The Difference magazine is a slick production.
Its annual research into key indicators of poverty and social exclusion in Australia pools extensive data on social issues affecting the nation’s most at-risk and marginalised citizens.
With this research backdrop in place, The Difference then analyses and profiles nonprofit organisations that are leading transformations in these communities. The findings they make are the product of a rigorous 126-point investigation, which includes interviews with board members, staff, ambassadors, and clients of each service.
Its production values – from the silky weight of its paper stock to its distinctive C-Suite smell – are designed to put the magazine where it matters most: in the hands of Australia’s executive and high-net-wealth individuals.
The Difference was created by editor Nic Bolto to disturb the status quo of social exclusion, homelessness, child abuse, drug abuse, suicide, and disadvantage in Australia. The publication costs $27.50 to purchase, and Bolto works two jobs to keep the project running.
Coming into its fourth issue, Generosity asks Bolto what the magazine has achieved, and what it still needs to achieve its mission.
When The Difference launched in 2011, what did you imagine its impact would be?
Frankly, we thought credit card donations to the projects we identified would rain down through the internet and cheques would flow through the mail!
In reality, what did result were many long and useful conversations about generosity and the needs of our audience: those with the ability to give who needed evidence about the impact of their giving.
There are 56,000 charities in Australia, many of them marketing like crazy for a result even they are not always clear about. Our job is to take some of the white noise out of the giving decision, remove the marketing hype and create a clear equation for donor impact.
How much of that vision has been achieved?
One very wise person told me at our first launch with Simon McKeon that we were on a three-to-five-year journey in gaining any credibility: that’s the price of doing something new. That has indeed been the case. At year four, we are now fortunate to have a number of bolted-on believers. The dissonance in our reporting has also attracted a lot of media and that has helped too.
What has been the largest obstacle to The Difference reaching its impact potential?
Unlike other developed western countries such as the US, Canada, Germany and the UK, charity analysis and the giving environment in Australia is quite immature. I believe there are two reasons for this: the interventionist role of government in Australia, and the nominal impact of the GFC.
With government, in our colonial era, our organised economy was controlled by a governor and thus we look to government to solve our problems. With the results of last year’s scorecard we can see how well that approach is going! Many people think they can fix everything and our scorecard shows pretty clearly they’re in a lot of trouble if that is the case.
Regarding the GFC, donors in other western economies wish to give to the best possible charitable solutions for two reasons: their social problems are worse and, in a relative sense, there is less to give.
Where does the magazine’s funding come from?
There are about 20 trusts, family PAFs, individuals and family owned companies behind our work and a courageous group of people called the First50. These individuals contribute a portion of their earnings to support our thought leadership work.
How many copies are currently sold each year? What is your projection for sales in 2014?
We sell out our print run of 1,500 copies and have a web audience of 128,000. In 2014, funding permitting, we will also publish an online version of the magazine for those who wish to assess our recommendations on a tablet or smartphone.
How could more philanthropic support for the magazine/concept see it develop?
In short, we could change the trajectory of our social health problems. For the better.
You can’t fix a problem you can’t see. We want to credential more charities to advance the proposition that external scrutiny is good for the sector as a whole and that the results of this will be felt from the coal face to the levels of suicide, child abuse, reimprisonment and so forth.
We would also love to do a NSW-specific edition of The Difference. That is really high on our ‘to do’ list as people do tell us how important it is for them to give locally.
Why do you personally believe in The Difference?
The Difference is a crusade of mine that picks up from the work I started as a consultant helping the federal government get better results from its funding to the charitable sector. The team at The Difference is creating systemic change that has the potential to see more vulnerable people assisted, using better evidence-based practices from charities who achieve lasting results.
Now that’s worth getting up in the morning for.