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6 min read
‘It’s a family project’: Erin Davidson on building The Illuminate Fund
Written by Dom O'DonnellPosted on 6/6/2023
Giving has always been second nature for Melbourne-based professional fundraiser Erin Davidson.
“I have been trying to give back to the community in one way or another for as long as I can remember. My family has always instilled those values in me. And that’s something I hope to instil in my children as they grow up.”
Erin’s ongoing commitment to give back prompted her to step into structured giving in 2018. After hearing about the community foundation model from a friend, Erin opened a Gumnut Account with Australian Communities Foundation.
“When you give through a community foundation, your donations are invested and grow, so it just made so much sense to me.”
Erin opened her Gumnut, The Illuminate Fund, to start building a charitable fund for environmental causes and projects. “At the moment, I’m focused on the link between our health and the environment,” she adds.
Five years on, Illuminate is just about to reach $20,000 and mature into a Named Fund, when Erin and her husband (“it’s a joint venture now,” she says) will begin granting.
“We can just about see the finish line and are getting ready to start giving from the Fund. It’s very exciting.”
In this recent conversation, Erin reflected on her family tradition of giving and the value a community foundation has brought to her giving journey.
How did you get started with giving?
I have been trying to give back to the community in one way or another for as long as I can remember. My family has always instilled those values in me. And that’s something I hope to instil in my children as they grow up.
I feel quite privileged – I had a very blessed upbringing and a very caring, supportive family. And they have always instilled that value in me to give back to the community. We were never incredibly well off, so sometimes that contribution might be in the way of volunteering.
If your funds are invested ethically with other givers in a bigger pool, the money that you’re giving can have more impact over time
That’s something I always saw my parents do growing up. Even my grandmother would always be sitting there in the lounge room, writing out her cheques. It sparked an interest in me right from when I was a little kid. It’s something that I’ve just wanted to keep doing, and something I always get a sense of excitement from doing, and still do.
Why did you choose to give through a community foundation?
The reason I decided to join a community foundation was because I was making about $2,000 a year in donations anyway (the annual commitment needed for a Gumnut) – a little bit here, a little bit there. Then I realised that if your funds are invested ethically with other givers in a bigger pool, the money that you’re giving can have more impact over time.
I had a colleague who already had a Named Fund with the Foundation, and I definitely had a chat with him to see what his experience was like. It was very positive, so that solidified my decision to join and start an account.
What role has your Gumnut Account played in your giving journey?
One of the great things about having a Gumnut Account is that I’ve been able to personalise it. So even though you’re part of a bigger fund and a bigger community, you can still very much make it your own, so I chose the name and got a logo designed. You can choose the direction of your own giving. You can run your own events and fundraisers, and the staff are more than happy to support those efforts as well.
When I started the Gumnut, I saw it as a ten year process, trying to reach a $20,000 balance and putting in a minimum of $2,000 a year. But along the way, I did things like asking for donations to my fund for my birthday instead of gifts. My husband is now quite heavily involved too, and so it’s a joint venture. Recently, we asked for donations to our fund instead of gifts at our wedding.
How has Australian Communities Foundation supported your giving?
Giving through the Foundation is a great way to give more proactively than reactively. Over the years, I probably gave to things when I was asked, rather than looking for things that were a little bit more close to my heart. I feel now with the Foundation, I have more direction, and I just love that everything’s invested ethically too. It’s a great place to be.
What do you enjoy most about being part of a community of givers?
I think it’s definitely the events. Every time we get together, it feels like a celebration of the impact that we’re all having. There’s also been opportunities to come to Learning Circles and it does provide a bit more clarity and focus, and motivation as well. And the staff are lovely – they really have always made me feel like a very valued member of the community.
What’s something you wish more people knew about philanthropy?
That you don’t have to be a millionaire – I by no means am! I’m building my fund slowly, but I’m able to make an impact along the way.
Another great thing about being part of a community foundation that I don’t think is widely understood is that even if you aren’t able to make a grant every year or every month, your money is still having a positive impact along the way as it grows.
What’s been the most rewarding thing about structuring your giving?
So as well as hoping to make an impact and help organisations that I see are doing really important work for the environment and therefore helping our health overall, the most rewarding thing is just the ongoing sense of purpose.
Even if you aren’t able to make a grant every year or every month, your money is still having a positive impact
It’s that feeling knowing that when you make your contribution, you’re working towards building a legacy, and something that I hope to get my children involved in as they grow up. It’s really a family project and something that will last for many years.
Read more about Erin’s giving journey from our earlier interview with her in 2020 here.