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In America, philanthropic foundations have been a dynamo for the arts, sciences and social change since the beginning of the last century. Today these foundations pour around $40 billion a year into the American economy, in what has become known as its ‘third sector’.

The Thomas Foundation’s strategic objectives and corporate governance have been influenced by two excellent writings on foundations. They give good reasons and practical advice on how foundations might operate. Though focussed on America, they are relevant to Australia. They also provide warnings for what foundations might expect if public and governmental attitudes towards tax deductibility were to change.

These are:

  • The Foundation – A Great American Secret by Joel Fleishman, professor of law and public policy at Duke University, who details how privately endowed foundations were established, how they operate, and how this private wealth is changing the world.
  • Philanthropy’s New Agenda: Creating Value by Professors Michael Porter and Mark Kramer, who articulate their views about how foundations could modify their grant-making to create more value for society (published in the Harvard Business Review, Nov-Dec 1999).

Other sources of useful information include:

  • The Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Non-profit Studies at the Queensland University of Technology. The Centre runs research and teaching programs for people interested in the third sector. (www.bus.qut.au/research/cpns/)
  • The Centre for Corporate Affairs in 2007 published a report, Corporate Community Investment in Australia. Commissioned by the Business Council of Australia, the report urged business and government to develop innovative, business-based means to stimulate and facilitate corporate philanthropy.
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