Australian Communities Foundation - Home

Sorry. You're using a browser that we
don't support.

To experience this site, please use Firefox, Chrome or Edge.

6 min read

‘I’m not sure philanthropy is the best thing in the world’: Prue Brown

Profile of Nicole Richards
Written by Nicole RichardsPosted on 29/6/2020

The Sunning Hill Fund’s Prue Brown may be in her ninth decade, but her compassion and drive to help others is undiminished. Philanthropy, which she acknowledges is often a fraught concept, continues to play a vital role in her life.

“I’m not sure that philanthropy is the best thing in world,” she muses. “I’ve always thought it was a bit fraught because in an ideal society, philanthropy wouldn’t be necessary.

“I don’t know where we would be without philanthropy. We shouldn’t have to rely on people’s generosity to build hospitals.”

“For instance, if you go to one of the big private hospitals like Cabrini [in Melbourne] you see the names up on the wall of the big, wealthy families who’ve supported the construction of an entire hospital wing. Now, I’m not a great one for putting your name everywhere but it’s just as well these families have helped because sometimes I don’t know where we would be without philanthropy. We shouldn’t have to rely on people’s generosity to build hospitals.”

Prue says she’s learned from experience that it doesn’t take a “Kerry-Packer sized fortune” to make a positive difference.

“I’m not a big spender,” she says. “I don’t need to get new carpets every three years and I don’t like shopping so I have a little bit of money to give and I suppose my philanthropy is a minor attempt to address some of the ills and unfairness in our society.”

Prue Brown.

A life-long giver, Prue attributes her generosity to her upbringing and life experiences.

“Since I was quite young, I’ve believed in the principle of tithing – giving away 10 per cent of your income,” she explains. “Even when I had very little money, I still gave something away.”

After studying arts and social work at Melbourne University, Prue’s convictions became further entrenched.

“In the culture you move into as a social worker, you learn about all the people who don’t have things,” she says. “So, when my sister became involved with Australian Communities Foundation I thought it was a good idea and I joined too.”

Prue established the Sunning Hill Fund in 2007 and has happily supported a broad range of cause areas, including Indigenous education and the arts.

“One of the reasons I joined Australian Communities Foundation was so that instead of just writing a cheque to the Salvos or the children’s hospital, I could take advantage of ACF’s grantmaking experience to look at different segments of society and see what’s happening and who’s running what and who’s making a difference,” she says.  

“ACF locates groups like Woor-Dungin which is run by Aboriginal people for Aboriginal people and I’m all for that.

“I think that’s a real benefit of giving through ACF – you’re able to give to programs that most people will never have heard of.”

When the music stops

Though Prue has been sheltering at home in recent months as a result of Covid-19, she hasn’t let the pandemic diminish her propensity to support others.

“I feel very fortunate in that Covid hasn’t affected me other than most of the things I do have been cancelled,” Prue says. “I still have a house to live in, I still have money to buy groceries; but by contrast, the livelihoods of so many have been impacted. It’s terribly unfair.”

One of the most pronounced absences from Prue’s life since the outbreak of Covid-19 is live music. Describing herself as “an amateur violinist” Prue is a member of a trio and the Hawthorn U3A (University of the Third Age) orchestra in Melbourne.

“One of the awful things from this virus – although there have been so many – is the loss of livelihood for musicians,” Prue says.

“Most musicians are paid as casuals because they play in various music combinations and they’re dependent on playing in front of an audience for an income. As we know, everything’s been cancelled because of Covid.”

“I’d like to think that through the money I give, somewhere along the line someone benefits.”

Under the MDCH model concerts are ticketed and performed at set times as per traditional recitals while being professionally streamed. Ticket revenue goes directly to the artists. Just prior to the end of the 2019/20 financial year MDCH had raised $375,000 for 200+ musicians in 11 weeks over 85 recitals.

“It’s a terrific initiative,” Prue says. “It’s really helping these musicians who are entirely dependent upon concerts for their income – and they don’t tend to earn a lot anyway.”

“I’d like to think that through the money I give, somewhere along the line someone benefits. At the end of the day, that’s why I give.”