The Thomas family in South Australia started their structured giving journey by opening a Gumnut Account at Australian Communities Foundation 10 years ago. After steadily growing their Gumnut over the years, the account converted to a sub-fund in 2018 and the family has begun making grants to support the causes that are dear to them.
Starting small, thinking big: The Four Eleven Seven fund
Luke Thomas has extra help remembering the date of his wedding anniversary: as newlyweds, he and his partner Stacey, decided to use the date they got married as the name of their philanthropic fund, Four Eleven Seven.
“We were both of the view that we’d been pretty fortunate,” Luke explains.
“I was working in banking at the time and Stacey was already working in the [philanthropic] sector so we began thinking about ways we could be proactive about our relative good fortune – not that we’ve got anything special – and have a multi-generational flow on effect.”
“When we started, we had some ideas about what we hoped to achieve with the fund, but we knew it was going to be a while before we could grant,” Luke explains.
“We kept in mind all the things that interested us and were close to our hearts: for Stacey that included advancing the status and opportunities for women and for me, because I grew up in regional South Australia, I was keen to address the tyranny of distance, equity and Indigenous initiatives.
“Still, we didn’t want to be too closed about what we’d support – we wanted to be open to new ideas and stay reasonably flexible.”
Four Seven Eleven’s first grant was made in response to a co-funding opportunity via the Refugee Council of Australia, to support an asylum seeker detained on Manus Island lodge an application through the Canadian Private Sponsorship Refugee Program for resettlement in Canada.
The Program has been in operation since the 1970s and allows for private citizens and groups to sponsor refugees to Canada from around the world.
Filing an application, which generally takes 12 months from the time of lodgement until the time the refugee arrives in Canada, costs approximately $18,400 with some funds allocated to living expenses in the first year in Canada and social support provided by a team of volunteers. The program also enables separated families to be reunited, meaning a person being held in Papua New Guinea could have their spouse and children living in other countries join their application to Canada. Support for the program by Canadian authorities is high.
After a funding call-out, six Australian Communities Foundation fund holders have now funded two applications.
“When Stacey and I first heard about this opportunity it was quite a short conversation to be honest because we were in total agreement that it was something we’d like to be part of,” Luke says.
“We have a young family so if we can give somebody else a chance to restart their life in some way then we’re all for it.”
“The fact that our contribution was going to join those made by other funds also gave it a nice feeling that it was a collaborative approach; that we were all uniting to get this done.”
For Luke, who left the banking industry three years ago, being involved in giving is about making a positive contribution to our society.
“I’m studying to be a primary teacher,” he explains, “and part of the curriculum is about trying to build good citizens and I think that if you can do something to help somebody who needed a bit of help, without an expectation of return or reward or recognition, it’s not only a good thing to do but the right thing to do.”
“Talking to others about what we’re doing or having some conversations around the backyard BBQ isn’t about self-promotion, but just letting people know about good things you can do.”
The Thomas’ intend to involve their kids in giving decisions as soon as they’re old enough and have already begun to embed the concept of giving by splitting moneyboxes into three categories: some to spend, some to save, some to share, along with small acts of charity such as buying a gift to go under a charity Christmas tree.
“We want this to be something that carries on through generations of our family,” Luke says.
“We don’t want it to be just us as parents saying, ‘This is what you should do,’ but rather us being role models. We’d love to see our kids take it over and if it becomes an accepted part of the family’s culture then that would be a massive win long after Stacey and I are gone.”
In the spirit of growing giving and encouraging others, Luke says he’s made a conscious decision to start sharing the story of his family’s giving with others.
“It’s a very Australian thing to ‘hide your light’ as it were,” Luke says.
“Talking to others about what we’re doing or having some conversations around the backyard BBQ isn’t about self-promotion but just letting people know about good things you can do. If one person thinks it’s a good idea and does something and tells others then it becomes a bit of a multiplier effect.
“Australians are really good at reactive giving when there’s a disaster or something, but the proactive, structured giving is less so.”
Using a community foundation to help set up a giving structure and manage administration and compliance is an easy way to get started Luke says.
“Australian Communities Foundation does a good job of making it easy,” Luke says.
“All you do is set up your account, give it a name, then make a direct debit out of your account – you don’t even miss the money. You get regular proactive feedback, annual statements for your tax and annual reports.
“It’s something that’s within the means of most people,” Luke says.
“My advice to anyone who’s been thinking about getting started in philanthropy is don’t overthink it, just start.”
Four Eleven Seven is a sub-fund of Australian Communities Foundation.
Lay the foundations for your giving by establishing a Gumnut Account with as little as $2,000. All funds in your Gumnut Account are professionally managed and invested in line with our commitment to 100% responsible investing. Income from investments is reinvested to grow the balance of your account.