Frances Awcock AM in conversation

Frances Awcock AM in conversation

Frances Awcock AM
Trustee, Helen Macpherson Smith Trust
2007 – 2016

Fran Awcock retired as a Trustee of HMSTrust in November 2016. In this conversation with Pam Kershaw, Fran recalls the highlights of her philanthropic work, and includes her ‘top tips’ for grantseekers and trustees.
For the full interview, click here.

More than 2600 grant applications crossed Fran Awcock’s desk during her nine years as a Trustee of the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust (HMSTrust). They came from high profile organisations and small community groups, seeking anything from a few thousand dollars to more than a million. But Fran’s decision-making focus always came back to one consideration: who were the individuals the grants would assist?

“Those individuals were my motivation and my inspiration, because I think that’s the purpose of philanthropy. You have a community which consists of individual men, women and children, and that community is better off because of the money you have been able to put in. We know that governments can never do all that is expected of them. So we need people with generous hearts, we need people doing good works. Without philanthropy I think we’d be a morally bankrupt nation,” she says.

Fran’s first contact with HMSTrust came when she was Chief Executive Officer and State Librarian at the State Library of Victoria. She was overseeing the development of new library spaces, and met Darvell Hutchinson AM, then Chairman of HMSTrust. Following a $300,000 grant from the Trust in 1998, the library’s new genealogy centre was created in Helen Macpherson Smith’s name.

In 2007, Fran was delighted to join Darvell and Keith Smith (London-based relative of Helen Macpherson Smith) as Trustee.  Over the next few years, three more Trustees were appointed. “We were able to bring in new expertise and spread the responsibility, and develop more in-house skills in investment, finance and grant-making. We couldn’t have found better people,” Fran says, referring to Dr Philip Moors AO (former Director and CEO of the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne, and now HMSTrust Chairman); former Federal Cabinet Minister, the Hon Rod Kemp; and former Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Winsome McCaughey AO.

“The Trust’s grant-making decisions have always benefited from Fran’s compassion, insight and common sense.  It has been a privilege for all Trustees to serve with her in delivering Helen’s benefaction.”   Dr Philip Moors, Chairman

The most memorable grants
$53 million has been granted during Fran’s tenure, but a few grants stand out. Victoria’s 2009 bushfires shocked the State, and HMSTrust decided to allocate $2 million to bushfire recovery programs. Nearly $1 million went to the Sustainable Gardening Australia Foundation for the establishment of five community gardens that could help rebuild communities in fire-ravaged areas. However it’s the Macpherson Smith Rural Foundation (MSRF), which Fran singles out as “one of the best things I’ve ever been associated with”. MSRF supports and encourages young country people who are destined to become future rural leaders, particularly through the scholarship program which is the foundation of MSRF’s other programs.

Fran’s most challenging area of work has been the grant-making choices between similar organisations carrying out similar work. “Many problems in society are deeply entrenched and common to many groups, so you have multiple organisations dealing with them. And that’s the challenge for philanthropy. How can we help bring it all together so that our grants are more effective? Collaboration makes sense to me, and it is now a welcome trend in philanthropy.”

“Although we will very much miss Fran’s insightful and pragmatic contributions as a Trustee, I know that Fran will remain a close friend of the Trust.”   Lin Bender, Chief Executive.

Fran’s top tips for grantseekers and trustees…

Tips to grantseekers:

  • Understand the motives and background of the potential donor.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for money.
  • Demonstrate a strong commitment to your cause; put your heart and soul into your application.
  • Write clearly, persuasively, and concisely; be objective, emphasise long term outcomes.
  • Use plain English, avoid jargon and keep acronyms to a minimum.

Qualities of a good trustee:

  • Confront your own biases: you may be asked to fund something which doesn’t reflect your personal values.
  • Listen to those who know more than you do.
  • Find the best way to contribute your own knowledge and experience.
  • Don’t just be a decision maker: watch for new ideas and opportunities.
  • Be objective but caring in your decision making.

For the full story on Fran’s philanthropic life, click here.