In 2020, outgoing Chair Dr Philip Moors AO described that year as having been like no other. We didn’t anticipate at the time that 2021 would provide challenges of the same scale and complexity. At the start of the financial year, we were eager to move on from the memories of the Black Summer bushfires and the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic; nonetheless, while the uncertain times continued, our commitment to advancing equity of opportunity for all Victorians was steadfast.
Throughout the year, we maintained the Trust’s flexible and responsive grantmaking, initiated in response to the twin disasters of bushfire and pandemic, and played our part to help bring about an equitable, inclusive recovery, working with those most affected to determine priorities and what is best for the communities seeking to recover. In FY21, the team successfully delivered $4.5m in funding to 61 grants across Victoria.
We continued with our rapid Response & Recovery Grants which focused on meeting immediate emergency needs arising as a result of natural disaster and COVID-19. The Grants team worked hard to tap into the community, identify and respond quickly to a variety of needs. $2.4m across 33 grants was approved for recovery projects arising from the Black Summer bushfires, COVID-19, and lastly the Gippsland storm and floods, which hit the region in early June 2021.
Of particular note, through the Response & Recovery Grants program, and in partnership with the Sidney Myer Fund, the Trust provided a grant of $600,000 to the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal (FRRR). This multi-year collaboration aims to build the capacity of those community organisations across Victoria playing a central, coordinating or networking role in the recovery of communities impacted by the bushfires of 2019 and 2020.
In August, we resumed our regular fixed grant rounds as we introduced a revised grant strategy. COVID-19 provided an extra lens to apply across our grantmaking, and we expect it will continue to do so in the next few years. An additional 28 grants totalling $2.1m were made across our target areas of support.
The full list of approved grants appears in the Grants section of this Annual Report, as well as a range of case studies that showcase the breadth of the Trust’s grantmaking across programs and grant levels.
Investment and finance
We are pleased to report that our corpus has recovered from the COVID-19 induced market correction that occurred during March 2020. The corpus generated a total return of 23.2% in FY21, significantly outperforming our investment objective of CPI+5.5% over rolling 20 year periods. The corpus finished the year at $140m, an all-time high for a 30 June reporting date. HMSTrust invested in two further social impact bonds during FY21, the Side by Side SIB by Berry Street and the Living Learning SIB by Melbourne City Mission.
COVID-19 continued to impact the ability of companies to pay dividends, resulting in revenue being depressed for the second year in a row.
To maintain our granting capacity, we used some of our reserves which had been built up for to cater for both emergencies and for those years in which revenue generation is lower than normal.
While operating expenses remained constant at $1.3m, due to the fall in revenue, our operating expense ratio rose to 21.7%. This is expected to fall back below 20% in FY22.
Change is the order of our times and it is no different here at the Trust. In November 2020, we said farewell to outgoing Chair, Dr Philip Moors AO, and Trustee, The Hon. Rod Kemp AM, after 10 years each as Trustees. We thank them each for their dedicated service to Helen’s Trust and her legacy.
In what was a challenging year, we thank the staff, Lin, Glen, Michelle, Sarah and Amber for their dedication and commitment to the Trust, delivering exemplary outcomes while working remotely. Additionally, our thanks to the Trustees for the rigour and dedication with which they apply themselves to upholding the legacy of Helen Macpherson Smith. Special thanks to Andrew Sisson and Claire Higgins for the way in which each has respectively chaired the Investment Committee and Grants Advisory Committee.
In August 2021, Lin Bender concluded her significant eight year phase of leadership of the Trust during which period the corpus grew from $95m to more than $140m and more than 500 grants exceeding $37m were made, addressing needs in the education, community, arts and culture, environment and health sectors. Michelle Springall, Executive Assistant and Grant Support, also left to take up a role at the Australian Conservation Foundation ending a more than nine years’ contribution to HMSTrust as a loyal and committed EA to the Chair and CEO, and valued member of the Grants Team. In December 2021, Amber Moore, Grants Advisor, concluded her nearly two years at the Trust, taking up a position at Australian Progress.
Trustees were delighted to welcome Debra Morgan as CEO from 4 October bringing her rich experience from The Myer Foundation and Aesop Foundation. Debra has quickly settled into the work of HMSTrust with significant outreach to Trustees, staff and key stakeholders in the sector.
After a year of change and with uncertain times ahead, the Trustees and staff at Helen Macpherson Smith Trust remain committed to ensuring Helen’s legacy continues.
Catherine Walter AM