Big funder wants a bigger impact

Posted on 21 Feb 2023

By Matthew Schulz, journalist, SmartyGrants

One of Australia’s biggest philanthropy funders, Equity Trustees, has reaffirmed its commitment to social change driven by impact measurement.

The organisation manages 650 charitable trusts and distributed more than $92 million across 3157 grants in the 2021–22 financial year. That is set to grow in 2023 following its purchase of another trustee service, Australian Executor Trustees, in November last year.

What won’t change is the money being funnelled into some of Australia’s most wicked problems in homelessness, inequality, education, climate change and health.

Equity Trustees review 2022
The latest Equity Trustees report reveals the organisation's top funding priorities.

SmartyGrants has previously profiled the organisation’s rapid response to the covid-19 pandemic, summed up by Equity Trustees’ general manager of charitable trusts and philanthropy, Jodi Kennedy, as a situation in which “adversity [could] drive innovation”.

In the past five years, the fund has continued a shift to outcomes oriented grantmaking – Ms Kennedy has previously described the shift as one from “being stewards of money to becoming drivers of social change”.

Now, with many organisations catching up with that approach, in its latest Giving Review 2022, the organisation has recommitted itself to improving grantmaking by measuring impact.

“Equity Trustees continues to work with for-purpose organisations and thought leaders to build an impact measurement framework to help us improve the work we are doing. By understanding what’s going well, and learning from what’s not, we can take steps to better serve the people and causes that we support via our role as a funder and partner to the for-purpose sector.”

The methods used to ensure those funds have the desired impact include:

  • deploying a series of equity lenses to be applied across programs
  • aligning funding with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals
  • a growing reliance on “trust-based” philanthropy, which involves helping the sector "collaborate for impact” instead of “compete for funding”

That work especially informs the organisation’s Empowering Change program where Equity Trustees is free to spend “discretionary” funds. These are the funds for which decision-making on spending has been entrusted to Equity Trustees.

Those funds are spent to support “high impact solutions” in areas including animals and environment, ageing, children and young people, medical research, sector capacity building, and scholarships.

Family Haven Equity Trustees
Based in Mooroopna, the Family Haven, which is part of the Greater Shepparton Lighthouse Project, provides a space for parents, grandparents and carers with children under school age. It also offers support and referrals to young families needing assistance. Picture: Family Haven/Facebook (tap for original post)

The desire to make funding decisions based on measurable impact is also reflected in a partnership with the five-year Greater Shepparton Lighthouse Project, which won the “leading funder in social impact measurement” category in the 2021 Social Impact Measurement Network Australia Awards.

Equity Trustees grant program manager Emily Cormack said the win “gave Equity Trustees the opportunity to reflect on the value of social impact measurement and how important it is for funders to invest in impact measurement.”

Equity Trustees continues to seek new ways of increasing its funding base, such as by lowering the barrier to philanthropic giving. From January 2023, donors can invest as little as $5000 to win tax breaks for giving to charity. Previously, private ancillary sub funds required a $20,000 minimum stake.

Equity Trustees chair Carol Schwartz is also the chair of SmartyGrants’ parent company, Our Community.

More information

Equity Trustees: Annual Giving Review 2022

Equity Trustees’ shift to outcomes-oriented grantmaking

Pandemic prompts funder to adapt grants game