What’s All This About Giving One Per Cent?


Alison Leemen 
Kate Follington

Until  Australia is able to work with the Federal Government or major philanthropic bodies to launch a nationwide “1 per cent giving campaign”, similar to the Irish initiative, perhaps the best place to start is for Not for Profit organisations to simply ask for it, say Alison Leemen and Kate Follington from the Giving One Percent Australia.

In June, the Irish Government took a bold step for its charitable sector - and its society - and launched a joint national campaign with Philanthropy Ireland called “The One Percent Difference”.

It urged all Irish citizens and companies to calculate one percent of their income and give it to charity. A simple and straightforward strategy, the bright red landing page greets the user with a giant interactive sliding bar of salary levels starting from £1000, and a simple line underneath that reads: “my 1 per cent is…”.  

Launched with television and radio ads, a snappy logo and dancing promotional teams at sporting events, The One Percent Difference campaign hopes to ensure the most needy are still supported as the country struggles through the current economic challenges.

Frank Flannery, Chairman of the Irish Government backed Forum on Philanthropy said at the opening, “We are aiming to create a national movement of giving with this campaign.” And then, in October, vocal champion for philanthropy former US President Bill Clinton, noted the initiative during a speaking engagement saying “I like this 1 per cent thing” and predicted that other governments would one day follow suit and learn from the idea.

Asking people to give 1 per cent of their annual income to charity is a concept being adopted by organisations, and now governments, around the world. Beyond being a clear and measurable ask, it forces average income earners of all levels, like Australians, to take a hard look at their earnings, and realise that a sacrifice of 1 per cent is an achievable donation, and in the case of Australia a considerable increase in current giving levels.

Australians are some of the largest earners on the planet but rank 13th among the wealthiest 15 nations for charitable giving. We give in a disorganised way, and the average donation to charities is only 0.3 per cent of our annual income. The Irish, on the other hand, give 0.8 per cent of their income to charity, despite their current financial crisis, and this level was cited as one of the reasons for The One Percent Difference campaign: they had to catch up with their European neighbours.

There is considerable evidence in Australia that we lack a mature culture of charitable giving. Some Australians perceive philanthropy as an American model that isn’t justified or needed here. In fact, only 38 per cent of Australians claimed a charitable tax deduction in 2011, in stark contrast to 85 per cent of Canadians in the same year.

So how much exactly are Australians donating? Among those who give, it’s roughly $38 a month. The average amount is lower if we include those who give nothing. This is shocking in a country that spends more than $20 billion a year dining out, and gives only $2.2 billion to charity.

The “1 per cent” concept started building steam within the private sector more than 10 years ago. In 2002, founder of the retail brand “Patagonia” started One Percent for the Planet, asking companies to give 1 per cent of their profits to environmental causes.

Since then, 1200 companies have donated more than $100 million to the environment. It begs the question: If this concept can work for the corporate sector, why shouldn’t it also be a benchmark for the average person?  

Many believe one percent is not enough, and we agree that some Australians could be substantially more generous. However, with 94 per cent of Australians giving less than one percent of their income, setting 1 per cent as an achievable, memorable, easily calculated benchmark of entry-level giving, it has the scope to have a major impact – both on the Australian giving culture and in sheer dollar terms.

Some champions of philanthropy, notably ethicist Peter Singer and Bill Clinton, have advocated for defined giving benchmarks for years. The old attitudes that philanthropy is not an Australian cultural habit, or that Australians are excused from compassionate giving because we have a publicly funded social safety net, no longer holds water when, in this globalised millennium, half the people outside of Australia live below the poverty line.

As one of the wealthiest countries on the planet, and with many of our closest neighbours suffering horrific levels of child malnutrition, Australians are not contributing to global poverty reduction at the level we can afford. Beyond that, donors are coming to understand the benefits of purposeful, engaged giving, both by world-leading donors like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and by the everyday donor who wants to make an impact and contribute meaningfully.

At Giving One Percent we advocate Australians donate more thoughtfully, by offering a calculator to help them calculate how much they could give and a detailed Charity Chooser that helps them find the charities doing the work that matches their interests.

By benchmarking 1 per cent as entry-level giving across the board, we aim to move the current average donation from $38 a month to $48 a month (1 per cent of an average Australian income). If the current donor base moved to giving 1 per cent of an average income, an extra $500 million would be raised for Australian charities; it would be an additional $3.5 billion if all Australians donated at that level.

Until we are able to work with the Australian government or major philanthropic bodies to launch a nationwide 1 per cent giving campaign, similar to the Irish initiative, perhaps the best place to start is for  Not for Profit organisations to simply ask for it:

“What’s your one percent?” Calculate now, here, and to find a charity, click here.

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Twitter @giving1percent

About the authors:  Alison Leemen is the founder of the Australian arm of Giving One Percent and Kate Follington is the Communications Manager. Giving One Percent has been operating since 2010 with a vision to build a culture of giving among Australians. It advocates to encourage all Australians to donate at least 1 per cent of their income to charity, and to grow thoughtful giving habits in Australia and provides tools to help donors give more effectively.  

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