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4 min read

Reconciliation through giving: Sue Beeton on supporting First Nations

Former academic Sue Beeton has always been driven to “pay back the good fortune” she has enjoyed.

“Growing up, I always knew I was adopted, and I felt incredibly fortunate to have been brought into my family,” says Sue. “My parents invested very well in the post-war boom, and, in their later years, I became aware that I was going to inherit a significant amount of money.

“I’ve always had this great dream I would be able to pay back my good fortune, and my inheritance gave me that opportunity,” explains Sue. “I felt a responsibility to give back this money that had been accrued during a very extractive period in Australia’s history.”

In 2016, Sue established the Beeton Family Fund at Australian Communities Foundation (ACF) to apply her inheritance across three cause areas: First Nations justice, the environment and the arts.

A long-time supporter of First Nations communities across Victoria, Sue has provided ongoing funding for organisations such as Ganbina and Woor-Dungin. But it took time to build confidence in her approach, she explains.

“When I started out, I was fearful of going about it the wrong way,” says Sue. “Philanthropy can be so paternalistic, but I’ve since learnt it doesn’t have to be.”

Long-term trust-based funding: A philosophy on giving

Over the last decade, Sue has developed a philosophy around her giving based on what she’s learnt from First Nations leaders and other allies.

“The ultimate philosophy around my giving is that philanthropy should provide long-term and unrestricted support,” says Sue. “This is especially important if you’re giving to support reconciliation and self-determination.”

“I have learnt how difficult it can be for organisations to find unrestricted funding, so all my support is now untied and I’m very happy for my money to go towards things like administration.”

“I give multi-year funding where possible – usually a minimum of three years – and I don’t require reporting because these organisations are already doing enough and my relationships with them are built on trust.”

Sue’s philosophy reflects the kind of approach First Nations leaders continue to advocate for.

“We’re seeing this big movement towards trust-based partnerships in philanthropy,” says Rona Glynn-McDonald, proud Kaytetye woman and Director of First Nations Futures, a First Nations-led organisation providing pathways for all people to redistribute wealth to First Nations initiatives.

Rona joined ACF’s First Nations Learning Circle on 15 May to share her experience and expertise alongside Bundjalung and South Sea Islander woman Millie Telford (Acting Co-Executive Director, Australian Progress).

“The best funders I’ve worked with are the people that centre trust,” Rona shared during the session. “They’re the people that see our expertise and existing power, and really trust how we will use their funds… Unrestricted funding allows us to put money where it’s needed and respond to shifting needs on the ground.”

Relationships for reconciliation

For Sue, the most rewarding part of her giving journey has been the relationships she’s built along the way.

“While I am hands-off in terms of what organisations do with my support, it’s such a privilege to connect with the people working on the issues I’m passionate about. They’re such remarkable people.”

“In the First Nations space, I’m finding these connections especially enlivening as the movement rebuilds following the referendum.”

Sue says joining Australian Communities Foundation has been key to establishing these relationships.

“I still remember my first meeting with ACF,” Sue recounts. “I had been looking into starting a foundation, and the more I did, the more concerned I became over what’s required. When I met with ACF, I felt I had found my place. Here was this Foundation where I could still have control over my giving, but also connect with experts and draw on their fantastic knowledge.

“When I came to ACF, looking to support First Nations students in regional Victoria, the team connected me with Ganbina – an organisation I hadn’t heard of doing great work with First Nations school students in Shepparton. I still support them to this day.”

Through her Fund, Sue has also built a close relationship with arts organisation Melbourne Fringe, and is now a keen supporter of the Deadly Fringe program, designed to amplify the stories of First Nations artists.

“I’ve got a great love for the arts, theatre in particular, and understand how hard it is for organisations in this space to attract funding,” says Sue. “Deadly Fringe brings together my passions for theatre and First Nations.

“This is what ACF is doing for me – it’s giving me that insight and connection with organisations and initiatives I otherwise wouldn’t have.”