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6 min read

How I structure my giving: Sally Browne, AM

Profile of Nicole Richards
Written by Nicole RichardsPosted on 4/11/2020

“My one dream is to have even more money to give!” says Sally Browne, AM with characteristic gusto.

As a fashion designer, businesswoman, mentor and philanthropist, Sally Browne’s zest for life is irrepressible and infectious. Even though our conversation takes place against the grey backdrop of Melbourne’s extended Covid-19 lockdown, Sally brims with enthusiasm, her optimism spilling out like freshly tossed confetti.

Clearly, it would take more than a pandemic to diminish Sally Browne’s spirit. That’s not to say that she hasn’t experienced her fair share of loss and heartbreak – she was faced with the difficult task of commemorating the first anniversary of the passing of her beloved daughter while in lockdown.

Through it all, Sally’s warmth and big-heartedness have brought light to so many: her mentees, the team members of the non-profit organisations she supports, and the people she meets who are doing it tough on the streets.

Sally says this is simply “sprinkling fairy dust”, but for the people whose lives she touches, her kindness and generosity of spirit, might put her in the category of real-life fairy godmother.

How did you get started on your giving journey?

SB: I remember back when I had my fashion business, I was trying to juggle young children and a career and a girlfriend of mine started this little group of 20 young mums in Albert Park where one mum would babysit and two others would go off and deliver Meals on Wheels which was wonderful and made everyone feel like a winner! Really that was the beginning of me realising the absolute joy of giving – you’re normally getting something totally intangible like joy back in return.

I’d say I have three levels of giving. One is the giving I do through my fund at ACF but also close to my heart is the personal giving I do. There are a lot of people who don’t fulfill the criteria for a tax deduction that I give to.  There’s so much human need and suffering out there, and I like to do what I can to help, whether that’s a young refugee wanting to start a business, or an Indigenous artist who needs help with materials or something like that. Those donations can be small or up to $10,000 – whatever it takes to make that person feel valued.

The third part of my giving I call fairy dust. I’ve always carried $10 notes to sprinkle around to the homeless or to buskers or Big Issue sellers.

Both of these forms of giving I do anonymously in the community, but they are a precious and important part of my giving.

When I semi-retired from my business I thought I should do something about ‘proper giving’ – I’m very messy with paperwork and needed someone to help get me organised and that’s when that’s when my lawyer, John Corcoran, recommended ACF. That’s been really fabulous because I’ve been able to be compassionate, and I’ve emptied out my pockets and I also have some fairy dust money.

It’s an absolute honour to give and there’s such humility in giving.

Speaking of emptying out pockets, here’s a funny story I really like: there’s a minister talking to his congregation and he says, ‘I have good news and bad news. The good news is that we have enough money to develop our building project; the bad news is that it’s still in your pockets!’

I really believe that’s true, we’ve all got money in our pockets, and there’s so much need out there. After you’ve taken care of your own food and shelter what more can you need? It’s an absolute honour to give and there’s such humility in giving.

Which causes or focus areas do you support and why are they dear to you?

There are quite a few actually. For me, there are the big, obvious things like the tragic avalanche in Nepal which wiped out entire villages – I’d been in that area and really felt for those people. They had nothing and now they had even less than nothing.

The artist can facilitate, they can pursue their dream but it also comes back to the audience because if the work is on a wall or on a stage, we get to enjoy it. Giving to the arts is a win-win-win.

With the pandemic, I’ve been giving support to a lot of different mental health organisations because mental health is somewhat overwhelming at this time – it’s a big concern to me.

I also give to other health areas like motor neurone, stroke, stem cell work. I give a little bit to the environment too with things like the Botanic Gardens and the School of Botany at Melbourne Uni.

And then there are the arts.

I was that girl who had a dream, but no-one believed in me. I just know that feeling, when you think you’ve got something in you but you need someone to believe in you or you need some money to help facilitate that dream.

I think giving to the arts is ethical giving. The artist can facilitate, they can pursue their dream but it also comes back to the audience because if the work is on a wall or on a stage, we get to enjoy it. Giving to the arts is a win-win-win.

You’re a passionate supporter of the Melbourne Fringe Festival, which is still taking place this year (12-29 November). What is it that you like about Fringe?

I feel richly rewarded when I give to Fringe! They are more of a family than a community with tangible wonderful outcomes by providing a platform for hundreds of clever creatives.

The Fringe family is talented, daring, experimental, enthusiastic and FUN! Their CEO Simon Abrahams is an inspiration and a legend.

The Festival is always throbbing with original, brilliant, unique ideas, acts, dreams and ambitions. Our money fuels and ignites those wonderful dreams.

Tricky times call for hope and kindness. I don’t think there will ever be a better time to start giving to Fringe – to give our clever young creatives a go and watch them go somewhere!

What’s been the most valuable philanthropy lesson you’ve learned?

For me, it’s having someone’s back. If you feel all alone in the world, whether as an artist or an organisation or one of the theatre companies right now that are really against the wall, just by saying, ‘Mate, I’ve got your back and I’ll do what I can’, takes away the isolation and makes them feel worthy. It gives them some hope to go on.

That’s important because underneath, we’re all fragile, we’re all hurting from something. If you have someone’s back (or you tuck them under your wing) then it makes it bearable.

What do you like most about being part of the Australian Communities Foundation giving community?

The fantastic team, the events – I love it when we get together. I really like the spirit of ACF; it’s a really honourable spirit with integrity that has the capacity to have fun too. People feel good when they go to you.

If you were to offer any advice to others who might be thinking about getting started with structured giving, what would you say?

 If we are blessed enough  to feel we could be anything, why not be kind?  Give until its hurts! If you have enough, why not give?