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Malcolm Turnbull shines light on structured giving

Malcolm Turnbull

When it comes to charitable giving, anything that raises awareness is a good thing, an estate planner has said, following revelations that Malcolm Turnbull donates the equivalent of his salary through his charitable foundation.

The Australian Prime Minster donates about $550,000 to charity via the Turnbull Foundation, according to News Corp reports. That’s slightly more than his $528,000 salary, with the Turnbull Foundation, established in 2001, sending money the way of the Sydney Biennale, Sydney’s Scots College and the Sydney Children’s Hospital among others. His family also has an estimated net worth of $180 million, prompting nicknames like “Mr Harbourside Mansion” and recent wealth-based campaigns from the Labor Party.

However, according to Australian Unity Trustees wills and estates accredited specialist Anna Hacker, politics aside, anything that prompts a discussion around charitable giving is a good thing.

Noting that charity income grew from $110 billion in 2014 to $121 billion in 2016, Ms Hacker said a lot of this comes down to heightened visibility of giving, thanks to social media, crowdfunding campaigns and grass-roots level charitable campaigning.

“There has been a lot more visible giving and that encourages more giving,” she said, observing that Australians’ approaches to charity are starting to align more closely with American approaches.

She explained, “The Australian way is to help each other but not in a way that is obvious to others, you know. It was all a bit behind the scenes. America has always been quite open about it and encouraged giving and I think that's probably why there's a lot of philanthropy in America and quite substantial giving.

“I do think that that is changing in Australia and that is a great thing to have it be more invisible.”

According to Ms Hacker, the traditional Australian preference for anonymous giving could be a side-effect of the 'tall poppy syndrome'.

“If someone else talks about you doing good that's fine, but if you go out and say, ‘I do this, I donated all of this’, it's still seen as maybe a bit of a tall poppy syndrome. It's something that I would have thought about five years ago, when it comes to charitable giving, and I think that's why people didn't really like to talk about it. It didn't mean that people didn't do it, but the more you talk about it, the more people do it,” she said.

In her role at Australian Unity Trustees, which also assists clients establish and manage philanthropic trusts, Ms Hacker has seen growing interest in structured charitable giving as part of a legacy.

She said the interest in setting a legacy wasn’t there 10 years ago, with clients preferring to donate anonymously.

However, people now think “long and hard” about their legacy and the legacy of their family.

“We're seeing more and more people say, ‘It's actually something we want to bring our kids and our grandkids into the conversation so that they can have that wonderful feeling of giving and supporting others’,” Ms Hacker said.

“It's definitely coming up more but it's also happening in a way where they’re not going out and saying ‘I want acknowledgement’ but they want to have a really clear legacy.”

Continuing, she said the benefit of structured giving through trusts and foundations is that charities have a level of consistent income.

A foundation is a structured vehicle that allows for capital growth and donations in perpetuity.

“It does give sustained growth and sustained giving for the charity so while they might be very happy to receive $100,000; if they're going to get the $100,000 that keeps growing then that's something that they're going to be really excited about,” Ms Hacker said.

“That's probably why, in my mind, structured giving is of more benefit overall to charity because it means they can rely on those ongoing donations each year.”

Malcolm Turnbull shines light on structured giving
Malcolm Turnbull
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