Investment and finance
In March 2019, the significant decision was made to move from the Trust’s long-standing tradition of internal active management of our Australian equity investments to an internal passive model. In coming to this decision, careful consideration was given to risk, return, flexibility, cost and resources required to achieve our income and capital growth objectives, while maintaining the Trust’s commitment to negative screening. We commend the work of the Investment Committee and external advisors, and Glen Thomson, our Finance Executive, who deftly navigated us through this major shift while delivering our investment objectives.
We’re pleased to report that the value of our Capital Account is at an all-time year-end high of $126.1m, having increased by 8.3% over the past year, and the total return on the corpus for FY19 was 13.6%. Our operating expense ratio sits at 15.5%, with $1.3m expended on the cost of delivering on the Trust’s objectives.
We are also pleased to have made our second impact investment. In addition to our investment in the Murray-Darling Basin Balanced Water Fund in 2017, we committed $250,000 to the COMPASS social impact bond, a comprehensive program delivered by VincentCare and Anglicare, supporting 200 young people leaving out-of-home care.
In FY19 we approved 55 grants for a total of $4.6m across four grant levels. The full listing of grants is in the Grants section of this Annual Report, along with thirteen case studies that showcase the breadth of the year’s grants across programs and grant levels. Every one of the 55 grants represents a trusting relationship with a grantee that is based on a shared vision for fairer, more creative and more resilient Victorian communities. We know that the work we do matters – from our smallest grant of $9,000 to the Wyndham Little Buddies Toy Library to expand their toy collection, to our largest grant of $450,000 to People and Parks Environment Trust towards support of the work with the First People of the Millewa Mallee to restore their ancient burial sites.
Over the past few years, there has been an increasing shift in our grantmaking towards early-stage support. In FY19, 25% of grants were for scoping and planning, 60% for implementation of initiatives and pilots, and 15% for scaling-up projects. We make these grants on the understanding that they may not all lead to large-scale sector change of practice, just as we know that the impact of these initiatives may not be apparent until long after the grant itself is acquitted. However, we are confident that every grant will inform our grantmaking and contribute to the learnings and knowledge base of the five sectors we support.
Our commitment to rural and regional Victoria remains strong, with 36% of grants benefiting communities in regional areas. The grant of $200,000 to The Bridge Youth Service is a direct outcome of a capacity-building grant round that we ran in Shepparton in 2015, when four Shepparton service providers came together to form the cohort ‘Shepparton Community Share’. The cohort has developed into a unique collective impact model delivering outstanding outcomes for the four organisations and for the communities they serve. We are excited to follow their progress with this new grant to The Bridge Youth Service, the lead organisation for the development of a Community of Practice, Shepparton Community Share, around continuous quality improvement.
Site visits are always a highlight for staff and Trustees. They provide an opportunity to meet the people on the ground, and importantly, the communities that directly benefit from our contribution. One particular site visit to the River Nile School reinforced the importance of supporting capacity-building. Our grant of $20,760 in 2017 enabled the River Nile Learning Centre to prepare for and attain registration as a stand-alone school eligible for Commonwealth and State Government funding. It is now a successful school offering free VCAL education, childcare and welfare support to young refugee and asylum-seeker women aged 18-21. We listened to the stories and aspirations of the women, observed the whole-hearted commitment of the teaching staff, and saw first-hand the far-reaching impact of a small grant.
Although the rhythm of Trustee tenures is predictable, it is always sad when terms end and we farewell colleagues who have contributed so much of their time, wisdom and guidance over the years.
In November 2019, Keith Smith retired after almost 13 years as a Trustee. Keith has provided a direct link with the Smith family, being a descendant of Helen Macpherson Smith’s great-grandfather – Helen herself was an only child and had no children of her own. Based in the UK, Keith has many years’ experience of the philanthropic sector there, and this deep expertise has been most beneficial for the Trust. Despite the distance, Keith has been thoroughly engaged with the Trust’s activities and meetings, and we thank him for his enthusiasm, knowledge and stewardship.
As we look back and celebrate the year that was, we thank all our Trustees and staff for their commitment to, and continued support of, Helen’s legacy and we look forward to another year of inspiring grantmaking.
Dr Philip Moors AO Chairman & Lin Bender AM Chief Executive