Einstein had a knack of capturing the essence of life in a few words – “I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.” Keeping the metaphor going, HMSTrust has been tacking into the wind this past year, as we adjusted our Investment Policy following the untimely passing of our Investment Executive, Peter Wetherall, in September 2018, and started the reflective work of reviewing our grants strategy.
A key component of the strategic review is the alignment of our evaluation framework, which will enable us to validate the effectiveness of our strategy, and make sure we capture, record and report on the data that matters to us and the sectors we support. Although we’re not sure where we will land with our review (due to be completed in October 2020), we know that our commitment to equity and to rural and regional Victoria will remain strong, as will our overarching objectives and programs.
How much data is too much?
As we move across to a new grants data management system, key questions that we are asking of ourselves are: How much data do we need in order be a better funder? What does success look like for HMSTrust? How do we measure it?
Our remit, our size and capacity, our areas of interest, and our guiding principles define us along with our commitment to collaboration, transparency and flexibility. These attributes are the building blocks of our framework, and our grant applications provide the data that enable us to connect the dots, see patterns, spot gaps and be strategic in our funding choices.
The process of looking under the bonnet of our grants management system has caused us to think about the decision-making process, and what data we need to guide staff assessments and Trustees’ decisions. Ultimately, HMSTrust’s success will be measured against our vision for a strong, just and sustainable Victoria.
Learning from others in the field…
Philanthropy is a highly connected global sector where information and learnings are generously shared. HMSTrust is one of 7,000 members of the US-based Grantmakers for Effective Organisations (GEO). I attended their Learning Conference in Chicago in 2017, we use their tools, and we participate in their online discussions and blogs. We are also a member of PEAK Grantmaking, the US-based network for grants management professionals, which is a go-to resource for the Grants Team.
Their white paper, Courage in Practice: 5 Principles for Peak Grantmaking is a beneficial read. While the scale of American philanthropy can be overwhelming, the principles of smart grantmaking practices apply equally to a medium-sized funder on the other side of the world.
We are, of course, an active member of our own peak body, Philanthropy Australia (PA) who provide opportunities to listen to, learn from and engage with our peers. We have been especially pleased that so many of our Trustees have attended PA conferences and roundtable discussions over the year. These opportunities cause us to think more deeply about how we can improve our own practice.
Learning from our grantees…
Our most important learnings are from the extraordinary people who work in the social purpose sector. They inspire us with their caring commitment to drive social change. They are tenacious and courageous in how they manage their organisations. They are driven by purpose and are closely connected with the communities they serve and have a deep understanding of their community’s needs, strengths and aspirations. They share with us their frustrations about the real impact that declining and unpredictable funding has on their operations, in the face of growing demand for their services.
As a medium sized funder with limited resources, we are unable to support every good organisation doing good work. However, our open door policy gives us a high level view of the issues impacting on the sectors we support. The patterns and gaps we see enable us to connect aligned organisations with each other and with other funding sources.
A key learning from our grantees is that our work requires courage, trust, patience and flexibility.
Lin Bender AM