We recently took advantage of a seven-hour road trip to ask our CEO, Niall Fay to reflect on his first 12 months in the role and tell us what’s next for the Fay Fuller Foundation…

Niall joined the Foundation from outside of philanthropy bringing a diverse professional background and experience working in multi-disciplinary teams. This background has given him an appreciation for the insights people with broad expertise can contribute towards a shared vision. The focus on forming strong partnerships with a horizontal power structure is something he wants to bring to the philanthropy sector. The goal is not to “fund and forget”, but to invest in understanding where the need is, as identified by the community and to fund the best people and organisations to work collectively in finding a solution.

This past year Niall has dedicated time to building his understanding of the nuances and intricacies of philanthropy. He described philanthropic organisations as the “custodians of public money” and identified the potential to move beyond the constraints of traditional philanthropy such as short-term, discreet investments and to instead broaden impact by evolving granting practices, deepening relationships, and innovating funding models. “We are already beginning to see some of the ideas, processes and concepts at play in initiatives like Our Town be picked up by government departments and other philanthropic organisations”.

It has also been a year of internal change for the Foundation as it grows both in terms of giving, with a corpus that has nearly doubled in size, and staffing as it grows to a team of three. “In 2021 we’ll be implementing some of the big ideas from the past 12 months, including opening up a new funding area from July next year”. New additions to the team bring with them a range of experience in the non-profit granting space and the international development sector and are dedicated to creating change and impact within the community.

With this growth comes a responsibility to ensure our practices across all areas mature – this includes reflecting on past funding practices and the composition of our board and team. “It’s important that we reflect on the Foundation’s previous work and use our learnings to inform our future practices across everything we do”. Part of beginning this process has been to establish a set of values central to who we are and where we as a foundation came from. We are now in the process of taking the values and translating them into principles to use as a measure of how closely our work aligns with the goals of the Foundation and to which we can be held accountable. By next year we intend to have these available, both as an internal charter and as a social contract accessible to the public via our website.

Niall praised the work of the Foundation’s previous CEO Stacey Thomas, now CEO of the Wyatt Trust. “Stacey laid down a great foundation for me to come in and continue to evolve our practice informed by my own experience and background”. He finished by saying “When it gets to a point where I feel I’ve given everything I can, I too hope to have been able to create the conditions within the Foundation for someone else to come in and take it even further”.

Our new Fay Fuller Foundation CEO Niall Fay definitely hit the ground running when he started with us late last year. We caught up with him this month to hear his reflections so far on the foundation, the Our Town mental health funding journey and his plans for the foundation’s future.

Niall joined our foundation in November just as we were gearing up for a state-wide tour stopping in at the nine towns and regions that were shortlisted for Our Town mental health funding.

It’s been a busy few months for Niall who is new to the philanthropic sector but brings a fresh perspective and transferable experience from his work in the innovation and Research and Development space.  He talked to Philanthropy Australia recently about his unexpected career path to get here.

Niall said the while he had a simple understanding of philanthropy beforehand, the day-to-day reality was different but the underlying aim was as he anticipated.

‘Our foundation is passionate about supporting the South Australian community and using what we have learnt to influence national conversations,’ he says.

Reflecting on his time so far, Niall says: ‘What I have seen is a foundation that has evolved and grown rapidly over the past 10-15 years.’

The Fay Fuller Foundation has gone from inception to having its first CEO and staff members and has refined its focus significantly over that time.

Niall says he’s comfortable with the current focus area for the foundation on health funding and the recent spotlight on mental health. He says the foundation was in a really good place when he took the reins, particularly the Our Town mental health initiative.

Reflections on Our Town

 Niall says the visits to towns shortlisted for Our Town funding with The Australian Centre for Social Innovation brought home the realities that South Australia’s rural and regional areas are facing.

‘We may have read the applications but meeting people from these communities in person was extremely important in bringing their challenges to life and we learnt a huge amount,’ he says.

‘We weren’t anticipating the extent of the challenges that the communities were facing and the extent that they were let down by a system that wasn’t designed to meet their needs – this was eye-opening.’

However, also evident was a reservoir of resilience and commitment.

‘There was such a singular focus on people helping people – community supporting itself – often driven by necessity,’ Niall says.

He says the willingness of people to sacrifice their time and energy and their insights on the mental health challenges their communities were dealing with ‘blew me away’.

‘The communities demonstrated that they were more than willing and motivated to get in and make the changes they wanted to see over a long period.’

‘If they were provided with the power, agency and resources to start to address some of the systemic challenges they were facing, as well as a say in shaping the system which was holding some of those challenges in place, then real change could happen,’ Niall says. ‘The real excitement is going to be watching that unfold.’

Next chapter for the foundation

As to the future of the Fay Fuller Foundation, Niall wants to build on the momentum started by his predecessor and the foundation’s inaugural CEO Stacey Thomas.

This included continuing to build understanding of the context in which the foundation provides funding, an understanding of its funding partners and the foundation’s practices across all areas.

He’s also looking at the potential for a ‘layered approach’ to funding and grant provision.

‘A layering approach is all about supporting learning over varying time frames and by different means whether it be via practice, investigation or experimentation. What is then crucial though, is turning what has been learnt into knowledge by sharing it with others,’ he explains.

‘Learning and knowledge creation happen in many ways and, as a result, I have a really open mind around who we might work with as a foundation.’

Niall is open to discussions with not-for-profit organisations, community groups, government or the corporate sector. The proviso is that those groups need to be strongly aligned to and committed to the health needs of the community.