The Trust Company is changing its approach to philanthropy and a recent $1 million partnership with Mercy Health Foundation is a touchtone to a more engaged, measurable and long-term philosophy of community support. Mercy Health Foundation’s Gavan Woinarski has the inside story.

When The Trust Company set out to overhaul its granting model in 2011 – doing away with the traditional annual grant round approach in favour of a longer term engaged philanthropy model – it sought key strategic partners in the areas of socially inclusive education, positive aging and living with disability. Mercy Health Foundation stood out clearly as a potential partner because of its large footprint in aged care, a desire to grow the knowledge-base in health related fields, and a demonstrable ability to galvanise support through building relationships.

During high-level discussions to explore the strategic fit between the two organisations, the foundation’s desire to establish a chair in aged care arose. It was a project raised in discussion almost by coincidence, yet it resonated well with the type of initiative The Trust Company was looking to support.

Greater giving for greater social outcomes

Further discussions about the shared interest in advancing aged care and parallels in the organisation’s approach to engaged philanthropy saw The Trust Company commit $1 million over five years to Mercy Health Foundation in November 2011. Its funding, which is largely distributed from the Fred P Archer Charitable Trust, will be matched dollar-for-dollar by the foundation.

“Mercy matching the donation was attractive to us, because obviously any leverage is beneficial for our objective of maximising social impact for our benefactors,” says Simon Lewis, head of strategic partnerships at The Trust Company.

The combined funds are being used to establish the chair in aged care, in partnership with the Australian Catholic University. The chair of aged care will provide leadership and an evidence base for the clinical health and wellbeing of older people cared for in Mercy Health facilities. This knowledge can then be shared with the wider aged care community throughout Australia.

“Being more strategic with our discretionary distributions allows us to put greater emphasis on building relationships with our nonprofit partners and enhances our knowledge of the program areas we have elected to support,” says Lewis. “Over time, we will achieve greater perspective in our role as trustee to effect meaningful social change.”

It’s hoped that the appointed chair – recently named as Professor Fran McInerney – will also identify gaps within aged care which aren’t currently being met. Regular symposiums – which will include The Trust Company’s other positive ageing partners, National Stroke Foundation and Florey Neuroscience Institute – will be held as part of this long-term collaboration.

If gaps in aged care of mutual benefit to the partners are identified, it could pave the way for new funding from the trustee to address those societal needs. It’s this type of ongoing collaboration which The Trust Company hopes to achieve under its engaged philanthropy model.

“If there is a common area we can identify, then we are in the position to fund that, which not only supports an important gap but will inevitably flow and benefit the partners too,” explains Lewis.

Measuring the impact of an engaged approach

To ensure the effectiveness of its new approach to philanthropy, The Trust Company has also launched a fellowship with Melbourne Business School’s Centre for Social Impact Leadership. The appointed fellow, Liz Gillies, will provide an independent assessment of the social impact of partnerships like that with Mercy Health Foundation

“We’ve put our hand up and admitted that we don’t know enough about social impact, but we want to learn, and the Melbourne Business School is an organisation we can learn from,” says Lewis.

Lewis hopes that the transparency added by an independent assessor throughout the partnership opens the door to even wider cross-sector collaboration.

“We want to bring that into sharp focus, because we’ve got academia, we’ve got corporates, we’ve got nonprofits and we’re hoping we can leverage that into government interest as well.”

While only in its infancy, the partnership has already received praise from a number of high-profile philanthropists, including 2011 Australian of the Year Simon McKeon.

“The concept of donors and gift recipients becoming ongoing partners, as opposed to being connected merely when the gift is made, resonates with me,” said McKeon. “In my view, it enhances the prospects of real change occurring in relation to the particular project as well as improving the prospects of further financial support from the donor.”

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