Rating system may help determine research grants
That’s not to say that philanthropists or trusts or foundations are getting it wrong, but there’s always a need for these decisions to be based on sound science.’’
Hulett says one benefit of having individual donors give their money to charities, and the charities then decide the grants, is that often there is a focus of monies to people who might have just missed out on NHMRC monies’’.
I think that’s a very good system in that it does provide help for researchers who are very competitive but unfortunately just missed out on NHMRC funding,’’ Hulett says.
It creates a greater diversity of medical researchers and helps strengthen the field.’’
Andrews will also work with scientists and medical researchers to help them better describe their projects in the quest for private funding.
Philanthropists will want to understand what the community benefit is, so therefore what the outcome of the research is going to be — so not just that you have discovered a new chemical pathway, but what it actually means to us,’’ she says.
Philanthropists can identify with that, recognise the benefit and hopefully be more willing to give.’’
Traditionally in Australia, most fundraising has been done by the charities themselves, not the medical researchers or scientists. There is little hard data on what happens to the money donated, but a report by the Perpetual Foundation suggests Australia’s charities are under-performing.
The report, released in November, highlights resources wasted due to competition, lack of co-operation and industry structure; underdeveloped accountability, transparency, solvency and governance; a misalignment of interests and other worrying trends. The report’s core conclusion was that many of the issues and problems stem from a lack of data, frameworks and education’’, something the NHMRC and Research Australia — who both see a role for charities in the future — are doing their bit to correct.
While the report suggests charities reform from within, and the NHMRC and Research Australia are keen to work with donors and recipients of donations, there are others calling for greater government regulation, especially to show where donor funds are spent.
The Commonwealth regulates charities through the Australian Taxation Office, but the states and territories regulate fundraising, and finding information on the performance of individual charities is difficult if not impossible.
But Professor Myles McGregor-Lowndes, director of the Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Non-Profit Studies at the Queensland University of Technology, says the answer is not as simple as more government regulation and rationalisation.
McGregor-Lowndes says there will always be unmet need, and amalgamating the smaller charities might actually stop groups of individ- ual donors, in certain specialties or geographic locations or with certain aims, from doing good in the first place.
There is also a paradox, he says, in calls for charities to be more upfront about how they spend their money, or the proportion spent on administration: donors want to see their money spent where it counts, not necessarily on the administration expenses associated with informing them where it has been spent.
In medical research, the real big expense is assessing the scientific validity — you don’t want to fund some crackpot — and all this has to go to peer review,’’ McGregor-Lowndes says. Often that’s a long and complicated and difficult and expensive process, but there are now positive moves to change that.’’
Anderson — the former head of the School of Biomedical Sciences at Monash University and deputy director of The Baker Institute — says the private funding market is crying out for help. With the help of the NHMRC, charities can streamline their processes, and individual and corporate donors may find it easier to give.
We’re big and have efficiencies of scale, so we work with probably a dozen small and large charities to help them decide where and how to invest,’’ Anderson says.
It helps charities not over-invest in the machinery of work and make sure the dollars go where the donors want.’’
Going that step further, showing what decisions have been made by the peak funding agency, rather than how its decisions are made, will have a much greater impact.
We could be a first-stop shop in terms of giving that information rather than them having to hunt around, and we have a bit more independence and experience in the area,’’ Anderson says.
The main emphasis here is to say that our organisation’s particular skill is identifying high quality and important research that’s where your money should go — the best ideas and the best people are the key to results.’’