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
Woolworths, Bendigo and Adelaide Bank and health insurer NIB were among the companies to record a surge in philanthropy in 2023.
Last year, Roslyn Toms and a group of her colleagues at health insurer NIB realised that some charities were suffering from a lack of funds after donations fell during the pandemic.
Toms is a group executive at NIB for legal and risk. She also sits on the board of the NIB Foundation.
With fellow executives, including chief executive Mark Fitzgibbon, Toms put a case to the insurer’s board for more funds to be directed to the foundation so NIB could better support its key causes of health and community wellbeing.
“The case was built around what we are trying to do as a business,” Toms says.
The board agreed, making way for a one-off donation of $5 million to the NIB Foundation, which was subsequently distributed to a variety of charities, including the Cancer Council, the Black Dog Institute, Ronald McDonald House and Indigenous and community service providers.
Set against the total sum donated to the not-for-profit sector by Australian companies, the amount donated by NIB was small, but it enabled the listed insurer to nearly triple the sum it gave to charity to $6.6 million in the year to June 2023.
NIB is far from the only company to record a large increase in donations this year. Hefty increases from the large retailers and some of the big banks helped to push up total community investment by Australia’s top 50 corporate philanthropists 9.8 per cent to $1.52 billion.
It is the first time the Australian Financial Review Corporate Philanthropy 50 list, the sister of The Financial Review Philanthropy 50 list, which measures donations from Australia’s richest individual givers, has exceeded $1.5 billion.
In 2019, the total amount of community investment by the top 50 corporate givers was $1 billion.
“The growth in corporate giving and high-net-worth giving is in stark contrast to mass market giving which struggles with cost-of-living pressure,” says John McLeod, co-founder of JBWere Philanthropic Services – who together with Jarrod Miles, founder of Strive Philanthropy, compiles the annual list for BOSS.
Miles describes the size of this year’s increase as “very good”.
“[The rise is] across the 50 companies, so that’s really pleasing to see. It’s not just down to a couple of organisations,” he adds.
“Some big percentage increases in the second half of the list show the focus on corporate community investment is trickling down.”
The rate of growth this year is comfortably ahead of last year’s 4.4 per cent rise and the 2021 increase of 3.7 per cent, although well below the 24 per cent surge in 2020 as much of eastern Australia was engulfed by bushfires.
BHP remained the country’s biggest corporate philanthropist, distributing $222 million to charity, followed by Coles, which donated $152 million.
The rise in corporate giving comes as surveys show younger employees increasingly want to work at companies whose values are aligned with theirs.
“[Our giving program] is an important part of employee engagement,” NIB’s Toms says.
“It is part of our overarching purpose and is a key part of our value proposition. It’s a retention tool.”
Woolworths says philanthropy is also a focus for directors.
Like NIB, Woolworths recorded a near tripling of its giving program this year, to $122 million.
“Our board takes a very keen interest in our philanthropic agenda as it is a key part of the wider group’s purpose, in which everyone at Woolworths Group has a part to play. Food relief activity is discussed regularly with the board,” says Woolworths chief sustainability officer Alex Holt.
Coles and some of the big banks, including Bendigo and Adelaide Bank, recorded strong increases.
Bendigo and Adelaide Bank’s contribution was up 70 per cent, National Australia Bank recorded a 62 per cent rise and Westpac, which this year celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Westpac Rescue Helicopter, cemented a 21 per cent rise in giving.
Woolworths attributes the surge in giving mainly to the ability, for the first time, to accurately value the amount of food donated to its food rescue partners, such as OzHarvest, Foodbank and FareShare.
The value of food donated accounted for $76 million of the increase, while the remainder came from a rise in financial contributions, Holt notes.
Newcomers to the Australian Financial Review Corporate Philanthropy 50 list this year include online graphic design platform Canva, lithium and iron ore miner Mineral Resources and The Lottery Corp.
In 2021, the founders of Canva, Melanie Perkins and Cliff Obrecht, said they would give away the “vast majority” of their wealth.
The couple have subsequently made a sizeable contribution to the Canva Foundation, which this year donated $14.7 million to international aid and microfinance projects.
Toms says NIB is focused on health and wellbeing in recognition of findings that just 30 per cent of an individual’s life expectancy is related to genetics. The rest is tied to social determinants, such as lifestyle, access to medical care, housing and transport, and food security.
The NIB Foundation was established in 2007 with a $25 million donation from the company. Money is distributed from the foundation, and from unclaimed dividends. NIB formed an Aboriginal health partnerships program in 2020, and $1 million has since been donated from unclaimed shareholder dividends.
Overall, the main areas Australian companies supported were related to social and public affairs, but McLeod and Miles note that companies were also strong supporters of the Yes campaign in the Voice referendum.
Research was conducted by Jarrod Miles and John McLeod. Sources include the GivingLarge report, publicly available company sustainability reports and ACNC registry.