Helen Macpherson Smith Trust

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History of the Trust

Building Helen’s legacy

Helen’s original bequest of £275,000 in 1951 has now grown in value to $118 million (at 30 June 2020) through a sound investment strategy and astute management led by HMSTrust’s former Chairman, Darvell Hutchinson AM until 2014, and continued by the current trustees.

$129 million (at 30 June 2020) has been distributed since the Trust was established, and grants of $3 million to $4 million are made each year to a wide range of beneficiaries. (See case studies of recent grants.)

1951-2001: the first 50 years

Under Helen’s Australian will, her residuary estate was to establish a perpetual trust to benefit charitable institutions based in Victoria. The Helen Macpherson Smith Trust (known until 2001 as the Helen M Schutt Trust) was created in 1951, the year she died.

By 1964, both the executors and founding trustees (John Bishop and Frank Druce) had died, and were succeeded as trustees by John Davis OBE (in 1961) and Darvell Hutchinson (in 1964).

For Darvell, a 33-year-old partner of chartered accountants Wilson Bishop & Henderson, it was the beginning of an extraordinary 50-year involvement with HMSTrust. He became Chairman in 1969 following John Davis’ death, and was joined by Barry Hutchins as the new trustee.

What became a 37-year trustee partnership between these two men was to have a lasting influence on the direction and future, not just of HMSTrust, but of philanthropy in Australia.

Both men had an impressive breadth of business and investment experience and a strong commitment to community affairs. Both took on roles as voluntary board members and office bearers with a number of charitable organisations.

Both were ultimately honoured with the Order of Australia for their community service. Darvell was appointed a Member of the Order in 1994, and Barry was awarded a Medal of the Order in 2000.

2001 – a landmark year

In 2001, a celebration was held in Queen’s Hall, Parliament House, at which Darvell announced that Helen M Schutt Trust would be re-named the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust. The new name honoured both sides of Helen’s family, and the wealth they each created which became the prime source of Helen’s legacy to Victoria.

While the trustees continued to honour Helen’s wishes, times changed. Law reforms affected HMSTrust operations, new social issues emerged and with them new community needs. The trustees were able to widen the range of eligible grant seekers, give more consideration to rural and regional Victoria, support innovative or pilot projects and encourage grant proposals which involved partnerships with government or other community groups.

While grants were still given to meet immediate needs, by 2002 the trustees had decided to engage more actively in strategic philanthropy and give extended support to projects which could have long-term impacts on the Victorian community.

In July 2008 the trustees made a grant of $5.75 million to establish the Macpherson Smith Rural Foundation, now known as Youthrive Victoria. The goal was an independent, regional-based entity to fulfil HMSTrust’s vision of a thriving, confident rural Victoria driven by inspiring leaders. Youthrive Victoria has a focus on developing young rural leaders by improving rural educational opportunities, particularly transition to tertiary education and mentoring. Many of the early participants are already contributing back to their communities with innovative volunteer projects. While this is the largest-ever grant made by HMSTrust, a great many inspiring projects have delivered significant outcomes from both modest and major grants. (See case studies for recent and current projects, and our Grantee Database for previous grants.)

HMSTrust’s grant-giving procedures have matured over the years and continue to be reviewed every three years to ensure that our grantmaking remains relevant and effective in a rapidly changing social environment. A major review was undertaken in 2013, when a new framework for the grants program was developed to reflect the new mission statement: help build fair, creative and resilient Victorian communities through initiatives that promote positive change. The grants structure is based on a clearly defined set of five funding programs, each with up to three specific focus areas. Together with five key objectives, these elements represent HMSTrust’s core funding criteria. In 2016, the learnings from the previous three years informed the triennial review and enabled us to further sharpen our focus and provide greater clarity to grantseekers.

Capital accumulation

For the first 21 years of HMSTrust, grant giving was necessarily conservative because the trustees were directed, under the terms of the Will, to accumulate the income on two-thirds of the capital. By 1972, Helen’s original bequest of £275,000 had grown to $3.9 million. This was a much stronger base from which more effective grants could be made in the years ahead.

The key reason for HMSTrust’s growth was its operation as a totally independent entity run by a close-knit team of people dedicated to philanthropy. All aspects were managed in-house rather than outsourced to fund managers and trustee companies, including investments, administrative and governance requirements, and grant approvals.

By 1987 HMSTrust funds stood at $39.7 million. Darvell and Barry agreed to take early retirement as partners of chartered accountants Pannell Kerr Forster and began devoting more time to the development and management of HMSTrust.

A public office was opened for HMSTrust. The first employee was engaged on a part-time basis, and in the late 1980s HMSTrust was instrumental in the strategic expansion of the organisation now known as Philanthropy Australia (PA).

Darvell was a council member of PA from 1985 – 1994 and served as president in 1987 – 1988. He was widely recognised for his major contribution to the increased professionalism and rapid development of the organisation, and for raising the profile of philanthropy in Australia. After 50 years at the Trust’s helm, Darvell Hutchinson finally retired.

Meanwhile, HMSTrust continued to grow. New staff members were appointed, and by 2000, funds were approaching $50 million. In 2001, the 50th anniversary of Helen’s death, funds stood at more than $58 million. The growth in funding capacity of HMSTrust also grew the trustees’ workload, and prompted an increase in the number of trustees. Seven trustees currently hold office. At 30 June 2020, the value of HMSTrust’s corpus sat at $118 million and over $129 million has been distributed to the Victorian community.

On 1 February 2022, Darvell M. Hutchinson AM, a visionary leader in the philanthropic community in Victoria passed away. Darvell described his fifty years with the Trust as “a mere drop in the ocean”, however his legacy will be forever intertwined with that of the Trust, and we owe him a great debt of gratitude for the care and diligence he brought to bringing Helen’s legacy to life.