Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal

Portland House Foundation (PHF) is a family foundation based in Melbourne. They first connected with FRRR in 2013 when they donated to BlazeAid’s not-for-profit Fundraising Account held with FRRR. In the last few years, PHF has supported FRRR’s Strengthening Rural Communities and Back to School programs, including bushfire streams. In total, they’ve generously donated more than half a million dollars to support Victoria’s remote, rural and regional communities.

In this Q&A, Paula Thomson, Philanthropy Manager at Portland House Foundation shares their appreciation and understanding of the challenges that disadvantaged members of remote, rural and regional communities can face, and their belief that small grants are often the seed funding needed to support an idea that will make a big difference to local people and their livelihoods. PHF has a history of collaboration, in fact they see it as the key to funding. 

Can you tell us a little about Portland House Foundation, its background, and what impact you’re seeking to achieve through your generosity?

Portland House Foundation (PHF) is a Melbourne family’s giving vehicle, and began operating in 2004. It has a charter that’s aimed at moving people out of disadvantage. 

Why do you believe that it is important to support remote, rural and regional communities?

While there are many aspects of rural and regional living that exemplify community and connection, we understand there can also be disadvantages in living long distances from major cities. Services and specialist health care are often scarce, meaningful employment opportunities for young people can be rare, and the smaller populations means there are fewer people to support community projects. We recognise that responsibility often falls to the same people in small communities to get great ideas off the ground, and they often just need seed funding to help them on their way. These small grants go a long way in places where volunteers and in-kind support are plentiful.PHF funding is generally focussed on Victoria, and on the importance of maintaining the vibrancy, health and wellbeing of the small communities that provide food, fibre and cultural fabric of Australian life. Where we can, we like to co-fund too.

Since 2013 Portland House Foundation has donated more than half a million dollars to FRRR to support rural, regional and remote communities. Can you tell us more about who else you’ve partnered with and what impacts that has had?

PHF has a history of giving through community foundations, and the devolved giving has extended our reach in various communities from inner city to regional areas.

PHF has partnered with Northern Rivers Community Foundation, Border Trust and Inner North Community Foundation. The impact of all these funding relationships is the closer understanding they have of their local communities, which we could never achieve from our Collins Street location.  These organisations give us eyes and ears on the ground, and local acumen which is worth so much in attracting the right projects and tracking the outcomes for locals.

FRRR was a natural fit when we sought to benefit rural Victorians, and particularly to support bushfire recovery. In the beginning, it was the understanding that FRRR really has the best reach into smaller remote and rural communities. We’ve been able to support a wide range of projects that we might not be able to fund directly, such as:

  • the refurbishment of Corryong Youth Hall, so they are better equipped to support the community during emergency events such as the Black Summer bushfires; and
  • enabling the Mallacoota and District Historical Society to repair damaged grounds from the fires and create a native bush walk.

More broadly funds have been used to support local arts programs; healthcare equipment; software that helps aged care residents connect with their families to reduce social isolation and many more.

Over the years, Portland House Foundation has contributed to several collaboratively funded grant programs run by FRRR. Do you see benefits in collaboratively funded programs?

PHF is pleased to have funds pooled and projects shared with other funders, collaboration will always be key in funding. Many hands make light work. For example – we have been contributing to FRRR’s Back to School and Strengthening Rural Communities programs including their additional bushfire streams. It’s so heartening to know that this year PHF’s contribution supported 1,054 students and families with $50 Back to School vouchers in places affected by the Black Summer bushfires. The distribution of these vouchers is assisted by local community organisations and community foundations, ensuring they get to the children and families who need a helping hand. It would be very difficult for a family foundation like ours to have such far reach and support so many without collaboration.

A great example of this is when our funds were combined with The Ross Trust to enable the Centre of Participation to purchase a coffee machine and other accessories for their ‘Harmony Van’. It is used to provide hospitality and food handling training to migrant women and disabled youth across the Wimmera Southern Mallee region.

How would you describe your relationship with FRRR / If someone asked you about working with FRRR, what would you tell them?

We would recommend FRRR to any donor wishing to reach small communities in regional Australia. The aspect of FRRR that allows funding of non DGR projects is a distinct advantage, as is the reach into areas that metro based entities cannot easily achieve. We have found the FRRR team flexible and accommodating in recommending projects that fit our charter, and importantly meet the needs and priorities of local communities.

Finally, do you have any advice to other philanthropic organisations / individuals when choosing a not-for-profit to partner with?

Philanthropy is such a great way to learn about the world around us, so don’t wait until you’re an expert. Seek out experts like FRRR and reap the benefits of their networks. Work with people you trust, who have access to projects you could never reach and enjoy the learning that comes from branching out.

Over the years, Fundraising Accounts, formerly known as Donation Accounts, have helped many groups in rural and regional Australia with their work in natural disaster recovery, especially where they are large and daunting projects.

One such group, which we profiled in our last Annual Review, is BlazeAid. They coordinate the efforts of volunteers to support farmers and residents impacted by natural disasters. Not only do they help to build fences and repair infrastructure, but they also restore the spirits of natural disaster survivors who may have lost family and friends, pets, stock, homes and property.

The donation account helps them raise funds to do this work, by providing tax deductible status to their donors.

BlazeAid’s remarkable achievements

Since we published the Annual Review, we’ve received an update from BlazeAid, with some truly remarkable statistics about what they achieved in 2014:

  • 1,397 volunteers contributed 14,671 volunteer days building and repairing fences and stock yards, cleaning and painting homes and shearers’ quarters, carpentry, mechanical and whitegood repairs, caretaking and helping with childcare and home education.
  • Assisted 513 properties across Victoria, South Australia and Queensland fire and drought affected areas.
  • More than 50% of their operational expenses relate to catering and fuel costs, a significant portion of which is in relation to their Drought Relief work in Queensland, where volunteers travelled long distances, and were self-sufficient with meals.
Tax deductible status attracts donors

We wanted to share this story to highlight to other groups that may be faced with recovering from some of the recent natural disasters across the country that a Fundraising Account could make a difference to your ability to fundraise to get things back up and running.

For donors, it’s also a great way to channel your support directly to areas in need, while also receiving the tax deduction.