By Nicole Richards

Hayden Raysmith AM, co-founder of Australian Communities Foundation, has been a tireless advocate for community giving for more than five decades.

In 2006 he helped establish the Hobsons Bay Community Fund (HBCF or the Fund) with Bill Jaboor, then CEO of the Hobsons Bay Council, as a sub-fund of Australian Communities Foundation, to encourage giving in his local community.

After 13 years, HBCF has built up $1 million in funds and has given grants totalling $300,000 that have benefitted more than 100 organisations. As 2019 draws to a close, Hayden is stepping down from his role as chair. In this recent conversation with Australian Communities Foundation, he reflected on his time with the Fund and his most valuable lessons learned.

 

What have been some of the highlights from your time at Hobsons Bay Community Fund?

HR: For me, it’s been about demonstrating a very good model for how communities can do this work with low risk, low cost and build a significant fund over time.

I’m proud that we’ve reached our target of $1 million in the Fund’s corpus and that we’ve supported 115 organisations and allocated just over $300,000.

It’s been a gradual build, but nonetheless continual progress as more and more people within the Hobsons Bay community understand the benefits of having a community fund. That is particularly the case for businesses that see the Fund as a very efficient mechanism for giving back to the community and dealing with the many requests they receive for financial support.

 

Engagement with those community organisations has been a critical part of the Fund’s grant making process for many years – can you talk a little about why that’s been so important?

Interestingly, we set up a mechanism where each organisation that received a grant, usually around a dozen each year, would receive a follow up visit from members of the Community Fund. We split it up so that we’d visit two or three organisations each.

What we found was that these organisations valued the visit almost as much as the money. They loved that somebody outside their network was taking an interest what they were doing and that they were able to spread the word about their work. It fascinated us how important that connection was and what it meant to these small organisations.

So, that became an important part of our network building and our work to build social capital in the community.

 

You’ve been heavily involved with Australian Communities Foundation since its inception and even earlier when it was Melbourne Community Foundation. What was your experience like as a sub-fund of Australian Communities Foundation?

I should say that the decision to establish a sub-fund with Australian Communities Foundation was made by Hobsons Bay City Council – they were given information about different options. I didn’t interfere with that.

That said, the convenience of being a sub-fund at ACF meant that we could really focus on fundraising and building our donor and recipient networks without having to worry about keeping the books, managing investments or doing any of those governance and administrative functions which can be demanding in their own right. This was particularly useful in the early stages so we could focus on the things that were important to us.

One of the other big advantages of being with ACF is that it adds to the credibility of the sub-fund – that’s a real plus reputationally and it gives donors confidence about what’s happening to the money and who’s looking after it.

It also meant that we were able to seek guidance from ACF, especially about governance and managing the grant process.

Starting a community fund as a sub-fund of ACF was easy, inexpensive and came with an enormous amount of help along the way.

…being a sub-fund at ACF meant that we could really focus on fundraising and building our donor and recipient networks without having to worry about keeping the books, managing investments or doing any of those governance and administrative functions which can be demanding in their own right.

How important has the relationship with Hobsons Bay City Council been in supporting the work of the Community Fund?

It’s been critically important. The fact that Council took the initiative to establish the fund was a key factor that led to commitments from local businesses and others. As a community fund for the municipality, Council has remained very strongly committed to supporting and working with the fund without in any way compromising its independence.

From the beginning we set things up so that the mayor and one other councillor would sit on the Advisory Committee and that’s been maintained over the years.

Along the way we faced the issue of the council area’s fairly small size and how a lot of employers and businesses would rather have a larger geographic spread. We talked about combining with other community foundations in the north and west, but what was critical for us was the relationship with Hobsons Bay City Council, so we’re fairly rusted on and that’s been a real positive.

As a community fund for the municipality, Council has remained very strongly committed to supporting and working with the fund without in any way compromising its independence.

Community fundraising can be a constant challenge. Were there any activities that proved to be reliably successful for HBCF?

We found that different forms of fundraising worked for us and others didn’t work at all. We learned quite a lot!

We started off by having an annual dinner in the Williamstown Town Hall with Council providing the venue and staff free of cost. We did that for five years and it gave us a profile and served the purpose of getting the message out about how a community fund works. On the night of the dinner we’d announce our grants and have the grant recipients there but the cost of running it was too high and it wasn’t a great money raiser in itself.

It morphed into a business lunch which then launched a golf day and they’ve become our two major fundraising events. Both of these have raised significantly more money year-on-year.

We also tried to get payroll deductions going and that worked really well with the Council, but it atrophies over time as people leave. Despite a lot of interest, we’ve not succeeded in getting any other local businesses across the line – the main impediment being that employees don’t like giving to a fund where a fund decides where the money goes, they want to give to things they’re passionate about directly. We’re looking at nominating key projects as a way of overcoming that hurdle.

 

The Fund has also begun to include multi-year funding as opposed to only making annual grants. Was that a strategic decision?

Very much so. It was something that evolved over time because we wanted to work with organisations or take on an issue over a longer period of time.

The big success story there is that four years ago, after quite a lot of discussion and negotiation, we signed a three-year agreement with the University of Melbourne for a project to include young people with a disability aged 12-25 in sporting and recreational groups in the municipality. It’s called the Inclusion Project.

We took on six post-grad social work students each year for a block of about 10 weeks and we’d get them to work on a strategy to increase the inclusion of young people with a disability in sporting and recreational clubs within the municipality. It has been the most wonderful success story and achieved so much more than anyone’s expectations.

It’s gone on to win two awards and been so successful that we’ve signed a further three-year agreement. It continues to go from strength to strength. The project’s guidelines have now become a benchmark inclusion model for sporting clubs, local governments and sporting peak bodies, so it’s really created a model for others to follow.

The big success story there is that four years ago, after quite a lot of discussion and negotiation, we signed a three-year agreement with the University of Melbourne for a project to include young people with a disability aged 12-25 in sporting and recreational groups in the municipality. It’s called the Inclusion Project.

How do you feel about the future growth of community philanthropy?

I think community philanthropy is just getting started. It’s a slow burn. You’ve got to be very patient and you’ve got to be diligent. You can’t be disheartened – you’ve got to be able to continually move forward.

There will always be set backs and tough times when you feel you’re not making progress, but as the story gets out there about what an effective way a community fund is for giving back to the community and you start to establish a track record and can talk about the things you’ve funded, it then it all begins to resonate. Both your donors and your grant recipients become your strongest advocates.

 

For more information about Hobsons Bay Community Fund, visit the website.

Hayden Raysmith’s next philanthropic venture is to establish a memorial fund for his beloved late wife, Lynne Wannan AM. Lynne was a dear friend to ACF and through her leadership of the Victorian Department of Community Services Lynne played a critical role in the growth of community foundations in Victoria.