Case Study

Equity Trustees

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Equity Trustees

Project Overview

Equity Trustees

Key Achievements

  • SIMNA Award 2022: Leading funder in social impact measurement (Runner-up)

Key Services
Theory of change | Sector / issue analysis | Outcomes framework | Impact-led deisgn (ILD) | Embedding impact (process and systems) | Training and capability building (people and culture)

In operation since 1888, Equity Trustees is the second largest philanthropic funder in Australia. Approximately 75 per cent of the $70M+ Equity Trustees distributes each year is discretionary, making this one of the highest proportions of discretionary funds under management in the sector.

In 2018, Equity Trustees laid out its strategic plan, identifying ‘Deepening Community Impact’ (Target 4) as one of the company’s four key targets. This provided the foundation for the Philanthropy team to place ‘funding for impact’ at the heart of its granting activities. In doing so, it raised some fundamental questions: Are we making a difference? How will we know if the decisions we make to invest in the for-purpose sector are moving the dial on the issues that matter? And importantly, what needs to be done to strengthen internal and external approaches to granting to deepen community impact?

Equity Trustees engaged Think Impact to support their journey to strengthen measuring and managing for better impact. Since 2018, we have worked closely with Equity Trustees’ Charitable Trusts and Philanthropy team to provide ongoing advisory support to develop and implement an impact-led management approach to their philanthropic giving.

Recognising their role as responsible stewards of funding and resources, the team wanted to build a framework that would guide their granting practice and build an evidence base to support continual learning to maximise impact. The focus of this was two-fold:

  1. To support the philanthropic sector to be more empowered and connected with better access to information about “what works” and in doing so, shift from a sector that “gives” to a sector that ‘invests in impact’; and
  2. Supporting the for-purpose sector to maximise its potential to effectively utilise philanthropic investment by operating in a collaborative way, with a deep appreciation for stakeholder voice, and an improved capability to understand and articulate its impact.

Think Impact worked closely with the Philanthropy team to develop its theory of change and impact narrative ensuring a solid foundation for understanding the intended outcomes (changes) that Equity Trustees seeks to create through its granting.

Figure 1 Equity Trustees 2018 Impact Narrative
Figure 1 Equity Trustees 2018 Impact Narrative

A ‘Blueprint for deepening impact’ was then developed to guide the principles and approaches that need to be applied by Equity Trustees to cultivate philanthropy, strengthen the for-purpose sector and catalyse social impact to deliver intended outcomes in four granting focus areas:

  • Children and Young people
  • Ageing Well
  • Medical Research and Health
  • Animals and Environment
Figure 2 Equity Trustees 2018 Blueprint for Deepening Impact
Figure 2 Equity Trustees 2018 Blueprint for Deepening Impact

The development of the Blueprint highlighted that Equity Trustees’ granting focus areas represent a complex array of social and environmental issues and that strong collaborations are required to ensure the for-purpose sector is supported to ‘collaborate for impact’ rather than ‘compete for funding’. This collaborative approach supports efforts to drive positive and lasting social impact.

‘We are committed to evolving our practice, knowing that we can’t impact everything, but what we can, we want to do in a strategic way. We have the fundamentals down and are building the frameworks and our practice, so we are better able to reflect and manage for impact’. Grant Hooper, National Manager Granting

Through a series of professional development workshops and ongoing support facilitated by the Think Impact, the team committed to building its impact literacy and internal capacity to implement this impact-led management approach to their granting and sector collaboration.

Deep dive workshops were held with the Social Impact team enabling them to specifically understand and articulate the current state of priority issues for each of the four granting focus areas: Ageing Well, Children and Young People, Animals and Environment and Medical Research and Health. An overarching impact statement was drafted for each of the four focus areas along with a model that shows how the additional focus of funding for-purpose ‘Sector Capacity Building’ provides an additional opportunity to create a learning loop to support greater impact.

An outcomes framework detailing the indicators and methods that underpin their approach to cultivating philanthropy and strengthening the for-purpose sector was developed. This provided the Social Impact team with a framework to clearly articulate the strategic response required to improve outcomes in each area, and create a focus for how granting should be applied to reach the intended future state for each focus area.

Though its commitment to collaborative partnerships with the for-purpose sector, and embracing the practice of trust-based philanthropy, Equity Trustees has continued its commitment to drive sector capacity building, by providing additional untied grants, reducing administrative burden for grant recipients where possible and increasing its ability to provide multi-year grants.

Figure 3 Equity Trustees 2018 Blueprint learning loop for greater impact
Figure 3 Equity Trustees 2018 Blueprint learning loop for greater impact

The development of the Blueprint led to Equity Trustees adopting the practice of publishing an annual ‘Giving review’ since 2019, to hold themselves accountable and to embed a culture to continual improvement, to be innovative and lead good practice to maximise impact in the philanthropic sector.

‘In recent years, we have significantly improved our data collection methods internally, which has enabled greater insight and assists us to improve our effectiveness. However, we also understand that not all impact can be attributed to metrics and that there is richness in storytelling. We seek to develop open partnerships and have ongoing conversations with our grant partners, to build trust, so that funding can be as impactful as possible. If an initiative isn’t having the desired outcomes, we want to be involved and to pivot and learn together’. Elyse Cook, Granting and Impact Manager

In 2022, Equity Trustees continued their work with Think Impact to evolve the Blueprint for Deepening Community Impact. This next phase of work focused on further development of a reporting framework to support how impact is measured thought a set of clear indicators. The evolution of the Blueprint also seeks to guide how lenses can be applied to granting to address specific inequities and enhance how greater impact is achieved through good practice and continuous learning for both grant makers and grant recipients.

Click here to view Equity Trustees Annual Giving Reviews

Our collaborators in impact