees.


How to seek philanthropic funding

  1. Establish your status – Sort out your DGR or TCC status with the tax office. We’ve put together some Tax Tips for Arts Organisations (a handy resource, if we may say so). Otherwise your best bet is the ATO website.
  2. Think about your needs – Often artists approach things the wrong way around, finding out about a grant or opportunity then working out how to squeeze their bulges into the guidelines. Go the other way. Make a list of all the things you’d like to do, if only you had the money. Add to it and take things away as your arts business changes.
  3. Research and make a shortlist – We can’t emphasise this enough: do the research. Foundations have different personalities and requirements. Find ones that match you and don’t try and jam yourself into ones that don’t. You can look at Philanthropy Australia’s Directory of Funders or subscribe to the Funding Centre’s grants database.
  4. Obtain guidelines – Obvious, right? Go online and get their latest annual report and policies, get their guidelines, and find out what projects they have funded in the past.
  5. Apply to each organization individually ¬– This is not a one-size fits all process. Any hint of a mass mail-out will stink. This is your chance to tell the foundation who you are, why you need support, what you plan to do with the money and why you fit their priorities. See below for more detail on writing the proposal. Get it in on time.
  6. Grant review – Some foundations like to interview applicants or conduct site visits. Others just go on the application. Also, it may take a while before you hear back – some foundations only review once a year. Get on with making art in the meantime.
  7. Grant decision and follow-up – An acceptance will usually come by email. If there’s a thin envelope in the mailbox, expect it to be a no. It’ll probably be a standard letter with little to no explanation. If you feel ok about the rejection, you could contact them for feedback that will help you next time. If you’re feeling angry or very down about it, best to let it go. You won’t make them change their minds. But do think about applying again in a year or so, especially if you’ve improved your pitch.
  8. Success – Congratulations! Do as your mother told you and immediately write to say thank you. If you have to sign a contract make sure you actually read it first. You may get paid upfront or after you’ve sent a report. Know what to expect. Deliver on time and on budget to keep the relationship sweet.
  9. Semi-success – If you got some money but not as much as you asked for, think hard about what to do. Can you still do the project properly? If you can, write to the foundation and explain what you’ll have to change to fit the new lower budget. If it’s impossible, you could try and ask if you can transfer the funds to another project. They may say yes. Also remember, it feels wrong, but it’s ok to give the money back.


Writing a successful application

Of course you will pay careful attention to the information requested, but most pitches will cover the following categories:

  • A summary. Two or three sentences to hit them right between the eyes.
  • A brief description of you or your organization. Establish your creds and qualifications for funding. How have you met previous identified needs?
  • A case for support. Make your case specific to this particular foundation and this project. Prove the world needs you. That means you’ll need some evidence.
  • The proposed project. A clearly defined, creative, achievable and measurable activity. Describe what you’re going to do, how you’re going to do it, who will do the work and what their qualifications are, when it’s going to happen, and how you’ll know if it’s a success.
  • Other funding. Who else is giving you money or in-kind support? Unless the project is very small (less than $5,000 for example), they’ll want to know who else is coming to the party.
  • The budget. Simple or complex, depending on your gig. Just make sure it’s open, honest and realistic. Remember to put a dollar value on in-kind support or labour. When you write your final report, you’ll need to show that in-kind labour budgeted for has actually been done, so keep a log of hours and activities.
  • Proofreading. Weve sed it befor and we’l say it againe. Also proofread against the guidelines, checking that you’ve actually answered the criteria. Ask someone who hasn’t been part of writing the app to read it as if they were a board member of the foundation. Would they give you the gig?

The Australian Cultural Fund

The ACF is a fundraising platform for Australian artists and arts organisations administered by Creative Australia.

The Australian Cultural Fund is operated by Creative Australia and has endorsement as a deductible gift recipient (DGR) confirmed by the Australian Tax Office via a listing on the Register of Cultural Organisations (ROCO). This means that artists can accept a preferenced donations from individual donors via the ACF platform, and the ACF accepts and provides a tax deductable receipt for these funds. 100% of all donations received through the ACF go directly to artist campaigns, in the form of a grant from Creative Australia.

Artists register a project with the ACF, donors give to the fund and preference which project or artist they would like the money to go to, then the Creative Australia team reviews the gift and approves grants to the artist.

In 2021, the Australian Cultural Fund launched Amplify, a bespoke offering that allows each trust and foundation that we partner with to increase the flexibility and eligibility of funding, finding unique solutions to help achieve meaningful and impactful grant-making.


What else?

Budgeting is all about diversity.

You can’t expect to raise all your money from philanthropic sources, just as you can’t expect to raise it all from crowdfunding or sponsorship. Share the pie. Most charities get less than 10 percent of their funding from philanthropy.

Other sources of income are sales (tickets/merch); government grants (use’s Grant Finder or check out The Funding Centre); community fundraising; sponsorships; crowdfunding; and memberships.



Sometimes it can feel like you spend more time applying for grants than making your art. The whole process can be frustrating.

Most foundations and government agencies have staff available to talk through guidelines and applications, so don’t be afraid to use them.

And remember, they want to give the money away. If you have a good project that has been carefully planned and meets a real need, you should find people willing to help.

Good luck!

Coaching and mentoring

Contact your state manager to enquire about one-on-one, tailored consultation.