One of Australia’s oldest foundations on the future of philanthropy

By: Paul Madden AM   |   The Wyatt Trust

Paul Madden AM, Chief Executive of The Wyatt Trust, provides his insight on where philanthropy is headed and what foundations can do to ensure they keep up with the ever-changing philanthropic landscape.

The Wyatt Trust is one of the oldest foundations, but seems to be one of the most progressive. How has the foundation transformed over the years?

Like many philanthropic organisations, we’ve been on that challenging journey from making a grant to making a difference. Over the last decade, it’s meant a change of focus and a realisation … we have much more to offer to the transformation process than just the value of our grant.

Recent years have seen an increased focus on research and evaluation, coupled with the development of formal grant-making partnerships with more than 80 community, disability, housing and school groups in our priority areas of education retention, employment, housing and financial wellbeing.

Our grant portfolio management is now ‘regionalised’, with our grants managers spending a lot of their time in the field. This means we can be informed, active and fully engaged participants in collective impact and place-based initiatives.

Like our founder Dr Wyatt, we want to be a catalyst and a contributor in making a difference to big social issues of our time. While our Trust Deed is unique and requires us to focus on individuals – we make about 5,000 small grants a year to individuals directly and through our partners – we see the way we partner, collaborate and focus our grant making has the potential to make population-wide differences.  
That’s our dream!

You moderated a panel discussion at last year’s Philanthropy Meets Parliament Summit, so obviously you’re quite good at keeping your finger on the Government’s pulse. In what ways does The Wyatt Trust collaborate with Government – and how do you see that relationship evolving?

Government is keen to talk. They’re hungry for ideas that will make a difference to the social challenges our communities face. They want to find partners and collaborators who want to be part of the solution, and the philanthropic sector has a part to play. 

Our current involvements are mainly with the State Government and involve co-funding a major project, scholarship programs in 30 government schools around school retention and other grant initiatives in the areas of financial counselling and housing. We are also involved at the strategic policy level, sometimes by their invitation and sometimes by advocating directly to Ministers, advisors and senior officers regarding the things we care about. 

We see our relationship with government continuing to strengthen. There are many examples from around the world where philanthropy has catalysed models of service that have made a huge difference in people’s lives. We see ourselves as having a responsibility to raise these examples before government for the benefit of our community.

Is philanthropy ‘future ready’?

We live in a fast changing world. It’s hard to imagine that any of us are ever truly ‘future ready’. However, we can learn a lot by looking at how young people organise and operate. 

Their approach, and the approach of the businesses and enterprises they develop, is more relational than transactional and they embrace new technologies to connect to people and causes, to network and gather information, to raise awareness and funds, and to share their lives and their passions. 

Engagement of young people in philanthropy at all levels is critical if we are to effectively understand the times and become as ‘future ready’ as we can be. 

What are the top three philanthropic topics, or issues that The Wyatt Trust will focus on for the foreseeable future and why? (e.g. collective giving, impact investing)

The number one priority for Wyatt is to find ways to make the shift from amelioration to transformation. We know making grants to individuals does good things. It alleviates distress and can develop capacity. However, delivery of grants in a disconnected way has no capacity to magnify impact. 

The big challenge for us is to deliver individual grants in ways that yield population outcomes in those “wicked problem” areas. To do this we have to be more than just grant makers, we have to be partners, collaborators and initiators. 

The second area of focus is in “expanding the pie” through partnerships, collaborations, co-funding, advocacy, crowdfunding and social impact investment. As we know from projects like Harlem Children’s Zone, when we can align resources, energy and goals, transformative change becomes possible. 

Our third area of focus is on better understanding what works and what doesn’t. We have recently undertaken two major evaluations of our grant programs in the housing and financial counselling areas through research centres at Adelaide University. 

Three action research projects are also underway. The first is in the area of financial literacy for young people with a disability with Financial Literacy Australia & Flinders University; the second a large scale three year wellbeing and resilience project with SAHMRI involving 850 marginalised young people; and a workforce inclusion project in a regional centre with the Australian Community Services Research Centre & Rural Communities Australia.

We want to know that what are doing is making a difference.

What’s your advice to a new foundation or philanthropist - especially if they’re not sure which philanthropic issues to focus their resources on?

Hasten slowly; think deeply about where you have a passion to make a difference, and build relationships with others involved in philanthropy and in your area of focus. 

At one level, running a foundation is like running any other business with focus, energy, knowledge and organisational skills all needed to bring success. However, with philanthropy, a strong sense of the ‘why’ is what really matters. It’s what will feed the spirit, guide activity and sustain through the challenges.

It doesn’t matter whether, like The Wyatt Trust, you are a 130 year old foundation or a 130 day old foundation, when you understand why you are doing the things you do it provides a powerful frame of reference. When you make friends to travel with you along the way there is always somewhere to turn when the going gets tough.

Do you think the Dr. Wyatt-style moustache will make a comeback anytime soon?

Paul: It’s bound to be the next big thing in ‘Movember’. Watch this space!

May. 24, 2016

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