Making giving easier with APS founder Chris Cuffe AO FAICD


    This philanthropic not-for-profit offers a structured and streamlined system for tax-effective giving. 

    After looking for a tax-effective way to undertake philanthropy, Chris Cuffe AO FAICD established a private ancillary fund in 2006. “But it was a very clunky, disjointed, expensive experience — hardly anyone knew about them, so you had to deal with multiple parties,” says Cuffe, the former CEO of investment managers Colonial First State and Challenger Financial Services Group.

    Convinced there had to be a better way, Cuffe sought to establish a one-stop shop for structured giving, which allows donors to plan and organise their charitable contributions in a systematic rather than ad hoc way. After more years of research and experimentation, in 2010, he founded what became Australian Philanthropic Services Ltd (APS), an independent, not-for-profit organisation, which he now chairs.

    Uniquely positioned in the country’s philanthropic landscape, APS seeks to simplify and promote the use of private ancillary funds (and also “giving funds” within public ancillary funds, such as the APS Foundation, established in 2012 as a wholly-owned subsidiary of APS). These funds allow donors to streamline their giving, while relieving them of the burdens of administration and compliance.

    APS started with only 13 clients, but in the past year, its 900 individual and family clients have channelled $162.3m to charity. It currently oversees more than $2b committed to charitable endeavours, showcasing the vast potential for structured giving to enhance charitable contributions in Australia.

    Future foundations

    According to Philanthropy Australia’s National Action Plan, released in 2021, many Australians have “lost the giving habit”. The report noted that giving in Australia stood at around 0.81 per cent of GDP, compared with 1.84 per cent in New Zealand and 2.1 per cent in the United States.

    Judith Fiander, CEO of APS since June 2022, says only 53 per cent of Australians who have taxable income of more than $1m make a claim for a tax-deductible donation in their tax returns. “This means there’s [nearly] 50 per cent of people out there earning more than $1m who are either giving in a non tax-effective way or not giving at all. What we need to change culturally is the awareness of structured giving and an understanding of the joy that giving brings donors.”

    The Productivity Commission’s final report into philanthropy in Australia was handed down on 10 May 2024, following an inquiry launched off the back of the federal government’s ambitious target to double philanthropic giving by 2030. APS is determined to make a significant contribution towards achieving that figure, says Fiander. “APS has doubled in size more than twice in the past seven years, so we know what it takes.”

    Increasing the uptake of private and public ancillary funds is central to the APS mission, given how these funds facilitate philanthropic giving. A donation of $40,000 is sufficient to open a “giving fund” in the APS Foundation. The donor receives an immediate tax deduction for the initial donation and then commits to distributing four to five per cent annually to charities they wish to support.

    “Our aim is to make it as simple as possible for our clients, so all they have to think about is their giving,” says Fiander.

    Giving across APS


    committed to charity in giving structures supported by APS


    distributed to charity


    charities supported

    10.1% pa

    APS Foundation general portfolio performance since inception

    Source: APS Giving and growth snapshot FY23

    Social impact

    Cuffe's transition from Colonial First State and Challenger to focusing on philanthropy reflects a significant shift from corporate success to social impact, but he sees them as two sides of the same coin. With continuing board roles on several listed investment companies, he remains deeply immersed in the investment world and advocates a balanced approach that combines business acumen with a deep understanding of the NFP sector’s challenges and opportunities.

    “APS looks and smells like a small financial services company, even though we’re a charity with a goal to increase philanthropy,” says Cuffe.

    Fiander further notes that the governance model ensures a high level of accountability, transparency and ethical decision-making. “We’re essentially dealing with the Australian Taxation Office, Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission and Australian Securities and Investments Commission, and acting as a tax agent and supporting clients in their giving,” she says.

    The backgrounds of APS directors suggest a blend of commercial acumen and philanthropic intent, aiming to steer the organisation with a balance of professional rigour and social purpose.

    “When you're in a startup, credibility is everything, so the board members’ professional backgrounds and their profiles in the community have been extremely important in helping us open doors,” says Cuffe.

    His own track record and contacts allowed him to build a board comprising individuals with notable careers in finance, philanthropy, and corporate governance, including David Gonski AC FAICDLife, Michael Traill AM and Belinda Hutchinson AC FAICD. Cuffe also reached out to Gail Kelly, whose banking career spans 35 years, with an invitation to join the board when she was still CEO of Westpac Bank (2008–15). He was, initially, rebuffed.

    “I was very busy and I’m one of those people who, if I’m doing something, likes to do it really well, so I didn’t want to take on board roles, because I knew it would potentially divert me,” says Kelly. “But I’d no sooner finished up at Westpac than Chris reached out to me and said, ‘Well, now’s the time’. I replied, yes, now’s the time.”

    Kelly says the APS mission aligns with her belief that the role of a corporation is about more than making money or delivering good shareholder returns. It includes making a positive difference within the communities you serve. “Get involved, seek to understand needs and play an active role in meeting them,” she says.

    She believes strongly in the power of structured giving as a way of “aligning yourself with the things that matter to you”.

    Governance considerations

    The APS journey underscores the challenges inherent in establishing a startup in a highly regulated space. Among them were gaining deductible gift recipient (DGR) status — a process that took four years and many meetings with politicians and Treasury officials. Then followed the Herculean task of spreading the word about private and public ancillary funds and the role they could play in philanthropic giving.

    “Over the past decade or so, there was an awful lot of shoe leather, literally, that was worn out by APS staff and Chris himself, with presentations to financial advisers, either individually or in small groups,” says Fiander. “Over the years, we’ve built on that and we now offer webinars to advisers all across the space.”

    Cuffe’s goal is to one day see ancillary funds as well-known as self-managed superannuation funds. APS is currently in the process of bringing its previously outsourced accounting services in- house, affording it greater control and providing clients with a true one-stop shop. The NFP also recently “broke even” — a milestone that will allow it to expand its vision further and beef up its marketing efforts. A robust succession planning and estate planning tool for people who want to ensure that their giving continues past their lifetimes is also under development.

    Reshaping the board into the future to bring on younger members with varied skill sets, who think about technology differently and have new ideas for how to build awareness and reach new client groups, is also planned. “APS has always had a very experienced board of directors applying business rigour and personal engagement with philanthropy,” says Fiander. “This has been the key to [our] considered growth.”

    This article first appeared under the headline 'Making Giving Easier’ in the June 2024 issue of Company Director magazine.

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