Jayson Forrest is the managing editor of Money & Life Magazine.
As Chair of the Future2 Foundation, Petra Churcher AFP® is on a mission to restore trust and confidence in the profession through social conscience and giving.
Spend a few minutes talking to Petra Churcher about philanthropy, and you’d be hard pressed to find somebody more passionate about social giving, making her the ideal choice as Chair of the Future2 Foundation – the philanthropic arm of the FPA.
However, don’t make the mistake of using the term ‘philanthropy’ too often around Petra, who sees it as being an “old” term. Instead, she prefers to see philanthropy move from the concept of improving the welfare of others through the donation of money, to one that encompasses social conscience and awareness.
“I see philanthropy evolving from its traditional concept to one that also integrates a social and ethical agenda into the very fabric of a business. It’s not just about doing good as an addition to your business, but having a social and ethical agenda as part of the ethos of the business,” Petra says.
It’s a view close to Petra’s heart and one that she believes will rebuild trust in the profession.
“Trust is integral for financial planning. Without trust, our clients walk away, and our businesses will ultimately fail.”
In fact, Petra sees ‘trust’ as an analogy to the French proverb: Fish discover water last. But what does that mean?
“Well, it’s really quite logical,” she says. “Water surrounds fish all the time, but the fish are unaware the water is there until it becomes polluted or is removed. So, not dissimilar to this analogy of fish and water, as a profession, we all took trust for granted until the Royal Commission. We didn’t realise, until now, that we actually have to actively work to earn the trust of our clients and consumers. And now that the trust is gone, we realise that the pollution in the water – or the lack of trust – could kill us.
“As a profession, we depend on trust but we took it for granted. Now that it’s gone, we need to do something to rebuild that trust, and social giving and involvement is an excellent way of re-engaging with the wider community and earning back that trust.”
A long involvement
This month marks six months since Petra took over the reins as Chair of the Future2 Foundation, capping off a long association the Queensland-based AFP® has enjoyed with the charitable arm of the FPA.
And since its inception in 2007, Future2 has committed over $1 million in grants to grassroots not-for-profit organisations that operate a range of programs for disadvantaged youth. These programs include: skills training, financial literacy, work experience, community service, mentoring, work placement and more. It’s an achievement, Petra says, the profession should be justifiably proud about.
“The Future2 Foundation is all about making a meaningful difference to the lives of young Australians, who through circumstances, often at no fault of their own, have fallen upon difficult times,” she says. “These young people are our future and if we don’t help them, what’s our future as a society?”
Petra has always been a strong supporter of Future2, having previously spearheaded many fundraising activities through her involvement as Chair of the South Australia Chapter of the FPA, as well as being a member of the Regional Chapter Committee. She has also served as a Future2 Ambassador, before being appointed to the Future2 Board in 2016.
“Although I was managing a large business at the time, I wanted to give back to the community by being a good corporate citizen. I have a strong sense of social justice and Future2’s diversity of grants really appealed to me.
“Social justice means you don’t discriminate against race, gender, culture, demographics or social circumstances. This sits at the very heart of what Future2 stands for, and it’s a view I have always been aligned with.”
Today, Petra steers the Future2 Foundation, which last year awarded $181,000 in new grants to worthy charities, including special drought relief grants for struggling farming communities. It’s a figure, Petra is keen to increase this year.
Making a real difference
To date, the grants delivered through the Future2 Make the Difference! Grants program have made a genuine difference to the lives of countless young Australians.
“Future2 has so many great success stories. We have been able to help young people through a range of programs: from mentoring, to suicide prevention, disability projects, substance abuse, migrant training, to indigenous welfare and employment programs.”
Petra agrees that it’s the diversity of Future2’s grants that make it so unique. But she also concedes that this same diversity also makes it challenging for the grants’ committee when assessing the grant applications.
“I believe Future2’s success lies not only from the support we receive from the profession, but also in the diversity of the grants we have given to not-for-profits. We’re not just giving to one type of charity, and although we operate within a framework of supporting organisations with programs for disadvantaged young people, our criteria follows a social justice program that is non-discriminatory.”
A key part of Future2’s success has been its Future2 Ambassadors, who, as leaders and influencers within the profession, drive many of the Foundation’s initiatives and social awareness campaigns.
“They are visible, approachable and professional,” says Petra. “They embody Future2 in their demeanour, values and ethics.”
So, who are these ambassadors? According to Petra, the Future2 Board is currently in the process of restructuring its Ambassador program. This will include appointing an FPA Chapter Chair in each state as a Future2 Ambassador, with a view to extending this to 30-35 ambassadors across Australia in the near future. And while some ambassadors have already been selected, the Future2 Board is still in the process of contacting others.
And what of the previous Future2 ambassadors?
“We have released all of our past ambassadors, as a result of restructuring this program. However, both the Future2 Board and I warmly acknowledge and thank the previous ambassadors for the commitment they have put into the Future2 Foundation,” Petra says.
Ambitious targets on the horizon
Looking ahead, Petra firmly sees Future2 becoming more embedded within the financial planning profession, particularly as a means of re-engaging with the wider community.
“At Future2, our aim is to be more integral in the lives of financial planners. We want to assist financial planners to rebuild trust within their communities through good social conscience.”
However, to achieve this, Petra is acutely aware that this means raising money to fund Future2’s ongoing work.
“Last year, we distributed $181,000 in grants, and this year, we’re aiming for $200,000, which will build on the over $1 million we have already given to not-for-profit organisations since Future2’s inception in 2007.
“So, we need planners to help us on our journey.”
With over 100 worthy not-for-profits applying annually for grants, Petra concedes it’s a challenge for the grants committee to decide which charity ultimately gets a grant.
“When I’m reading these grant applications, I’m often in tears,” Petra says. “The struggle these children and young adults face each day is frightening, particularly in a country like Australia, that is so wealthy and full of opportunities. But due to reasons that are beyond their control or fault, these children find themselves left behind. My heart breaks for them.”
And although Future2 is aiming to distribute $200,000 in grants for 2019, Petra says the Foundation would like to see this annual amount double to $400,000 per annum. It’s an ambitious target, and Petra is acutely aware this means considerably building up the Foundation’s funds.
However, with so many planners and planning businesses already committed to their own philanthropic and social giving causes, Petra concedes it’s going to be a challenge to galvanise the profession in its broad support of Future2. But it’s a challenge she’s up for.
“I think of it like this: If a client came to you and said they didn’t need your advice because all their money was in BHP shares and they’re doing well, what would you say? You would say they lacked diversity and you would question whether the client was actually acting in their own best interest,” she says.
“I align Future2 to the financial planning process in relation to diversity. Future2 provides grants to truly worthy charities that are diverse in the programs they offer to disadvantaged young Australians. So, every planner and individual who donates to Future2 can be assured that their donation is going to support an exceptional program that desperately needs help to continue running.”
Spend some time talking to Petra, and it doesn’t take too long to be swept up by her enthusiasm, passion and empathy for Future2 and the work it does. So, if anybody can galvanise the profession and achieve that ambitious $400,000 grant target, it’s Petra!
Trust defines who we are
In raising Future2’s awareness within the profession and the wider community, Petra is calling on planners to support the charitable Foundation in a couple of ways. These include: supporting Chapter events, electing to tick the Future2 donation box when paying the FPA’s annual membership fee, and supporting their colleagues who take on a Future2 Challenge – be it the Future2 Wheel Classic or Hiking Challenge.
“Better still, why not sign up for one of the Challenges yourself?,” Petra says. “There’s no better way of improving your social conscience by getting more involved with Future2. And don’t forget to visit the Future2 website and see for yourself the great work the Foundation is doing in the community. Be heartened by the grant recipients and their stories. Just don’t accept what we say, have a look at what we are doing!”
And as a parting message to the profession, Petra emphasises the need for it to re-establish ‘trust’ in the broader community.
“Unfortunately, financial planning has currently lost trust with the community. So, I challenge the profession to take up social conscience and social giving to improve our collective reputation and restore the trust and confidence that consumers have lost in us.
“We need to behave in ways that inspire trust. Supporting Future2 is just one active step to rebuilding trust, while at the same making a positive difference in the lives of young people who are experiencing social, financial or physical hardship.”
Petra says she wants to build the ‘trust’ element into Future2 as one of its core pillars, because it’s “re-establishing trust that will be the key for the profession in re-engaging with Australians”.
“I would also love to see more financial planners become more involved with assisting youth in their own communities and build on this to become good corporate citizens. I’d also encourage planners to support these youth programs in seeking support from Future2 for a $10,000 grant.
“Remember, these young people are Australia’s future. As a community, we have a responsibility to ensure we give these young Australians the very best opportunity to be the best they can be, despite the difficult circumstances they find themselves in.”