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Thought Starter: SME's and Partnerships - The Visionaries (4 case studies)

First published in Fundraising and Philanthropy Magazine) In this second part of a three-part series on SMEs as business partners, Julia Keady looks at four businesses that are making their mark in unique ways, and why we need to pay attention to the SME giving force on the horizon!First published in Fundraising and Philanthropy Magazine)

In this second part of a three-part series on SMEs as business partners, Julia Keady looks at four businesses that are making their mark in unique ways, and why we need to pay attention to the SME giving force on the horizon!

The owner-managed business, a bit like the founder-run charity, is one of the most dynamic inspirational forces in our Australian landscape. “Why so?” I hear you ask?  

They hold the vision of their business firmly in their heart. They weather market storms and an ever-changing complex world to stay ahead of the curve. Like you, they are awake in the middle of the night thinking about their success. Not because they want to upgrade their Mercedes, but because they are constantly balancing the needs of customers, suppliers and employees – a delicate and exhausting dance. They are constantly making sure everyone is engaged, part of the process, part of the success and that in there, somewhere, they stay true to their personal mission. 

One of America’s most successful business owners once told me his proudest moment in business (a medium-sized enterprise) was not laying off a single employee during the GFC. His business sales hit the skids, but he worked the books day and night to make sure his ‘family’ would make it through the storm. How many corporations do you know that think like that? 

And what does that have to do with charity partnerships, with you as a charity partnering with an owner-managed firm? I have come   to learn that when they are awake at night thinking about their success, they are usually also thinking about yours! And unlike corporate partnerships, you have direct access to these incredibly talented, multi-disciplinary thinkers and doers. And as with corporate partnerships, it is more than money that they bring to the table – connections, influence, an ability to activate and galvanise. 

That’s profound, right? And it’s why thinking like an SME, understanding the SME mindset, and being ready for the SME giving tsunami is important now more than ever. 

Let me take you on a quick tour of four different businesses. 

 SCENIC WORLD SHARED

Scenic World in the Blue Mountains elected to commit 3% of the company’s profit to its Scenic World Shared program.

In the nation’s precious eco-system of the Blue Mountains – one of the few UNESCO-listed World Heritage Sites that accommodates a city-sized population – is Australia’s largest family-owned tourism attraction business, Scenic World. 

Scenic World gives more than one million customers a unique experience of the Blue Mountains every year and is one of the largest employers in the Blue Mountains. 

When Scenic World came to me in mid- 2016, they stood on the cliff of an exciting new chapter – turning 70 years of considered business philanthropy into a more streamlined and cohesive strategy that not only lined up with customer, employee and the local community’s wishes, but would also help them take a leadership role in the community. 

When we sat down and tallied their existing in-kind and financial contributions that created a social and community dividend, they totalled more than $750,000 year. 

Wanting to build on and formalise what they were already doing, Scenic World elected to commit 3% of the company’s profit to its Scenic World Shared program. 

Over a number of months, we worked through the best possible partners to line up with the three preferred pillars – community, education and environment. We chose a multi-year flagship partnership with Blue Mountains World Heritage Institute, and three minor partnerships with the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal (FRRR), Western Sydney University (WSU) and Australian Schools Plus (ASP). 

Each partnership created a ‘first’ on the mountain: the first Blue Mountains-focused university scholarships; the first Small Grants for Community Organisations program run by FRRR; and the first Australian Schools Plus partnership in the Blue Mountains, rolled out as a three-year program with Katoomba High School. 

The partnership choices were deliberate and strategic. SMEs don’t have CSR departments, so the workload is shared among the managing director, and the marketing and communications and human resources departments. As such, it was important to bring on partners with proven models that could take the lead, such as FRRR and Australian Schools Plus. We deliberately selected organisations that were adequately resourced, aligned with the strategic vision, and that had an ability to scale within the community if other businesses wished to follow suit. 

This allowed Scenic World to work more closely with their flagship partner, providing additional support alongside their annual financial contribution to help Blue Mountains World Heritage Institute in its transformation from a largely government-funded organisation to one that could partner more intentionally with the business and philanthropic community.

Over time, Scenic World  will explore ways to provide opportunities for their one million customers to support initiatives in the Blue Mountains, which is a significant unlocked potential and one that has great replicability in other tourism-based businesses and communities. Another future step is to provide a structured program for giving, making it easier for smaller operators with limited resources to access a meaningful giving program. 

PENNICOTT FOUNDATION 

During the Scenic World project, we met other businesses in the tourism sector, those taking leadership roles in their own communities. 

Intrepid Travel and The Intrepid Foundation have long been leaders in this area and have phenomenal leadership in business visionary Geoff Manchester. Another leader is former Tasmanian of the Year Robert Pennicott, who runs the family-owned Pennicott Wilderness Journeys in Tasmania and Victoria. As an eco- business, philanthropy is at the heart of what Robert, his wife and their business do. 

In 2007, Robert formed the Wildcare Tasmanian Coast Conservation Fund with the Parks and Wildlife Service and Wildcare to eradicate feral cats that kill up to 50,000 sea birds each year on Tasman Island. This is a perfect example of business taking leadership in and for their community. 

Then in 2011 Robert founded Pennicott Foundation, which has  poured  hundreds of thousands of dollars into more than 200 projects throughout Tasmania with a primary focus on restoring delicate eco-systems. 

Over many years, Robert has built significant brand equity, which has resulted in significant community trust. What blew me away in conversation with Robert was that members of his community want to leave bequests to his Foundation (a Public Ancillary Fund), largely due to the reassurance their legacy will live on through the great works instigated and funded by Pennicott Foundation. It was indeed the first time, outside of community foundations, that I had heard about private individuals trusting private enterprise with their bequests. 

This speaks to a disruptor on the horizon. If individuals can choose new destinations for their bequests outside of charities, it demonstrates that these businesses also have more financial resources and clout for their partnerships. Suddenly the preconceptions about SMEs not having the budgets of corporates starts to fade. Who will continue to ignore SMEs, and who will embrace them with gusto? Who will continue using their individual giving program as the SME option, and who will break the mould and lead from the front? 

MACPHERSON  KELLEY FOUNDATION 

This notion of businesses creating Public Ancillary Funds (PuAFs), as opposed to Private Ancillary Funds (PAFs), should be on the radar of all for-purpose organisations looking to galvanise new communities of giving. 

A PuAF is a structured mechanism for philanthropy that allows tax deductible donations from the public, which can then be distributed to charitable organisations with DGR1 status. Unlike a PAF, the legal, administrative and investment responsibilities are handled by a third-party trustee. Sub-funds can be established under a PuAF and the donor can recommend where money from the sub- fund should be distributed. 

In 2016, Macpherson Kelley was one of the first firms in the legal sector to create a PuAF. Again, I think I did a happy dance at the time! 

The 110-year-old intergenerational commercial law firm, which has 300 employees spread  over  its  Melbourne,  Dandenong, Sydney and Brisbane offices, established the Macpherson Kelley Foundation for two reasons: to create a meaningful and effective way to engage with and assist their local community and give back to causes that the firm is passionate about; and to provide a vehicle for their clients and their clients’ families, referral partners and businesses to do the same. 

I have watched as the Macpherson Kelley Foundation has bloomed, guided by my great industry colleague and legacy practitioner Jo Hastings. In just its first two years, the Foundation is kicking goals with $100,000 directed to supporting community needs alongside involvement and support from all levels of the firm. 

Again, we are seeing private enterprise being trusted with significant contributions. We can expect to see more business leaders from other sectors emerge as leaders in similar fashion. 

DEMETER LEGACY FUND 

Which leads me to my final business; new on my radar but an emerging force and leader in the high-altitude, spellbinding space of ‘profit- for-purpose’ business. 

I recently met Geraldine Scott, the founder and Managing Director of Demeter Wealth Management. She brings a voice to legacy that I have yet to see in the finance sector. The philanthropic wing of her business is Demeter Legacy Fund, which focuses  on  supporting dogs in need, vulnerable animals and habitats, disadvantaged children and the elderly. 

Like the aforementioned examples, Gerri embedded the Legacy Fund into the business model from the outset, providing a vehicle to help employees, clients and families and the wider community to participate, with a focus on creating opportunities for ‘families, friends and future generations’. It is little surprise that the Fund is fast attracting clients who share these values and want to share their own success in such collaborative ways. 

Demeter’s model pours the bulk of profits into philanthropic activities and creates new ways for employees and clients to experience first-hand the work of their charity partners, both in Australia and overseas. 

RISING TO THE OCCASION 

We are seeing and will continue to see more SME business leaders take these bold positions. They have been enabled by several factors, but particular credit must go to early visionaries such as Audette Exel who has been leading the way for 20 years with Adara Group and Adara Development. 

Our SME business community has always and will continue to lead from the front, including and not limited to philanthropy and social innovation. What will we do as a charitable and philanthropic community to support them, champion them and make it easier? How will for-purpose organisations such as charities rise to the occasion and share their experiences with SMEs for the benefit of all? 

There are 50,000 medium-sized enterprises that have between 20-199 employees. That’s nearly one medium-sized business for every charity in Australia, as opposed to 3,700 corporates and the consequent less appealing ratio. Food for thought indeed. 

In the final article, my colleagues and I will unpack the top 10 ways that you can prepare your organisation to be SME-ready. We are also collecting case studies of great partnerships with SMEs so we can build a collective library of resources for charities and SMEs to access. Send your story to us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The Xfactor Collective is a community of pre-vetted specialist consultants who help social change makers achieve their social mission. We have a diverse range of specialists across 300+ areas of specialisation, and this article was written by our Specialist Consultant Julia Keady. To find out more about working with Julia, or how the Collective can help you, please email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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