Secret behind the Wyatt Trust

“A sense of stewardship and a spirit of generosity’’: the secret behind the Wyatt Trust

There is one memory, a moment from history, that has stayed with Paul Madden after seven years running The Wyatt Trust.

Paul Madden, former CEO of the Wyatt Trust

It speaks from long ago, when Dr William Wyatt, an English gentleman who had arrived in Adelaide in 1837, had a conversation with an Indigenous man and when together they looked into a mirror, Wyatt recorded “In that moment, I felt he was my brother." And since that time I have experienced more and more the secret but powerful influence that involuntarily unites every member of the great human family.’’

For Madden, who finished up as the Trust’s CEO at the start of this month, the sentiment of the Trust’s founder in that exchange has been inspirational. “It’s been incredibly meaningful to me.’’ Paul says. “It speaks of and really seeing the person and about sharing our lives with other people.’’

It’s also the philosophy that has guided the Trust in its enduring contribution to South Australia, which culminated earlier this year when the Trust celebrated $50 million worth of grants across its lifetime. Wyatt and his wife Julia bought land and property in the city and set up the Trust in 1881. He died five years later and the first grant was paid in July 1886, to an individual, in keeping with the Trust’s enduring priorities to help South Australians in need rather than organisations.

The Trust’s history is central to its modern role and its sense of place– its headquarters are on the corner of Wyatt St and Pirie St in Adelaide, where Wyatt paid nine pounds to purchase an acre of land in 1837.

Paul came to the Wyatt role from the community services sector and found himself on the other side of the (granting) table for the first time. He was instantly aware of what distinguished the Trust – “a sense of stewardship and a spirit of generosity.’’

But Paul acknowledges that the Trust’s values also align closely with his own: “Not to lose sight of the individual and that we all have aspirations, difficulties and barriers.’’

One of the compelling problems is the low Newstart allowance, which has not increased in real terms since 1994. Paul has been agitating with others in the sector as part of the Raise The Rate campaign for a Newstart increase, in the face of Federal government resistance. “The Dole Bludger narrative has been there for 30 years and it stereotypes individuals who are unemployed in a particular way, and once you start to stereotype, you lose sight of the individual,’’ Paul says.  The narrative has proved so resilient that it may be a surprise to many Australians to discover that more than half of Newstart recipients are over 45 years of age.  Younger Australians spend less than a year on the dole, according to National Seniors, but those over the age of 50 spend almost four years on Newstart. And that means many have a family to support.

But governments acting to resolve issues or innovate can be transformative. When the Howard government introduced legislation to establish private ancillary funds (PAFs), it gave philanthropy a shot in the arm. “It generated a whole new generation of philanthropy,’’ Paul says. “Philanthropy is much more engaged now in terms of seeking to understand what works, the outcomes and why evaluation matters.’’

The overall philanthropic picture has also become more public in Australia.

“There’s a growing confidence and a coming out of the shadows for philanthropy. It was never spoken of in a public way, it was always a private enterprise,’’ Paul says.

That’s changed in his time at Wyatt, although Paul admits that someone who has been closer to philanthropy for longer, might have seen these changes coming from “a longer horizon.’’

“There’s been a realisation that philanthropy is a more than distributing money, that it has a voice at the table. It’s interested in being evidence-based and proactive in working with people to drive positive change and measure those changes in society,’’ he says.

“It’s also finding its voice.  The desire to collaborate with partners, both philanthropic and those we fund, is growing.  There’s a genuine spirit of collaboration which sometimes means giving away a little bit of power in the interests of a greater good,’’ he explains.

Paul’s departure from Wyatt will not end his association with philanthropy or the not-for-profit sector. Fifteen years ago, he and his wife started a small overseas aid agency that supports educational and vocational programs, women’s empowerment, plus medical clinics in India, Pakistan, Kenya and Uganda. “Bright Futures has grown significantly and it’s at a pivotal phase so I’m feeling pretty excited about what comes next,’’ Paul says.

His successor – former Fay Fuller CEO and current PA board member Stacey Thomas – is well-aware of the important role The Wyatt Trust has played in influencing and pushing boundaries in South Australia. She’s looking forward to building on that work.

“The Wyatt Trust has a unique place in Australia’s philanthropic community as one of the country’s oldest trusts with a significant legacy, while also having an operating model that is full of opportunities and challenges,’’ Stacey says.

“As the sector itself starts to really tackle systems change, both theoretically and intentionally in program design, Wyatt has to consider its next move and the kind of role it can play in creating systemic change.’’ 

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