The upside of this disruption is that many of the changes we implemented in order to respond to urgent need have now been adopted into standard practice. Working remotely was managed effectively and efficiently. Our staff remained connected and supported as we continued to work across every aspect of our operations without missing a beat and without compromise. As restrictions ease, we will transition to a more flexible work model.
We have adopted greater levels of flexibility across our granting procedures that have resulted in a more streamlined approval process; our technology platforms and IT security have been improved; and, although we have missed face-to-face meetings and we all feel ‘zoomed out’, virtual meetings have their place and are a simple and effective option when travel is difficult.
One priority of our work that will never change is our commitment to personal site visits to grantees. Meeting grantees and engaging with the communities they support are a highlight for Trustees and staff alike. We always leave with a deeper understanding of the purposes we seek to support and the value of the work we fund.
Investment and finance
COVID-19 has impacted every aspect of HMSTrust operations, and our corpus has not been immune. From an all-time high of $136m in February 2020, our corpus ended the financial year at $118m. As a Trust in perpetuity, we are continually balancing our stewardship responsibilities of building the corpus over the long-term, with the need to generate sufficient income to maintain our granting and operational capabilities. Despite the drop in corpus value due to COVID-19, the corpus continues to outpace inflation over the longer-term. COVID-19 also impacted the ability of companies to pay dividends, with the result that revenue was down 27% in FY20 and is likely to be even lower in FY21. Fortunately, our long-standing strategy of building up income reserves will enable HMSTrust to maintain our granting capacity despite the drop in income. We commend the work of the Investment Committee and our Finance Executive in achieving these goals in challenging times.
In 2016 HMSTrust adopted a principles-based responsible investment policy that aims to balance responsible investment with the need to maintain our granting capacity. This policy makes provision for investing in mission-aligned impact investments. As at 30 June 2020, we have invested in the Murray-Darling Basin Balanced Water Fund and the COMPASS social impact bond, a program delivered by VincentCare and Anglicare, supporting 200 young people leaving out-of-home care. Post year end, HMSTrust has committed to investing in two new social impact bonds, the Living Learning social impact bond, delivered by Melbourne City Mission, and the Side by Side social impact bond, delivered by Berry Street.
The impact of COVID-19 on our grantmaking has been significant. We cancelled our normal Multi-year Grants round and introduced Rapid Response Grants to focus on meeting immediate community need arising as a direct result of the Black Summer Bushfires and COVID-19.
In FY20, 54 grants were approved for a total of $3,477,303. Twelve were Rapid Response Grants totaling $596,031, in addition to the redirection of three existing grants towards emergency response. We are especially proud of these Rapid Response Grants for their immediate impact on communities in dire need. These grants were made possible by the efforts of the Grants team who worked tirelessly to identify, evaluate and present applications for consideration by Trustees, and to the Grants Advisory Committee, who reviewed and approved grants by circular resolution within record time. COVID-19 has exposed the vulnerability of many for-purpose organisations, and our focus on building the capacity of organisations to enable them to better serve their communities has never been more important.
The full listing of grants is in the Grants section of this Annual Report, along with twelve case studies that showcase the breadth of the year’s grants across programs and grant levels. Our commitment to rural and regional Victoria remains strong, with 33% of grants directly benefiting communities in regional areas, and we continue to support capacity building and initiatives that focus on early stage development work. Every one of the 54 grants represents a trusting relationship with a grantee, based on a shared vision for a stronger, more just and more sustainable Victoria.
Adapting to change…
We always knew that 2020 would represent a year of major change for the Trust: three new Trustees, a new Grants Advisor, a new grants management system and a new strategic plan. We were also planning for the retirement of two Trustees, and the appointment of our new Chair, Catherine Walter AM. We commenced the year with the first sessions for our 2020 strategic review. It was inconceivable in January that a global pandemic would disrupt our private and working lives so completely, however, the need to work through the strategic review was more important than ever.
The HMSTrust 2021-2025 Strategic Plan was approved by the Board of Trustees in October 2020, providing sufficient time for rollout in FY22. This five-year Strategic Plan represents the outcome of the Trust’s review into our grantmaking, our place in the funding ecosystem, our strengths and weaknesses, and what we need to change to be a better funder. The result is a plan that honours the principles that have guided over six decades of proud grantmaking, responds to the escalating social, economic and environmental challenges of today, and provides the flexibility necessary for the Trust to remain relevant in an uncertain future.
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 FY20, our UK-based Trustee, Keith Smith retired after almost 13 years. A descendant of Helen Macpherson Smith’s great-grandfather, Keith will maintain his connection to HMSTrust as a link to the Helen’s paternal family.
In preparation for the scheduled retirement of Dr Philip Moors AO and The Hon. Rod Kemp AM, after 10 years each of service as Trustees, we welcomed Andrew Sisson AO, Danielle Toon and Jan Robins. Andrew, Danielle and Jan have each brought extensive governance and practical experience across finance, investment and a broad range of corporate and social service sectors.
Throughout the year, our committed staff have delivered exemplary outcomes under challenging circumstances. Lea-Anne Bradley left the Trust after six years in the role as Grants Manager, and we welcomed Amber Moore in the new role of Grants Advisor in March, a week before we all started working remotely.
As we look back at the year that was, we thank our Trustees and staff for their commitment to, and continued support of, Helen’s legacy.
Dr Philip Moors AO Chair and Lin Bender AM Chief Executive