Q&A: Melissa Gibson, Chair of Len Reynolds Trust

July 3, 2018

Lawyer and soon-to-be mum of three, Melissa Gibson is Chairperson of The Len Reynolds Trust which was established in 1966 by farmers Len and Ada. The Trust aims to build partnerships with Waikato community organisations by financially supporting families, community based education, the environment and social well-being.

  1. Can you tell us a bit about what you do and how you became appointed Chairperson of the Len Reynolds Trust?

Originally, I became involved with the Trust as the law firm I work for, McCaw Lewis, acts for the Len Reynolds Trust. Our role at that stage was as lawyers for the Trust.  Over time, I was appointed a trustee, and then as the Chairperson. It became obvious that the Trust had the potential to be something amazing thanks to the generosity of the Reynolds family. The Trust has certainly come a long way since I first became a trustee in 2012.

  1. What do you enjoy most about working with the Len Reynolds Trust?

I am really lucky to have been involved with the Trust through such a transformation. It has been an amazing process to be a part of and I am very lucky to have the opportunity to make a difference to the Waikato community through the amazing generosity of this family.  When I first became involved, we didn’t have a particular focus or criteria (our trust deed is very wide), and we wanted to be true to the legacy of the Reynolds family.  We have three family members who are current trustees, and through them, we have been able to get a sense of what the founders may have wanted for the Trust and where the focus best lay.  We enlisted the help of Community Waikato to guide us. They helped to set up our initial development plan, which then led to a strategic plan. The Trust has grown from strength to strength each year.  The trustees are all really excited for what the future may hold for the Trust.

  1. The Trust’s families funding round is currently open. Can you tell us some history around this fund?

We fund four areas – families, community based education, the environment and social well-being.  These are now in four funding rounds each financial year. The families fund is set up with the following needs/goals in mind:

(a)                Children are the future so their lives need to be made better. Those areas of high socio-economic deprivation have proportionally more children living in them.

(b)               In the region, cases of child abuse and neglect are higher than the national average.


• To decrease child abuse and child poverty in the region.
• To have a Waikato where all children are raised in safe families, connected to their communities.

  1. Can you share details on any recent major projects, new directions or achievements at the Trust?

The Trust is currently going through an exciting time of change. Some of the things on the agenda for the Len Reynolds Trust this year are:

  • We have just closed for applications for our second funding round using video applications. We did this for multi-year funding last year as a different approach to traditional applications for funding. In our experience, it is more compelling to listen to groups and hear what they have to say about their work rather than reading an application. When you watch a video, it gives groups a chance to show you their work, and their passion is always obvious. We recently had an environmental funding round open with video applications. The board is meeting in July and we watch every application video which we received.
  • We have just subscribed to SmartyGrants. This is the first year we have had four funding rounds – the past three years we had one funding round which covered all of our funding areas. We found this quite difficult to manage—we were reviewing 150 applications at one time, in four very different areas. We are hopeful that by having four rounds and by using SmartyGrants, we will have more time to focus on each application and as a result, make better and more thoughtful funding decisions.
  • With the change from one to four funding rounds, we have moved to having external people from the community on our funding allocation committees. We hope to have more representation this way.
  • We have launched our new website. Until this year, we have kept a relatively low profile (starting a Facebook page last year).
  • We are spending more time visiting the groups we support.
  • We are increasing the amount we give away. The first year I was involved with the Trust, we gave away $70,000.  This year we are giving away over $925,000.
  • We launched our collaboration fund this year. As part of this, we joined the Working Together More Fund. This is an exciting opportunity for the Trust to learn from other family foundations and to be involved with a collaboration of funders, supporting collaboration. We are also looking to collaborate with another Waikato funder. This part of the fund is in the planning phase.
  • We have a “Rainy Day Fund”. We saw a need to have some funding available to be able to respond to events that cannot be planned for (such as natural catastrophic events). This fund isn’t open for applications but is available if there is an emergency which may require financial support.
  • Each trustee has the opportunity to allocate a certain level of funding as they see fit. We have found this to be a really good way for the trustees to be involved with their local communities, to be better engaged with the sector and to be better engaged with the work we are doing.

Len Reynolds Trust Funding Infograph 2018

  1. Finish the sentence

For me, good philanthropy is:

  1. Challenging tradition—just because something has always been done a certain way, it doesn’t mean that is the way that it should continue to be done
  2. Trusting the organisations we are there to support
  3. Being innovative6. What do you like to do when you’re not at work?I am a mum of 2 (soon to be 3) children and they keep me pretty busy when I am not at work. I also volunteer for the Serve Trust in Hamilton (an organisation which serves a hot meal 365 days of the year). I tend to have a community project or two on the go at any given time—I am currently on the establishment group of the Waikato Women’s Fund which launches on 31 July.
  • Thank you Melissa