The story of the Donny Charitable Trust and its fusion with Momentum Waikato is a classic tale of how philanthropy in New Zealand is evolving and consolidating.

The Donnys were brother and sister Francis and Germaine Donny, born at the start of the 20th century after their parents had migrated from Belgium to Hamilton. Over the course of their lives they together farmed around Raglan, Hamilton and Morrinsville, neither getting married or having children.

Hamiltonians will associate the Donny name with Donny Park and Donny Avenue, between the eastern bank of the Waikato River and Chartwell, so named as the Donnys once farmed there. In 1981 they gifted land on Donny Avenue for pensioner housing.

The Donny Trust was established in 1978 with the Donny siblings and Maurice VanHoutte and Barry Paterson as trustees.

Francis and Germaine Donny died within a year or so of each other in the early 1990s, both over 90 years old, at which point their Trust became operational and started making grants to charities.

Eventually, in 2020 it transferred its assets to the regional endowment fund at Momentum Waikato, which is committed to continuing the Donny Trust prescription of charitable giving.

There was consistent board membership throughout the life of the Trust. In 1992, Joan VanHoutte and Alison Paterson joined Maurice and Barry as trustees. Eventually, between 2008 and 2012 the VanHoutts retired and were replaced by Jon Tanner and Annabel Cotton, with John Weir also being on its board from 2007 to 2011.  

By 1995 the Donny estate of some $5.2million had passed to the Trust, as per Francis’ and Germaine’s Wills. Now in 2023, the Trust has $13.2million in assets, while over the last 30 years it has granted over $11million to charities.

Former Trust Chair Barry Paterson (pictured above) says the Donnys did not leave instructions on whom were to benefit from their Trust.

“When the Donny Trust began to make charitable donations, we accepted applications from many charities, considering each on the probable impact of our support,” says Barry.

“It was not unusual to approve more than twelve donations at one meeting, so most of our donations early on were relatively small, and by 2020 we had donated to around 400 organisations.”

Support for palliative care was a consistent funding theme from the outset, with the establishment in 1992 of a two-year fellowship to train and educate doctors in the field, at the initiative of then trustee Maurice VanHoutte and Auckland GP Dr Graeme Campbell. Between 1992 and 2004 a dozen doctors received the fellowship, then from 2004 to 2020 it went to some seventeen nurses.  

Beneficiaries in agriculture have been the Waipoa Farm Cadet Training Trust (pictured above), where for many years the Donny Trust supported five of its ten cadets, as well as St Paul's Collegiate Agri Business and Growing Future Farmers. Brainwave has meanwhile benefited from child protection grants.

The Donny trustees began discussions with the Momentum Waikato board in 2015, which ultimately led to the corpus of the Trust’s funds and its responsibilities being transferred to Momentum in April 2020, with the Donny Trust being deregistered as a charity soon after.

“A motivating factor for the transfer to Momentum was our concern around the continuity of the trustees,” says Barry.

“Prior to the move to Momentum, the Trust was administered by Beattie Rickman and then its successor PWC, and well served by its investment managers Aspiring Asset Management and Craigs Investment Partner.

“Three years after the transfer I can confidently say that the relationship with Momentum has also been beneficial.

“While Momentum is now the final decisionmaker on the funds, they appointed we four Donny trustees to a Donny Trust Protectorate Group. As such, we meet with the Momentum team three or four times a year to familiarise them with the beneficiaries and advise on new applicants.

“They are certainly following the path set by the Donny Trust and have kept the funds growing with Aspiring and Craigs.

“We have also gifted $1million to the Waikato Regional Theatre project being led by Momentum, as we can see the transformational effect it will have upon the life of the city and region,” says Barry.

Over the last three decades the legacy of Francis and Germaine Donny, and the focus and considered care of Barry Paterson and his fellow trustees, have provided significant financial support to charities meeting a range of social and community needs.

As Waikato-based trusts face the challenge of trustee succession, growing compliance demands and seeking public donations in a crowded media and charity environment, their trustees have the opportunity to follow the Donny example.

They can ‘pass the baton’ to Momentum Waikato, their local community foundation, thereby taking advantage of its scale of consolidated investment, professionalism, local grounding and public-facing operation, while still ensuring their Trust’s mission is able to continue in perpetuity.

Community foundations are an evolution that secure and develop the traditional charitable trust model. To discuss the possibilities, contact Momentum Waikato.