As a perpetual trust operating in a current climate of economic uncertainty, we must balance our commitment to growing the corpus with our desire and obligation to distribute income as impactful grants. I commend the work of our Investment Executive, Peter Wetherall, and the Investment Committee in delivering solid investment results which enabled HMSTrust to achieve its grant making objectives. And, in broadening those objectives, soon after year-end the Trustees accepted the Committee’s recommendation that a small proportion of the corpus can be applied to future social impact investments. The considerable financial and investment achievements for the year are dealt with in more detail in the reports of the Investment Executive and our Finance Executive, Glen Thomson.
We are also operating in a climate of social change, and so must adapt to maintain our relevance and impact. One fundamental change since Helen’s death in 1951 is the trend for local charities to expand their operations interstate or to merge with interstate charities. Over time this trend has reduced the number of charitable institutions HMSTrust has been legally able to fund, because Helen’s will required such charities to be ‘situated in Victoria’. In response to this change, and thanks to the work of our Chief Executive, Lin Bender and Finance Executive, Glen Thomson, along with our legal team led by John Emerson, we obtained a Cy Près order from the Victorian Supreme Court in October 2015. As a result of the order, HMSTrust is now able to fund a Victorian-based charitable organisation, regardless of operations outside Victoria, for a charitable purpose within Victoria. This extension to our eligibility criteria is already having a positive impact on our grant-making.
Early in FY2016 we established the Grants Advisory Committee, comprising four Trustees plus our Chief Executive. The role of this Committee is to provide a forum for detailed discussions on grant applications and policy reviews for subsequent advice and recommendation to the Board of Trustees. The Committee is currently working with management on a Grants Policy review, which is planned to take effect in 2017. Grant-making staff have especially welcomed the opportunity for in-depth dialogue and analysis with the Committee.
We cannot underestimate the impact of information technology, and we are being continually challenged to increase our capabilities in this area. Our online application and reporting framework enables us to harvest valuable data that inform our strategic directions, and we welcome the opportunity to collaborate with the sector in developing a platform for shared data. Last year, we launched our first online Annual Report. Our investment in developing an Annual Report that is fully integrated with our website database has proved an outstanding success. We have saved significant annual costs in design, publishing and distribution, content is managed in-house and, based on traffic numbers for the 2015 ‘Annual Report’, we have far exceeded the distribution of a printed Annual Report.
Earlier in the year, we undertook a Scholarship and Fellowship review, which identified 88 scholarship funds established by HMSTrust, for a total of $8.3m, directly benefitting almost 600 scholars to date. This review has been the catalyst for connecting with a number of HMSTrust scholars, including at the dinner hosted by the Melbourne Business School to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the HMSTrust Fellowships for women.
Another highlight was the Shepparton Capacity Building Grant Forum, which was arranged to coincide with a visit to Melbourne by Keith Smith, our UK-based Trustee. All Trustees plus staff attended the Forum where we had the privilege to listen and learn from the 12 grantees who received a capacity-building grant. Building organisational capacity is one of our key objectives, as is strengthening rural and regional Victoria. Hearing first-hand from our grantees about the impact of our grantmaking was an exceptional occasion and an important learning that will help inform our grants review.
It is something of a challenge writing a Chairman’s Report in November. It’s relatively easy to draw a line in the sand for finance and investment, but just about everything else we do extends past 30 June. And sadly in November 2016, Fran Awcock AM retired as a Trustee after nine years of tireless commitment to HMSTrust. When she was appointed in May 2007, Fran was Helen’s first female Trustee. This set a necessary precedent for a Trust with a female benefactress, and now quite properly we have equal numbers of women and men as Trustees.
Throughout her time as a Trustee, the individuals who would benefit from grants have been Fran’s motivation and inspiration. She has always paid careful attention to the details of applications and the organisations’ capabilities and has greatly enjoyed her many site visits to understand better grantees’ needs and the progress being made through our grants. Fran’s consistent compassion, insight and good common sense have consistently helped her fellow Trustees make the sometimes difficult decisions about who and what to fund. She certainly found the best way to contribute her own knowledge and experience – one of Fran’s ‘top tips’ for the qualities of a trustee! I warmly thank Fran for her outstanding service to Helen’s Trust and for the friendship and wise counsel she has brought to her colleagues. We have marked the occasion of Fran’s retirement with an interview that is featured in this Annual Report.
Finally I express my sincere appreciation to my fellow Trustees for their time, energy and dedication during the past year in managing Helen’s benefaction and advancing HMSTrust’s mission of building fair, creative and resilient Victorian communities. And as Trustees we could have done little without the skills, commitment and plain hard work of all of our staff, led most ably by our Chief Executive, Lin Bender. We are indeed fortunate to have such a talented team supporting us – thank you all!
Philip Moors AO
Chairman of Trustees