Ben Clark explains how Australian Executor Trustees (AET), through its Discretionary Grants Program, distributes funds to not-for-profit organisations for the professional development of staff.


learning for impactAustralian Executor Trustees is one of Australia’s largest licensed trustee companies. For almost 140 years, we have been helping Australians support their communities. Established in 1878 in the then colony of South Australia, we provide specialist estate, trustee and executor services to individuals and organisations nationally. As part of our fiduciary obligations, we act as trustee for a portfolio of charitable trusts and ancillary funds that will distribute nearly $6 million to Australian charities in 2017.

Donors who appoint us as trustee can nominate the charities they wish to support, or provide us with the discretion to make granting decisions on their behalf. This year, nearly $1 million will be distributed in this way through our AET Discretionary Grants Program.

Distribution of grants

The strategy for distributing grants under the Program is to ensure the effectiveness of our clients’ philanthropy. The strategy was developed following extensive consultation with leaders and experts from across the not-for-profit sector.

Our recent funding program, Learning for Impact, was formulated over a 12-month period. During this time our Philanthropy Team and Discretionary Grants Committee held numerous consultation sessions with our charitable partners in South Australia along with key executives and leaders from across the not-for-profit sector.

This involved making and testing assumptions about the value and role professional development plays in preparing and retaining quality staff in not-for-profit organisations. Additionally, we identified various avenues in relation to how staff can access learning opportunities. 

The key findings from these sessions supported an important national research study, led by Dr Ramon Wenzel for the Centre for Social Impact at the University of Western Australia. The study was entitled Learning for Purpose, and it identified:

  • When not-for-profit organisations face funding pressures or uncertainty, funding for professional development and investment in staff development is reduced or cut
  • Philanthropic funding and business support is often directed towards front-line service delivery programs and not towards capacity building initiatives, such as staff training and development
  • Over the next 20 years, the not-for-profit sector will experience unprecedented change. To be best placed to take advantage of the challenges and opportunities that this presents, not-for-profit organisations need to invest in their people so as to attract and retain key talent.

During 2016, our Discretionary Grants Committee reflected on the outcomes and insights developed from the consultation sessions and research findings, and committed $1 million in grants over three years to South-Australian based organisations that invest in their people. The first round of investments, totalling more than $350,000, were made to seven organisations ranging in organisational size and from across a number of sectors.


The South Australian Museum, one of our Learning for Impact granting partners, received a multi-year commitment for its Museum Pathways Program. The program provides employment opportunities for young people from Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to help build their capacity to gain and sustain employment.

With the assistance of Australian Executor Trustees’ funding, the Museum offers cadetships and early career employment opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. These opportunities support the students in obtaining the necessary qualifications and work experience needed for a range of jobs across the private, public and community sectors. The funding also supports the students on completion of their studies as they transition into employment.

Through the Museum Pathways Program, the Museum has appointed a number of early career employees, including Rebecca Richards, Australia’s first Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Rhodes Scholar.

Pleasingly, our philanthropic investment also acted as a catalyst for other significant donations to the Museum.

Assessing and sharing success

We remain committed to enhancing the knowledge and success of the wider not-for-profit sector. This is why we believe it is important, from the outset, to share learnings from our Learning for Impact Program with the sector and with other funders.

Working closely with The Australian Centre for Social Impact, we are monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of the activities and outcomes of our granting strategy using a Theory of Change framework. The framework outlines which activities and interventions should be used to enable change and which outcomes are considered achievable through those interventions (see graphic).


TRA-2395 Theory of change diagram v2



Funding for the AET Discretionary Grants Program opens on 27 February 2017. For more information, visit

Ben Clark

Ben is Head of Philanthropy at Australian Executor Trustees and Chair of its Discretionary Grants Program, which oversees the distribution of approximately $1 million per annum in discretionary charitable grants. He is also a member of the AET Investment Committee.



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