I am sitting at Boat Harbour, on the north-west coast of Tasmania, having spent two days attending a philanthropic think tank run by QUT’s Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Non-profit Studies. As a CEO new to the sector, this was a wonderful chance to sit with my peers and some NFP CEOs to discuss philanthropy and the many relevant and topical issues I find so interesting in this role.
Such an opportunity seemed perfectly timed, given I have been in this role since mid-December 2016. It provides me with some time to reflect. Since becoming CEO, I have emphasised to the staff as well as the Board of Governors, that effective grant-making is at the core of what we do as an organisation. The program managers have been challenged to become more proactive in seeking out organisations and projects to present to the Board for consideration. Our focus will be more strategic, more impactful, longer duration, larger grants, which are clearly aligned with the funding objectives of our program areas. Our program managers will elevate themselves to be ’general specialists’ in their particular program areas: well-connected and ‘plugged in’ to organisations, government and other key stakeholders. We will convene on important, topical issues in an attempt to elevate the conversation and our thinking around matters significant to our program areas.
In addition, the Board has recently approved amended funding objectives for our Medical Research and Health & Disability program areas, as well as the establishment of a formal framework for major grants that give the staff and the Board greater flexibility to consider large projects that are not tied to specific funding objectives.
Our amended funding objectives reflect carefully considered appraisal of historic grants in the Medical Research, Health & Disability program areas, and should result in the award of fewer but larger, possibly multi-year, grants that have the potential for greater, more sustained impact..
The new Major Grants category simply formalises one of the strengths of The Ian Potter Foundation founding trust deed, which allows its Governors, all eminent Australians, the opportunity to bring proposals for significant projects for consideration by the Board. The Foundation will not seek applications for Major Grants.
In the 2017 fiscal year, a greatly reduced number of projects will be presented for consideration by the Board, and ultimately, awarded. This is due to the large percentage of our FY2017 distribution already being committed to multi-year grants. So, we will focus on selecting a small number of grants from outstanding organisations, that align closely with our stated funding objectives and which we believe will have the greatest impact. Starting in 2017, our Medical Research funding round will move to Round 2 and remain in that round annually thereafter. This will better align such applications with annual NH&MRC and ARC funding rounds, and streamline the workload for our staff and Governors who assess all Medical Research (now in Round 2) and Health & Disability (Round 1) applications.
Our latest Board meeting saw the approval of $9.2 million of grants payable over the next one-to-five years. Among them is a $1m grant supporting Greening Australia’s pilot project that aims to greatly reduce sediment run-off onto the Great Barrier Reef, and a significant $500,000 grant supporting the expansion of FareShare’s food production, storage and handling capability here in Victoria, as well as an exciting $450,000 grant to help Mercy Care establish a Respite Centre for Perth’s homeless, which we believe will be a first in Australia. (The latter two grants are subject to conditions.)
As you can see, it has been a busy first four months. I am excited to finally have my feet under the desk, and thrilled at the manner in which the entire team and the Board of Governors have responded to some of my suggestions. Ultimately, as a team, we hope to operate in a manner that is true to the values and the mission of The Ian Potter Foundation, and which acts as a beacon supporting great Australian innovators and great Australian organisations.