The giving mentality

Former merchant banker Peter Hunt helped to establish Women's Community Shelters.The traditional image of a silver-haired billionaire philanthropist writing cheques on a whim is ripe for an overhaul, according to a small group of Australian rich-listers. They are bypassing the safe, established charities and are instead looking to newer causes that align more closely with their personal values.

And they're not afraid to get their hands dirty. They're still supplying cash — but also their time, their contacts and some of the business nous that made them wealthy.

Allan English is the founder of Silver Chef, a publicly-listed company that funds equipment for hospitality start-ups. Former merchant banker Peter Hunt, who is using his resources to help tackle the complicated problem of homelessness among women, is one of the new breed.

"In Sydney, 100 women a day are tuned away from shelters. There's a real need for more shelters so we help set them up. We provide the funding, the IP and engage with the local community," Hunt says. The non-executive chairman of corporate advisory firm Greenhill Caliburn got involved three years ago when he helped to found a women's shelter in Manly.

A year later he helped to establish Women's Community Shelters, an organisation designed to duplicate the Manly model in other parts of Australia.

Hunt believes philanthropy is entering a new phase. "Writing cheques is not enough. People who have got money are often entrepreneurial, so if you can get them to provide not just money but intellect and contacts, it can get very exciting," he says. Denis Moriarty is the founding managing director of Our Community, an organisation that provides advice and tools, and fosters links to the community sector. He agrees Australia's philanthropy sector is ripe for change.

He believes it's time Australia's most wealthy sought out more radical causes, even at the risk of being criticised. "Philanthropists have to be far more innovative and investigative and adventurous in what they want to change," he says. Moriarty points to Our Community chair and prominent businesswoman Carol Schwartz as a positive example of this new approach. She is a founder of the Trawalla Foundation, an investment body that supports businesses at the coalface of social change.

"The foundation has been strategically investing in innovative social enterprise for a while now," Schwartz says. She notes that it is a backer of GoodStart Childcare, the old ABC Learning, which she says is often held up as a shining example of innovation and social change.

Research suggests that as progressive philanthropists such as Hunt and Schwartz become more emotionally invested in their cause, this can significantly benefit recipients. According to existing literature, when people align their personal values with causes and appeals, it is likely to increase overall giving and the long-term value of giving relationships, says University of Western Australia researcher, Professor Julie Lee, who is currently conducting research around values and giving.

Allan English is the founder of Silver Chef, a publicly-listed company that funds equipment for hospitality start-ups.Allan English, the founder of Silver Chef, a publicly-listed company that funds equipment for hospitality start-ups, agrees. English, who established the English Family Foundation out of a large slab of his interest in Silver Chef, describes himself as an "engaged philanthropist".

He says he started out providing $200 loans to women entrepreneurs overseas, and when he saw how such a small amount of money could change lives, he was inspired to do more.

His foundation now splits its focus between these types of micro-funding programs overseas and supporting social Australian entrepreneurs with business ideas that benefit the community. One example of the latter, he says, is a cafe that was set up for the sole purpose of providing jobs and training for people with disabilities.

"We provide the money and the skills to help them bring it to fruition," English says. Another benefit of "engaged" philanthropy is that you don't necessarily need to have millions at your fingertips to contribute. Bernard Fehon, the managing director of Tactical Solutions, a small financial planning business in Penrith, for instance, is the creative force behind the Vinnies CEO Sleepout.

He conceived the idea in 2006 and now the event attracts more than 1000 business leaders from some of the biggest companies in Australia and has raised more than $13 million for homeless services.

"My personal philanthropy is limited in terms of dollars. It's more about time and effort and ideas," Fehon says. "It's about applying designed thinking to a problem."