On leaving Todd Foundation

Thursday April 2 was my last day as Executive Director of Todd Foundation, and here is my farewell speech:


It is hard to know what to say in a farewell speech. There are hundreds or thousands of people I could or should thank – but that would take a long time and be somewhat tedious. So instead I will tell two stories – which I hope will provide tributes to different groups of people who make our work at Todd Foundation possible.

But first, because so many people have asked why I am leaving and what next, let me say that I am leaving for only good reasons – after 10 years it feels time for new leadership at Todd Foundation – and it will be in very good hands with our amazing Christina Howard, who is totally the right person for the job and who beat a mere 117 others to the role. My plans are to take some time out to consider how I next best contribute to an Aotearoa NZ where everyone thrives and everyone contributes. For starters this will involve some travelling with my family then I plan to provide consulting services to community and philanthropic organisations who want to take stock or find new ways of working or to people who want to get started in philanthropy. I will continue my governance roles with Philanthropy NZ, the Ngāi Tahu Fund committee, Conscious Consumers and Thinktank Charitable Trust. There are some bigger ideas I’m working on too – I’ll be back so watch this space…

But let me tell you a story. It starts with my very first meeting with our chairman, Sir John Todd, back in 2005 when I was interviewed for the role. As some of you know, my background is in IT and Internet start-ups – in fact my only qualifications for the role was a bit of volunteering and the fact that when my husband Dave and I sold our little Internet company in 2002 we were able to set up a small charitable trust of our own. So I arrived at the interview full of enthusiasm for saving the world, and convinced I knew how to do it. We just need to fix families, I believed. If every child comes from a family that is at least non-damaging, all our social issues would be solved. Which isn’t wrong. But it is incomplete. And much easier said than done. Sir John understood this, I didn’t. So he let me rave on at the interview, and then asked a simple question –“how else might the foundation help?” And I had no answer.   Miraculously – and probably somewhat riskily – I was appointed to the role and on my first morning, over a cup of tea and some of Brian’s famous cheese scones, Sir John provided me with the answer. “Really your job is to get out there in the community and find out how we can help. “

Get out there in the community and find out how we can help. In other words, don’t hide in an ivory tower – research, policy and evaluations are all important – but philanthropy is about real people and real relationships. Philanthropy literally is the love of people. And that is what our practice should involve.

From this story come several tributes. Firstly to you Sir John – we have had many conversations over the years with a similar format – let Kate rant about her latest enthusiasm, then gently ask the laser-like question which exposes the blind spot in my thinking, then, if possible, let me figure it out. It is a very supportive, generous and under-stated approach from someone who sees the big picture and is not afraid to try risky things. Working with you Sir John has been an extraordinary privilege.

Better still, I see these same qualities – big picture thinking, tolerance of risk, being supportive, generous and under-stated – in our fabulous trustees on both boards of the Todd Foundation, in the Todd Family, in the Todd businesses and hopefully in the Foundation itself.  And these qualities play in out very practical ways. Here are 3 examples:

  • First there is ongoing, annual generosity from the Todd family, who each year votes a significant collective family donation towards the Todd Foundation’s grants. This is a not an arm’s length foundation giving the income from some long-established capital fund. This is hands-on generosity
  • Second, 100% of money tagged for grants goes to the community. This is because the Todd businesses generously cover the operating costs of the foundation in a separate annual donation, as well as providing significant in-kind support
  • Third, the independence of Todd Foundation is always respected. There is never any suggestion from either the businesses or the Todd family about who should or shouldn’t be funded.

I think these three things – annual generosity, 100% pass through to the community and complete independence in decision making comes from the values and culture of Sir John and the whole Todd family. And this combination of all three makes us certainly unusual – possibly even unique – in the NZ philanthropic sector. Best of all, this is done without fanfare in the typical understated Todd way. What a privilege.

Let me tell you a second story – this one is about the community we are here to serve. The best part of my job is being out in the community – it is inspiring and humbling work. I could pick any of our grantees to talk about, however tonight I will tell you about Youth Inspire, an employment initiative for long term unemployed young people based in Wainuiamata and the Hutt Valley – mostly because the story will be in our annual report and I have permission to use their words. It is great to see Marcia, the manager, and two of her young people Kimiora and Bailey here tonight.

So, I go into Taylor Preston’s, the meat processing plant up Ngauranga Gorge to meet Marcia, Barry the recruitment officer and Thomas, their newest employee. Here’s what Barry says: “You have to believe in young people. If we don’t believe in our youth, and back them to succeed, our future isn’t that bright. We have an obligation to our community to get youth off the street and into work.   And here we can give them a start and it’s a win-win; for the young people, for the community and for our business”.

And here’s what Thomas, who was out of work for four years after leaving school, says: “When you are unemployed, every day is the same; every day is just full of nothing. Now I have a reason to get out of bed in the morning, and it feels really good to be doing something constructive with my time.”

What happens at Youth Inspire is that Marcia and her team work with young people like Thomas to help develop work skills, gain work experience and find work – then they support for both the employer and employee to make sure the relationship is working. It is deliberate and collaborative approach (using the Mayor’s Taskforce for Jobs model) where the needs of young people and employers are matched and a win-win environment is created.

And from this story come several tributes. Firstly to our grantees, who rarely impose programmes designed to fix people but instead create environments where people help themselves and each other – an authentic, deep and sustainable way of making change in the world.

And also perhaps it is also a tribute to each of us as individuals. Like Barry, we all make a difference to our world while going about our everyday life – not so much in what we do but in how we do it. In how much we care and how well we relate to others.

And finally this story is a tribute to my team – Christina, Seumas and Valerie, who are so connected and knowledgeable, enabling the Foundation to select and support initiatives like Youth Inspire.

And let me make a final tribute to my team. I’ll miss almost everything about my job, but most of all the close-knit, talented team we have at the Todd Foundation.   I’ll miss the banter, the caring, the exhilaration of meeting seemingly impossible deadlines – and the philosophising.   We’ll have dead silence in the office, all of us focused on what we are doing – then someone will say “What’s causing the decline in the number of women on boards” or ” Is giving money to people begging on the street the right thing to do or does it make things worse?” And off we will go in a long and animated conversation. I will really miss you guys.

To sum up, being Executive director of the Todd Foundation has been a huge privilege and an incredible learning curve. I feel proud to have been part of the Todd Foundation, I hope and believe that I have contributed well to its development, and I leave it in good shape and in good hands. The future is indeed bright. And thank you to you all.


Todd Foundation team
Todd Foundation staff: Christina, Valerie, Kate and Seumas


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