What the organisation is and does

The Australian Communities Foundation (ACF) is a community foundation based in Melbourne.  Formerly the Melbourne Community Foundation, ACF is a vehicle for private philanthropy across Australia.  ACF manages a large number of sub-funds, from which approximately $8million and over 500 grants are distributed annually.  The majority of these sub-funds are donor-advised – ACF works alongside philanthropists to support effective giving to causes that they are passionate about.  ACF has a strong donor education programme and actively works to grow a connected community of generous Australians.

What the client brief to us was/ community partners’ needs

In 2016, ACF established a new discretionary fund using untagged donor funds.  ACF’s vision for this fund was to create a vehicle for high-impact philanthropy, with a strong social justice lens.  In the long-term, ACF’s intentions were to establish an effective model of giving that would inspire and inform the practice of its wider donor community. 

ACF were looking for support to develop a model for this fund, including the development of a monitoring and evaluation framework that would help them to understand their wider impact as a predominantly donor-led organisation. CSI were selected through an RFP process for this work, particularly in light of our partnership approach and experience of designing venture philanthropy models of grantmaking.

What our response was

CSI and ACF co-designed a 9-month project that would support ACF to clarify its role and focus as a national community foundation (most are regionally place-based), with an opportunity to take a stronger leadership role with new discretionary funding.

The project included:

  • Designing a theory of philanthropy with the ACF board, positioning ACF as a vehicle for inspiring impactful philanthropy across its donor community, and as a social-justice focused organisation
  • Co-designing a theory of change for the Impact Fund – which focused on identifying ‘action-worthy problems’ of national significance, that needed targeted funding to ‘unstick’ the problem and increase momentum for positive, systemic impact
  • Co-designing a flexible funding framework for the Impact Fund – including a small grants programme focused on quick response and agile funding, alongside opportunities for larger collaborative grants
  • Engaging with other philanthropic stakeholders to support this co-design process, help to clarify ACF unique opportunities for impact, and to inform potential collaboration
  • Designing a grants assessment rubric to support responsive and impact focused grantmaking
  • Designing a monitoring and evaluation framework to drive evaluative activity for the Impact Fund and more widely across ACF’s donor-advised sub-funds.
The progress

The project was completed in late 2016 and the Impact Fund was launched in December 2016. 

Outcomes / impacts 

Through this work, CSI supported ACF to:

  • increase its understanding of its unique role and opportunities for impact (theory of philanthropy)
  • strengthen its funding strategy to support more impact-focused grantmaking
  • design agile funding mechanisms based on ACF’s unique ability to fund quickly , to mobilise other donors to scale-up funding, and to work flexibly in a way that enables collaboration with other funders
  • identify increased opportunities to prioritise the needs of indigenous and refugee/asylum seeker communities (priorities under the Impact Fund)
  • increase ACF’s capacity and capability to understand its impact through effective monitoring and evaluation

Quotes from an end of project de-brief:

  • the project ‘supported re-connection between the board and staff’
  • The project has ‘set ACF up for the next few years, bringing donors, staff and stakeholders onto the same page’. They feel that they now have ‘clarity in every area of the business’ – bringing ‘unification, shared understanding’. 
  • The project has helped ACF in writing their recent Annual Review – ‘giving real clarity of purpose and a clear external strategy.’
  • CSI’s support with the board’s journey of strategic development was ‘very important’ – especially the early workshop [theory of philanthropy] which ‘acted as an anchor’, and set the project up as ‘not just being about a new funding programme.’
  • CSI played an important role in reflecting back to ACF the purpose of the project. They have enjoyed seeing their confidence grow as an organisation – CSI ‘really helped to affirm our direction, providing us with language to support it [what they were already doing well]’.
  • Other stakeholders are now ‘moving aside to let us in’.  The partnership focus of the Impact Funds is ‘going to be a real strength’