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Changing the face of community based philanthropy, Maria Ramsay

Updated: Dec 13, 2022

Welcoming Maria Ramsay to Purposely to share her career journey from nurse to non-profit leader. Maria shares her innovative approach to philanthropy and the evolution of the Toi Foundation under her leadership.

Maria joined the Toi Foundation in 2006, appointed as manager to what was known as the TSB Community Trust. The organisation had evolved from the community bank as one of 12 trusts formed in the 1980's with the aim of supporting communities. Like many trusts at the time, Toi relied on a transactional and passive approach to grant making. They were often characterised by invisible grant committees approving funding applications behind closed doors, with a simple letter to the unsuccessful applicants. 'This organisation has evolved so much, we've gone from two employees to sixteen, we now have a huge connection into our community that just didn't exist previously. We didn't have very strong relationships with Maori and local iwi, mainly because we just weren't engaging - we do now.' 'While we still fund in a traditional 'mail box' philanthropy way by supporting small grassroots organisations across the region we have evolved and we now do a lot more strategic grant making'. The change in approach followed an assessment of needs that existed across the region, with a bigger focus on helping people on the margins of society. Maria and the Board hired an external company to carry out some independent research and this lay the foundation for a new strategy and a new way of working. One that was much more focused on working with the community rather than just delivering grants in a passive removed way. The Trust identified those who were in most need of their financial support. Maria describes the move away from a 'master and servant model' to something very different that she believes will bring about social positive and lasting change. 'It's about walking alongside an organisation and being prepared to fund them over multiple years if required. We will look to form a truly authentic and trusted relationship with the organisation doing the work.' Maria also talks about the move to community building that is becoming more common amongst the 12 community trusts in New Zealand. 'We increasingly look to help with capacity and capability building as well as the service delivery. Their latest giving initiatives are both intentional as well as strategic; including supporting children in their first 1,000 days of life as well as a participatory form of philanthropy and community support. 'On that theme of engaging with the local community, we will allocate some funds and bring together a group of people to advise and help design a solution to an issue or a problem. The big difference is that they will be the decision makers, so if in the example it is a committee of young people, they will decide what is best for them. So it's about power sharing, really, and putting that back into the hands of the community.

They also focus on the environment as stated in their new strategy. 'Supporting the protection, care and resilience of our natural environment to ensure the long-term survival and care of Taranaki whenua.'

What is a Community Trust?

Ostensibly they are grant making charities that exist to help communities thrive.

There are 12 of them across New Zealand covering all regions country including Toi Foundation which covers Taranaki, most western part of the North Island. Combined they have assets of approximately $3.9 billion and make grants for the benefit of their local communities of over $100 million each year.

How is Toi Foundation different to the other community trusts? Read more

More about Maria:

As well as her role as Chief Executive at Toi Foundation and Toi Foundation Holdings Ltd Maria is a Director on Toi Foundation Investments Ltd. Prior to joining the Foundation Maria was the Manager of Service Delivery at Puke Ariki, New Plymouth’s Library, Museum and Visitor Information Centre, as well as its Acting Manager. Originally training as a Comprehensive Registered Nurse, Maria worked for 11 years at Taranaki District Health Board in various roles. She was also the Chair of Netball Taranaki, a Board Member of the Elite Athletes Foundation, a Trustee on Taranaki Hospice and a Community Mentor with a community mentoring scheme run through Venture Taranaki.


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