Lynne: Pete and I have been married for 30 years and over that period we have always given charitably. We don’t have children, and about 10 years ago when we were thinking about our wills I saw an article in the paper about a family charity that is now quite a reasonable size, but was originally started with about a million dollars. That got me thinking … if we liquidated our worldly goods we would raise a million dollars.
At the same time we were becoming increasingly concerned about the degradation of the environment and the loss of biodiversity, and we started to think about possibly buying a property for conservation purposes.
Acknowledging that we did not know much about land conservation or how to choose an appropriate property in the first instance we decided to give to some of the big charities like Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) and Bush Heritage that are actively involved in land and biodiversity conservation. Rather than buying a property ourselves we decided to become patrons of the Charles Darwin Reserve, so in a sense we opted for a ‘suck it and see’ approach. It allows us to get layers of understanding over time of what’s involved in land conservation.
Peter: I wasn’t terribly interested in having investments, but Lynne convinced me that we had investments anyway, in superannuation, but as we didn’t approve of how they were being managed – where those funds were being invested – we may as well do it ourselves. So then she found Ethinvest, our financial advisors and philanthropy mentors. I was very skeptical to begin with, but they’ve won me over completely. Now I’m a complete fan!
Lynne: At the moment we only give to about five groups a year, principally in the environmental space. For us, it’s about protecting environmental biodiversity and trying stave off both environmental degradation caused by man, and also impending degeneration and species extinction imposed by climate change.
We give additional gifts directly to smaller groups like the Lizard Island Reef Research Foundation because we have a particular interest in marine biodiversity and the Great Barrier Reef. And then we’re also very keen to help protect biodiversity for birds, so we’ve given funds to Bird Life and to Rainforest Rescue.
Peter: Our PAF is very small, and we are in the accumulation phase so disbursing the minimum at the moment. We give about $15,000 a year, and we’re trying to build that up.
Lynne: Yes, we’re basically working to grow our superannuation and build the foundation. We’re probably at our maximum earning capacity at the moment, so it’s far more efficient for us to go to work and build the foundation, rather than for us to work voluntarily for a group. What will take more time is taking the next step, which is volunteering. I’m a member of the Lizard Island Reef Research Foundation board.
Lynne: I come from Wollongong, and the bush and the coast featured really strongly in my upbringing. I think that’s one of the reasons why I feel such dismay, because I can see places that used to be incredibly beautiful and have been cleared for no particular purpose. In fact there are some places I just refuse to go back to now because its so painful to see; it’s easier to visit new places because I don’t know how they’ve changed, what’s been lost.
This is one of the reasons I really enjoy what AWC and Bush Heritage are doing, working on places that are really degraded – the Charles Darwin Reserve for example, you see the ‘before’ photos and it looks appalling! You wonder how they ever saw any potential there? But now when you visit it it’s terrific. I find the optimism that goes with turning something around is soothing, to know that you can do something positive to help.
Peter: I was brought up in a country town in northern England, so I did a lot of fell-walking. I’ve always been interested in the country, but it’s only in the last ten years that I’ve identified as an environmentalist as such.
Whilst we do want to save furry animals … and whales and spiders and bees … we’re actually both pretty pessimistic about the big picture, about the overall future of the environment. I don’t think we as a species will take the difficult political decisions in the next 20 years that will save us from catastrophic climate change. But we’re not prepared to give up hope. We can think global, act local.
Lynne: If you weren’t at least partially optimistic you wouldn’t bother with the foundation.
Peter: Yes, but very few people give to the environment, a much smaller proportion than goes to health and medical research, for example. I think it’s simply not on most people’s radar to give in this area, even though they are aware of animal extinction. They may or may not believe in anthropomorphic climate change, but they don’t think much about the environment as a place to give money.
Lynne: But actually looking after the environment is the greatest piece of preventative health you can do. Keeping biodiversity intact and the ecosystems healthy will impact on water, air quality, food production and community health, so it is in the end a key preventative strategy in human health.
Peter: What has been really exciting is how warm and values-driven the group of people we now mix with are – they’re very engaging and enabling, curious about what we are doing, and are happy to share stories.
Lynne: It’s been surprisingly easy to move into this group of philanthropists. I don’t think I’ve ever met a group of people who have been more welcoming. Neither Peter nor I come from families where charitable giving was a strong feature. I don’t know that it’s part of our friends’ lives either, so all these things are completely new for us. Yet we feel we can trust the AEGN.
We do want to know what impact our grants are making, or at least contributing to. We come from evidence-based practice, evidence-based care in medicine, so we spend a lot of our day working out if what we did made any difference. All the groups we give to report on their activities, and are critically appraising if there are better ways to do things. I enjoy reading their reports.
Peter: But they’ve got to be short! There are just too many to read them all.
Lynne: These days I even tend to read the donor lists when I go to an event or a public institution, and you see the same names over and over again. So that’s made me more curious about not just who is there, but how they are doing it.