Project 10: Framework for Stimulating Information Philanthropy in Australia
Philanthropy Australia investigated the potential for taxation and other concessions to stimulate increased investment in ‘information philanthropy’ projects, including consideration of whether charitable status should apply to such ventures. The report concluded that the current Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR) arrangements do not adequately cater for information philanthropy, and recommended that a new ‘information philanthropy’ DGR category could be added to the legislative definition of charitable purposes (in line with recent changes to UK law and the Productivity Commission review into the not-for-profit sector).
We found the project interesting and stimulating, and we found the Taskforce Members consultative and appreciative of our efforts. In retrospect the issues that arose, were the result two things:
- The lack of adequate definition and description of what the Taskforce meant by ‘information philanthropy” and what information they required. As a result Philanthropy Australia interpreted ‘information philanthropy’ with a wide description of ‘information’ and our specific definition of ‘philanthropy’ (from the donor’s perspective) while the Taskforce in setting the topic had in mind a specific description of ‘information’ particularly relating to public sector information use and reuse, and a very wide generalist description of philanthropy (from the grant seeker’s perspective). This created a major misunderstanding but does highlight what a new emerging field “information philanthropy” is in Australia. Indeed there is very little articulation of policy in this space globally.
- The lack of understanding the general community has of the complex nature of charity law in Australia. Unfortunately charity law and interpretations of ‘charitable purposes’ are not nearly as logical or consistent as the vast majority of the population assumes. As we have no statutory definition of ‘charitable purposes’, interpretations have been developed through case law and as a result this whole area is complex and grey. The reality is that most of this information is in the public sphere, it’s just that everyone finds it difficult to understand and navigate.
Given the two issues above, we tried to keep our explanations as simple as possible, choosing to add information as the Taskforce began to articulate their requirements. No doubt at times the Taskforce felt that this approach was tortuous. In the end however, I believe we have been able to provide the Taskforce with a good understanding of the issues and provide some useful recommendations.