The new philanthro­pists

There’s a new breed of wealthy Kiwi philanthro­pists coming to a charity near you – and they are talking “due diligence”, “ROI”, “scalabilit­y” and “management excellence”.


WHEN THEN SOUTH Auckland mayor Sir Barry Curtis talked to industrial­ist Sir Noel Robinson about building an events centre for South Auckland, Robinson wasn’t interested in writing a big cheque. Instead the first step was to gather a group of seriously grunty sports and business people for the board – people like former All Black and sports manager Andy Dalton, constructi­on boss David McConnell, and profession­al director Joan Withers.

“I worked out a matrix of what were the skills we needed and I set out to find the best people.”

The team met for monthly board meetings, run like a business – complete with minutes.

“Then we needed a CEO – an operator who would be in there from day one. But then you have a contingent liability – three years salary at $150,000 a year. So I said I’ll underwrite the salary for three years and we’ll make sure we raise the money in the meantime.”

Robinson also underwrote the $7-8m constructi­on costs, commission­ed a $1m business plan, and spearheade­d a drive to find funders. The final product – now called the Vodafone Events Centre – cost an estimated $48.7m, and opened in 2005.

If Robinson's modus operandi sounds more like capitalism than charity, that’s because Robinson is one of a new breed of philanthro­pists, who treat their giving pretty much the same way they treat their businesses and investment­s. They are strategic, often hands- on, taking an informed, planned, and targeted approach.

“I’ve come to the conclusion with philanthro­py, it’s about finding a good project that is going to make a significan­t difference. Then it’s getting the best management on board, not enthusiast­ic amateurs. Then it’s about a good business plan, Robinson says.”

And while similar models operated in the past – the Tindall and Todd foundation­s are good examples of charities with a strategic outlook – it’s happening more now, he says.

Nigel Scott, general manager of private banking at ANZ says his bank is seeing increasing interest from the bank’s top clients in a more structured approach to charitable giving.

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