This article was published in The Australian Financial Review BOSS as part of their annual corporate philanthropy feature. GivingLarge data is used as a leading source for the list and feature coverage.
Australia’s Top Corporate Givers Revealed
Rio Tinto and South32 were among the companies that shelled out some of their bumper profits to support community projects this year, as both boosted charitable donations by more than 40 per cent.
Rio, which in 2020 blew up 46,000-year-old rock shelters in the Juukan Gorge in the Pilbara, increased its charitable donations by 41 per cent to $96 million in the year to June 2022. South32 gave 44 per cent more to community projects – mainly in the areas of education, health and social wellbeing and environment, taking the total to $43 million.
Rio said the “notable increase” in community investment was thanks to the completion of a $US25 million ($37 million) COVID-19 pledge, a “review of social investment strategies” and the launch of “significant multi-year partnerships, particularly through Rio Tinto Iron Ore and Rio Tinto corporate teams”. The iron ore division donated an extra $11 million, mainly to improve recreational facilities in the West Australian mining towns of Paraburdoo and Tom Price. The cash splash by the miners, which benefited from high commodities prices, meant that mining companies accounted for five of the top 10 corporate givers on this year’s list of Australia’s top 50 corporate philanthropists. Only two banks, Westpac and Commonwealth Bank, appeared in the top 10.
BHP takes top honours
The largest corporate donor by far was BHP, which donated $257 million, more than double the second-biggest donor, Coles, which gave away $120 million, mainly to food rescue, health, education, disaster relief and social welfare. John McLeod, co-founder of JBWere Philanthropic Services – who together with Jarrod Miles, founder of Strive Philanthropy, compiled the annual list for BOSS – attributes the outsized level of giving by the miners to their need to work in and with local communities and a recognition of widespread angst over climate change.
“Miners have a different relationship to [customers] compared to say a Coles or Cotton On,” McLeod says. “For mining companies, they can’t just move a mine, so local communities, often including Indigenous ones, are important, and not just as employees. “Equally, over many years the environment has been a growing concern for the broader population, with mining often at the coalface. So aiding that cause, beyond just what is required in mining licences, has also been important.”
Southern Cross Media Group, which owns the 99 Hit and Triple M stations and which is valued at just $260 million, was more generous than index heavyweights such as Wesfarmers, Stockland, Transurban and Sonic Healthcare. Private fashion retailer Cotton On donated more than tech behemoth Atlassian, insurance group Suncorp and property company Mirvac. This was despite a sharp increase in giving on the part of Mirvac, which lifted the value of donations by 37 per cent to $9.6 million.
Overall, community investment by Australia’s top 50 corporate philanthropists rose 4.4 per cent to $1.4 billion this year. The rate of growth was higher than the 3.7 per cent recorded last year although well below the 24 per cent surge in 2020 as much of eastern Australia was engulfed by bushfires, and will help compensate charities for lacklustre giving by individuals.
The JBWere/NAB index for individual giving showed falls of 3 per cent in 2020 and 3.2 per cent last year as the pandemic curtailed fundraising efforts. The recovery was weak this year, with individual giving edging up just 0.6 per cent. “What we’re seeing is the companies overall are recording a steady increase in community investment, which is what the community wants, rather than being up, down, up, down,” says McLeod. “They are smoothing things out through the good years and bad years, but keeping that gradual.”
The Australian Financial Review Corporate Philanthropy 50 is the sister of The Financial Review Philanthropy 50 list which measures donations from Australia’s richest individual givers and is published annually in The Australian Financial Review Magazine. The seemingly endless stream of disasters to hit Australia in the past three years – from the 2020 bushfires to the COVID-19 pandemic and the devastating floods in NSW, Victoria and Queensland over the past 12 months – has prompted many companies to establish disaster relief funds within their overall giving budgets. Last year, NAB launched its NAB Ready Together program, which supports Australians “before, during and after” natural disasters.
“We’re seeing a real increase, not surprisingly, in disasters, whether that be bushfires or floods or cyclones, and so as a result of that, and obviously the transition with climate change, we really want to focus on this area,” says Krissie Jones, executive general manager of retail at NAB.
“We did a lot of research with our customers and with communities and found that this was an area that our customers were particularly
interested in and concerned about,” Jones says. “So we’ve really changed the shape of the way we focus our philanthropic dollar since then.”
The program donated $6 million in the 12 months to September. The bank forecast that $5 million would be provided on an ongoing basis, thanks to a $100 million investment by the NAB Foundation, and the rest would be provided by the bank. NAB Ready Together works with emergency services partners to help build disaster resilience. It provides donations and community grants and deploys its staff to help in the clean-up in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. This year, it has donated more than 1000 laptops to the Northern Rivers communities in NSW.
Nathan Barker, CBA’s head of community investment, says, “In the past, when a disaster happened, we’d say that we need to respond and allocate some new money and say, ‘Here’s $1 million to give to the Red Cross,’ for example. Whereas now [we recognise that] this is likely to happen year-on-year and we need to plan for it. We need to have funding available.”
The bank has “a couple of million dollars” set aside for disaster relief, Barker adds. This year, the bank provided $4.9 million to support flood
relief, having donated $10 million in bushfire recovery grants in 2020-21.
And rather than donate all the money through large charities, such as the Red Cross, CBA tends to give more directly to people in need, such as local sporting clubs that have lost equipment.
“We find that while there’s lots of money going into the big aid agencies, it’s not always getting through to smaller organisations,” says Barker. “The feedback we received from our customers and from the broader community is that [sport] is the real lifeline of a community. When people can’t turn up to weekend sport after disaster, their community has really changed and they want to get back to those norms. So that’s a really powerful way to get them back on their feet again.”
The other big banks also have disaster relief programs, as do some of the insurers and retailers, notes Miles.
As well as increases in giving to disaster relief, Miles points to a rise in contributions to support the environment and social and public welfare programs this year. Fifteen of the top 50 corporate philanthropists said climate change or the environment were among the causes they supported this year.
Written By Sally Patten, AFR Boss Editor