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Philanthropy Bryant-style

Dan Bryant didn’t like the word philanthropy.  He saw his assistance as a “charitable investment” not giving out charity – a “hand up” rather than a “hand out”.  During the 1930s depression and in the 1940s following the end of World War II, he worked with the Waikato Land Settlement Society and then on the ‘Waikato Campaign’, to help families on to their own farms by providing cheap mortgages.  Approximately one hundred families benefited from these two initiatives. 

The DV Bryant Trust has continued Dan’s ‘charitable investments’ by way of “compassionate financing” - offering low or no interest loans to help churches, schools and other community organisations with building projects, long before the term “social lending” became trendy. 

In the mid 1970s the Trust bought the first of eight ‘welfare properties’ that were then leased to community organisations at a nominal rent.  The only such property the Trust continues to own is 65 Victoria Street that is leased to Prisoners Aid and Rehabilitation Society (PARS) Waikato.

Bryant Memorial Scholarships were introduced in 1970 and over twenty one years they paid school fees for approximately 100 secondary school students.

Whilst the Trust’s assistance has primarily been targeted at organisations, Dan had access to an imprest account that enabled him to respond to need without having to consult the Board on every occasion.  This tradition continues today through trustee grants.  Each Trustee has a nominated amount per year to give to a chosen cause.

Publicising the Trust’s work has been a contentious issue over the years.  It was not until 1990 that the Trust rescinded its policy of requiring anonymity regarding grants.  This shunning of publicity led a former Mayor to call the DV Bryant Trust the “secret trust”. 

Ironically the Trust has not been afraid to employ what historian Rosaline McClean calls the Board’s “longstanding tactic of quiet persuasion” in advocating to either central and/or local government on issues of justice.  One notable example was successfully challenging the Hamilton City Council’s 1993 decision to rate the city’s social housing providers at commercial rates.   

McClean goes on to acknowledge that “although its culture has been conservative, and its public voice quiet, some of the Trust’s most innovative actions … have come about simply because of its willingness to listen and to step out beyond the frame of its own social knowledge and expectations”.