Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal

Husband and wife, Neville and Di Bertalli are committed to charitable giving that makes a real tangible difference to some of society’s most concerning issues.

The couple started personally gifting in 1982, when they were in their late 30’s. After three decades, they established the Bertalli Family Foundation in 2010, to both increase the volume of gifting and to do it on a regular, annual basis. In 2011, the Bertallis started channeling their giving through FRRR.

We spoke to Neville recently, to find out more about the Bertalli Family Foundation’s relationship with FRRR and the causes close to his and Di’s hearts.

“We’ve been at it for quite a bit of time,” Neville said. “When I was doing my investigation, reading about FRRR – it was a very well read and reputable Board of Directors that were running the place. What we thought was so good about it was that they do lots of small, small grants to non-DGR status charities. This suited our Foundation enormously.”

Neville, a Melbourne University Commerce graduate, started a small transport business in 1972, after having worked for three public companies over 10 years. The Bertalli’s business interests grew, and they wanted to give back to areas they felt were important to invest in. One of these is Australia’s regional and rural communities. As so often happens, Neville’s country upbringing stayed with him. He came from Benalla in Victoria’s north-east, where his parents operated the local bakery, and four generations on, it’s still in the family.

“In my first 16 years of life, I lived in five country towns with my parents and the bakeries. And so I’ve got a very strong attachment to giving support to rural areas.”

Neville and Di value the reach they are able to achieve through being FRRR donors. Through FRRR, they make a number of grants to “worthwhile causes that we would never ever come across”.

“FRRR is a wonderful umbrella organisation that covers lots and lots of small charities that have a good impact in the country areas,” Neville explained.

The couple also continue to do a lot of their own research into appropriate charities to support, and look after around ten grants a year personally.

“My wife and I are quite skilled at finding eligible charities that fit into our Foundation’s aims. Our Foundation has a mission statement which defines the areas of support that we work in. And we pick each of these areas, and then we go looking for relevant charities. There is education, and then there’s hospitals, and medical science, and some Indigenous scholarships. We’re driven by our mission statement.”

One of the activities that the Bertalli Family Foundation is currently involved with is the No Limits Program. Delivered through the Mornington Peninsula Foundation, it’s a linguistic and reading skills program for primary and secondary education in the region.

Neville is excited by what the program is achieving, and believes that the work is incredibly important. He says that the teaching methods used in the last 30 years have not always resulted in great outcomes for students in the areas of reading and speaking. No Limits supports seven primary schools to employ speech pathologists and teacher’s aides to implement lessons that build confident communication through phonics methods. They have been tracking 300 primary school students for three years and are seeing some amazing outcomes.

Neville says that childhood literacy and speaking skills are one of the quite specific areas that the Bertalli Family Foundation seeks to support, and they have committed to funding it for another three years.

Meanwhile, the Bertalli’s continue to put their trust in FRRR’s work, each year giving a sum to the Strengthening Rural Communities small grants program, and another sum to the Back To School program. “They’ve done a pretty good job for 12 years!” He explains.

In the past they have also directed support through FRRR to the Tomorrow Today Foundation via the Benalla & District Community Fund and to the Charlton Community Theatre. Recently, they are ensuring their reach makes it south, too, with a special allocation of funding specifically to projects in Tasmania.

We asked Neville if he had any advice for others in the realm of philanthropy; the businessman was very diplomatic in his response:

“Neither my wife nor I are up to advising others what to do. Really, we would just encourage them to support FRRR, because it’s got a wonderful, Australia wide and rural network of great charities. But I’d be encouraging other people rather than advising!”

FRRR is very proud to work with passionate, intelligent people such as Neville and Di, and look forward to many more years of helping them to direct their support into worthwhile and hard to reach places in remote, rural and regional Australia.

“What we thought was so good about it was that they do lots of small, small grants to non-DGR status charities. This suited our Foundation enormously.”

Mary Jung has a dual role with Pinnacle Investment Management – as the Community Investment Manager for the company, and as the CEO and Company Secretary of the philanthropic arm of the company, which is the Pinnacle Charitable Foundation.

The Pinnacle Charitable Foundation first supported FRRR’s programs in 2011. At that time, it was known as the Wilson HTM Foundation, and donated to the Repair-Restore-Renew programs to support mid-long-term disaster recovery. The Foundation has continued to support a number of programs over the years, and has recently committed a generous $150,000 across FRRR’s programs. The Foundation’s vision is to foster ‘an increasingly clever, creative and compassionate Australia’.

We caught up with Mary to ask a few questions about the partnership with FRRR, and their views on giving in general.

Mary Jung, Pinnacle Charitable Foundation

Can you tell us a little bit about Pinnacle Charitable Foundation, its background and how it sits alongside the business?

The Pinnacle Charitable Foundation has been with Pinnacle since 2016, when Pinnacle became the listed entity forged out of Wilson HTM Limited. The Foundation became aligned with Pinnacle’s business at the end of 2016, starting a new life building on a wonderful legacy of partnerships – including with FRRR. Today, it is very intrinsically linked with the Pinnacle Group, including its affiliated fund managers. They engage closely with the Foundation, which is a central part of a broader sustainability agenda that the company focuses on. It is a very strategic and intrinsic part of the business. Pinnacle has a mission to enable better lives through excellence in investing. And we feel that the Foundation enables better lives through investing in tremendous not-for-profits, who can help communities that we can’t reach.

Why do you believe it’s important to support remote rural and regional communities?

The support to remote regional and rural communities across Australia is really essential. I mean, they are the lifeblood of Australia, but they’re not always communities that we can reach effectively. Pinnacle’s offices are predominantly on the eastern seaboard, and whilst the Group certainly has clients from across the length and breadth of Australia, that’s not the same as being able to reach them and to touch them and to work with them. So, we feel that working through conduits and partners such as FRRR is incredibly important, and it’s something that we’re also incredibly proud to be able to do.

Can you tell me about the interest in supporting flood and bushfire affected communities in particular

Pinnacle as a company – and the Pinnacle Charitable Foundation as its philanthropic arm – tries to be very strategic in its giving, but also very responsive to natural disasters, particularly within Australia. So, flood and fire are, of course, incredibly powerful and impactful across Australia and becoming more frequent than anyone would like to see. So we do believe that it’s important to be nimble and quick and react to those events, and to join in with our employees. We do a lot of matched giving programs; we have a workplace giving program, we run special appeals. And we also believe it’s important not just to support the emergency relief, but to work with entities such as FRRR.

I love that phrase about FRRR rebuilding the social fabric; we often align our giving to the longer-term recovery, because of course, that’s what takes so much time once the bricks and mortar have been rebuilt.

You’ve touched on it, but what was it about FRRR that made you choose to partner with us to work on this important issue?

The Pinnacle Charitable Foundation and its predecessor, Wilson HTM Foundation has always loved the philosophy of FRRR.

We first found FRRR over 10 years ago, when we were looking for a partner who could help us give some disaster relief that was going to be long-term, and the FRRR approach of coming in a little bit later / a little bit down the track resonated with us. We love the idea of community-led, community-driven, community-initiated activity.

And again, we can’t often reach the small grassroots communities, and some don’t have DGR-1 status, so we have worked with FRRR as an auspice entity to help us reach some communities. The recent discussion this year of adapting and evolving and becoming stronger and more vibrant, I think is exceptionally powerful and relevant.

Can you tell us a bit about the Foundation’s other philanthropic activities and partnerships?

The Pinnacle Charitable Foundation works to match and meet the needs of our affiliated fund managers and strategically partner with entities and causes that resonate with them. But at the same time, we have built a framework around key themes with six dedicated focus areas. Within those, the most prominent one is mental wellbeing and mental health, where we partner with R U OK?, ReachOut and batyr. We’ve been on that journey for quite some years actually, long before the pandemic evolved. FRRR sits within that theme, but it’s also a natural fit with our environmental focus, which links closely to our broader sustainability goals and the ESG work that all our fund managers take incredibly seriously.

The other area that we’ve been working with for a number of years, again well before the pandemic, is domestic and family violence. We do a lot of advocacy work in supporting legislative change through a partnership with Full Stop Australia, as well as facilitating legal help and legal advice to help sufferers access courts and jurisdictions and legal options. Another key area is around children facing acute and systemic disadvantage, as is medical research. We work with CMRI for very young children and congenital genetic defects. And we work at the other end of the spectrum with Alzheimer’s research, with the Australian Alzheimer’s Research Foundation based in Perth. We also work in the kindness area – we work with COVID kindness, as we call it, with the Kindness Factory with a school’s based Kindness Curriculum, and we work with the YWCA to help women over 50 who are homeless, which is the fastest growing cohort in Australia. So, six areas, quite broad, but it gives us a thematic scope that we can stick to.

Do you have any advice to other philanthropic organisations or individuals, when choosing a not for profit to partner with?

When we’re looking for not-for-profit partners, apart from the due diligence, and the checking of the actual factual parameters around how they can work with us, I think it’s about being very clear as a funder on why you’re doing it, how it fits, and whether the values are aligned.

I know that sounds logical, but I think values alignment builds trust – and trust has been the incredible ingredient that I think has been so important in the last two years. I’ve certainly found that having enormous trust with our partners has meant that when inevitably, with COVID, they’ve had to chop and change and swap their priorities and their activities in their initiatives, it’s been a happy conversation and an open conversation, not one that’s been full of angst or any sense of duress. So, I think that gets back to values, which gives you that trust. And I think the other thing, too, is to look at it through a lens of flexibility and long term.

I really think that the long-term aspect of giving is incredibly important. And I think for both parties, I think if you’re going to invest and you’re going to make an impact, you need to have time to do that.