Advocacy Matters: 3 critical actions for community foundations ahead of the next federal election

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Advocacy Matters is a regular column by Neil Pharaoh focusing on all things politics, policy, campaigns and advocacy specifically for Australian Community Philanthropy. Stay tuned for updates around political trends and elections, lobbying and advocacy news, and hints, tips and ideas on government engagement that are specifically written for the Community Philanthropy sector.

Three critical things for all Community Foundations to do now ahead of the next Federal election

Election season is upon us. Sometime in the next few months all Australians will go to the poll and select a new Federal government. Whatever colour your politics, Community Foundations and their members have a really vital role in the election campaign. This article steps through a few things you can do to help raise the profile of Community Foundations, as well as amplify the voices of the organisations you support.

1. Write to your local MP/candidates

The first task of the election campaign is to write to your local MPs and candidates when they are selected. Most MPs and Candidates in Australia these days have no experience in the not for profit, social purpose, or even the business and community sector – the vast majority have spent their entire working lives as advisors and within their political party. This means they may not actually know what a Community Foundation is, they may not know how they work, how much money or volunteer hours Community Foundations contribute and even how active they may be in an electorate or region.

Writing to candidates when they have been preselected is a great way to start a discussion—you can then request a meeting and talk about your work in their electorate or community.  What projects have you funded? What things are you most proud of? How much money have you raised for the community?  All of these things are really important to share, it raises your profile and helps MP’s and candidates understand the vital role of Community Philanthropy in Australia.

A couple of tips along the way: work out where your projects are based (in which electorate) and ideally try and work out how much donations and support have gone to a specific electorate. Feel free to email me if you need a hand doing this – all ACP members get an hour of free consultation with my team at Tanck, and we can assist with this data work.

2. Encourage your community to enroll to vote

Around 700,000 eligible Australians are not enrolled to vote, which does not sound a lot until you consider that it represents about 4,500 people per electorate (on average). When you consider elections are often won or lost on only a few hundred or thousand votes, those 700,000 are key to making an impact in Australia.

Communities which are often disenfranchised are typically less likely to be involved. Try to reach out to all of the organisations you have supported in the past few years which focus on those communities and offer to help with an enrollment drive.  You can even contact your local AEC office and get a bundle of enrollment forms and distribute and mail them to various organisations.  

As the election gets closer use your social media and networks to promote early voting, point out where people can apply for postal votes – and reach out to elder communities, or those less mobile who you might have worked with and encourage them to do early voting or postal voting as well. Community Foundations play a vital connecting role in the community, and being an active civic citizen helps all of us be counted on election day.

3. Ask for money for community foundations

Be bold with your local MPs and actually ask for money and announcements for Community Foundations. In my idea of a great world, all Community Foundations would have access to government matching donor dollars to allow foundation to expand their projects and activities, as well as some core funding to keep the lights on. 

Think about what you might be able to do with your Community Foundation with $50k or $100k and actually start to put the pressure on MPs and candidates to fund and support local Community Foundations.

Finally, a few hints and tips along the way:

  • Use your social media to engage politically—you should be following local MPs and including them in tweets and posts about key and important projects.
  • Work with all likely successful candidates and members, often they will be in the two major parties.
  • Remember that even unsuccessful candidates often end up working in and around governments in the future, every stakeholder is important.
  • Get your board members to individually write to their local MPs and tell them they are involved in a Community Foundation and why they think it is important.

This election might be our best chance to raise the volume for Community Foundations around Australia.

About the author: Neil Pharaoh has spent most of his voluntary and professional life in and around social purpose organisations, government, public policy and advocacy. Neil has been behind many leading social policy and advocacy campaigns on gender rights, equality, medical research and education, and ran for Parliament in Victoria in 2014 and 2018. Neil is co-founder and Director of Tanck, which focuses on better engagement with government, and regularly runs workshops and advocacy sessions and advises leading social purpose organisations on their government engagement strategy and systems. @neilpharaoh on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. 

If you have any ideas, suggestions, tips or questions, please feel free to email Neil Pharaoh at or reach out to him via social media at LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook @neilpharaoh.

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