Bruce: Our involvement in philanthropy has come about through our life choices from a young age. We’ve certainly saved hard. I was brought up with that as a family tradition: you don’t waste resources, you save them and use them for useful things, including charity. I learned a lot about business and commerce at school and university, so I’ve applied those lessons throughout my life.
Ann: Some good investments meant that we had the capacity to give money away. We had more than we needed to live on, so we started off as individual donors, giving money through monthly donations to support several organisations. Sometimes we gave to environmental campaigning organisations, or a one-off donation to purchase land for conservation. And then after an inheritance, in 2008 we set up a sub-fund with Australian Communities Foundation.
Bruce: At that time I also changed employment and had 37 years of long service leave, plus accumulated holiday pay, so I put all that money into our fund too. The focus of the Melliodora Fund is environmental grant-making, specifically environmental sustainability, environmental advocacy and nature conservation.
Ann: We’ve always been involved in the environment, professionally and personally. I studied town and regional planning and then environmental studies, so I’ve been an environmental planner for all of my professional life.
Bruce: My background has been in agricultural science, which is basically environmental studies with a particular application, and I’ve since studied aspects of conservation biology.
I was brought up in the country, which had a big influence on my attitudes and values. I was a Scout and spent a lot of time bushwalking. My father was very interested in Australian plants, and in using Australian plants in his garden.
Ann: My first few years were spent in the country too, and my parents had a weekender in the Dandenong Ranges. I got interested in bird-watching when I was quite young, and still am. All our lives we’ve been very interested in environmental things, been members of environmental groups and kept up to speed with what’s going on. Ever since we moved to the inner city we’ve been very active with our local creek regeneration group, and learned a lot from being local environmental activists. It’s been very rewarding to see our creek transformed from an unloved, weed-infested drain into a native re-vegetated parkland, which both people and wildlife really appreciate.
Bruce: It’s been a lot of work over many years: liaising with local councils and state authorities, establishing dedicated work crews in re-vegetation, promoting litter control in the streets, and public education. Both of us have had a lot of hands-on experience in helping to organise that work, and political lobbying with all levels of government. So we’ve got a reasonably good understanding of what it takes to do this over the long term. There’s a lot of personal investment, more than 30 years of effort. I’ve also been a grant-seeker in my professional role as a research scientist, so I understand what different funding bodies want, and how different ones operate.
Seeking positive opportunities, responding to threats
Ann: When it comes to giving money away, we act from both positive motivations and to oppose threats to the environment. Positive when you see really good opportunities for spending money to achieve good environmental outcomes, but also negative in responding to those big threats to our natural environment, giving money to fight those threats. Supporting Bush Heritage Australia is one of the positive opportunities, contributing to purchasing land for conservation management. In terms of addressing threats, in the 1990s we supported a project to employ an economist to research and document commercial plantations as a potential positive alternative to the logging of native forests.
Bruce: Yes, that was an unusual but good approach, on the edge of advocacy and innovation. That appeals to us, because as professionals in related fields, we understand how research and innovation work, the value of any unexpected benefits or applications that come out of that research, and how it can influence public policy.
In fact the work that we support is not just about the environment, it’s actually about people. Our grants are generally spent in employing people. We are making a social investment for environmental outcomes.
Choosing what to fund
Ann: In terms of choosing what to fund, we operate at the lower end of the grant-making scale. We still give $20 a month to some organisations, and small grants of $5000 which can be really valuable to another group, especially when combined with grants from other funders. Occasionally we give $15,000–25,000 to support an organisation or a project. Because we are not big funders we are looking to be very strategic and catalytic, and we often collaborate with other funders to contribute to bigger projects.
Funding climate change and energy advocacy
Bruce: We focus on nature conservation, and we’re happy to support advocacy. We know that politics is important and people need to be out there interacting with and influencing decision-makers. For example we fund the AYCC (Australian Youth Climate Coalition), which engages young people in the fight against climate change, not just teaching them about the issues, but training them in how to influence the political process. 100 % Renewable (now Solar Citizens) is another example, with a similar public engagement approach but a slightly different target focused on renewable energy. They take risks, and we were happy to help with their establishment phase.
Ann: This has been called the ‘critical decade’ to do something about climate change, or we face climate chaos globally. So it is really important to support the organisations trying to change not only government policy and business practice, but also our economy – we need a fundamental transformation away from fossil fuels, that is what has to happen. There are an awful lot of people with their heads in the sand, saying ‘it’s too disruptive; we can’t afford it’ but it’s really urgent that we try to turn the ship around.
Bruce: When you are young you are full of energy and try to do lots of things. As you get older you’re aware that the clock is ticking and there is lots more that needs to be done, so it is great to empower others to do things. There is a powerful ripple effect – the more people you can support, the bigger the ripples. So if you are seeking change it’s good to know you are helping others to achieve that change – you can sleep well at night.