Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal (FRRR)

By Jill Karena, Place Portfolio Lead

Philanthropy invests significantly in communities by making grants right across Australia. In FRRR’s case, we are focused on supporting remote, rural and regional communities, especially grassroots organisations that often can’t access traditional philanthropy. However, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, which is why we offer a range of programs – some where we work deeply over multiple years through place-based initiatives to build the capacity of a group of local not for profits, and others where we work broadly through our small grants programs – offering up to $25,000, although most are around $10,000.

These small grants programs are our most in-demand which are well suited to co-funding approaches that enable collective contributions to achieve more together and create leverage for funders and communities. While not always ‘sexy’, the needs met through these grants address areas of disadvantage and basic quality of life in communities with little visibility to funders and policymakers. They range from upgrading toilets and kitchens, which improves accessibility of community facilities, to installing air-conditioners to manage climate extremes, and seed funding new ideas to stimulate new approaches to volunteering, health services, and disaster preparedness. Moreover, their value goes far beyond the dollars themselves. From more than 20 years of experience, we can safely say that in the case of many grassroots community groups, small is good.

Valuing community connection between generations: Arts Deloraine’s WinterFire 2023 Festival was awarded $25,000 from the Strengthening Rural Communities 2022 Flood Recovery Fund.

Small grants, big impact

By their very nature, small grants are simpler to navigate and have lower barriers to entry, making them more appealing to a wider range of organisations. Some grant programs, like FRRR’s Strengthening Rural Communities, also offer expert support by phone or email, making the process even easier.

Small grants can be the straightforward and friendly ‘front door’ through which grassroots organisations can step to build their capability, connect their community and navigate and drive change. In fact, for many communities experiencing disadvantage, small grants are one of the few ways that they can get the resources and opportunities to launch new ideas or approaches in their communities. And they deliver far more than just money.

Dipping a toe in, learning as they go

For communities that have not applied for funding before, small grants build their experience and confidence in developing project ideas, applying for funding, project management, budgeting and meeting reporting requirements. In the last 12 months, more than a third of Strengthening Rural Communities grant applicants (503 organisations) were first time applicants.  Even if they aren’t successful the first time around, constructive feedback, such as the detailed information we always offer to unsuccessful applicants, can give them the confidence to apply again.

Biting off just what they can chew

Many communities are great at developing a long-term vision for their community that might focus on local services, economic development, environmental sustainability or climate change adaption but much as they’d like to do so, it’s simply not possible to achieve everything at once. Small grants enable a community to tackle making those big changes one project at a time. This supports them to make incremental progress against their long-term goals, while the lower scrutiny and risk associated with a small amount of funding can be less anxiety-inducing for organisations who are new to grant seeking.

Attracting more funding

Securing their first small grant is a pivotal moment for an organisation. It’s not just about funding support – it is also a recognition of the value of an organisation’s work and its ability to contribute to their community’s future. Once they’ve been successful, it’s often a catalyst for aiming higher and developing self-belief and self-reliance to create positive change in their community.

Demonstrating that they can successfully manage their first small grant and deliver tangible results builds an organisation’s credibility and can help open the door to securing larger grants to scale-up their project or take on a more ambitious idea. Often, it’s also the vote of confidence that other donors need to see to also come in and support the group’s work.

Getting to work sooner

Small grants usually have shorter application and approval timelines and offer more flexibility to enable communities to tailor projects to meet local priorities and needs, or quickly respond to unexpected disasters and other shocks. Smaller grants also usually come with fewer restrictions and reporting requirements compared to larger grants, which can often make it easier to negotiate with the funder to adapt their project if conditions change.

Finding and piloting local solutions

The flexibility of small grants also encourages communities to experiment with local problem solving, potentially sparking new approaches that are scalable or portable to other communities. Often small grants are seed funding to pilot locally generated or adopted ideas that are not of interest to larger grant programs. Using small grant funding to demonstrate the viability of a community idea can generate the evidence needed to secure larger grants or other support to bring the idea to reality.

“Thank you so much for providing the funds for this grant. This renovation has given Council initiative to support the Toy Library by maintaining the building so we can provide an inviting space and nurturing space for the community. The Toy Library has had many, many years of dedication by passionate volunteers to support and nurture the children of Tamworth and I think it deserves it!

When I started as president the library looked awful and didn’t reflect the commitment, love and pride that our small but dedicated group deserved. Now I feel like our space reflects our organisation. An important community organisation that cares and values the children, parents and carers of Tamworth and feels that learning through play is core to a child’s life and development! Another positive change is that the renovations have been a catalyst for council to complete much needed (and much requested) maintenance on the building by fixing gutters, replacing doors and cracked tiles and replacing the old sink and toilet.”

Tamworth Toy Library Incorporated

Connecting the Community

Fostering unity by recovering together and increasing tourism: Performers at WinterFire 2023, Deloraine, in Tasmania.

Small grants also offer a reason for different groups in the community to work together to develop and deliver projects that are meaningful and manageable. When community members, other community organisations and Local Government see the results from a small grant project that makes their community better, it is a great morale booster, and they are more likely to be motivated to get involved in future community initiatives.

“The event’s success lies in its ability to bring the community together, boost the local economy, and celebrate cultural heritage. The event provided a platform for residents to come together after the floods, share their experiences, and rebuild social connections. Through artistic workshops, events, and exhibitions, community members bonded over shared creative experiences, fostering unity and a sense of belonging.”

Arts Deloraine – festival / youth workshops (flood recovery)

Building local capacity

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The Rotary Club of Kinglake Ranges was awarded $1,100 through the Community Group Futures Program. This funded governance training to improve management and support of local community groups.

It’s not just the mere fact of offering smaller-value grants that makes an impact. It’s what those grants fund that also helps to build local capacity, especially in small communities or where a new group has formed. For example, many of the grants FRRR funds are about helping groups build their own capacity – whether that’s the likes of governance training or strategic planning support.

“The grant received for strategic planning has paid for itself many times over. We had members who had ideas in their head but didn’t know how to plan or implement them. Since receiving the grant, we’ve been able to increase attendance of our market to over 5000 visitors in November 2021! We’ve also been able to provide free stalls to local community groups to increase their outreach. This also has a flow on effect to small businesses in the town. The pub is booked out for lunch, little local businesses thrive due to the amazing success of the market.”

Rotary Club of Kinglake Ranges

Bigger is not always better

Often, we hear suggestions that larger grants are better – but the reality is that many of the most deserving groups in the smallest and most remote locations simply will not – or indeed simply are not able to – apply for many of those grant opportunities.

While it’s great to see larger grants made available to communities, especially through Government programs, it is critical that we not lose sight of how important small grants are in strengthening capability and capacity in remote, rural and regional communities. Small communities, as you might guess, are, well… small! This can make it hard to compete with larger communities, especially when it comes to demonstrating measures of impact which funders often ask for – small communities can’t point to economies of scale or large numbers of beneficiaries.

With fewer people to draw on, volunteers are often stretched and there are less likely to be paid resources or an experienced grant writer to chase high-value grants or manage large-scale projects. Groups often won’t apply because they don’t have the capacity to meet the reporting requirements or to manage the other governance expectations, such as the frequency of reporting or detailed probity plans. Even the prospect of managing large sums of money can be scary for a first-time grant applicant and some small communities can find it simply overwhelming!

What makes small grants so impactful in rural and remote Australia is their flexibility and relative simplicity, which means they’re more accessible and attractive to those communities that don’t have the resources to wrestle with the complexities of large grants. So we urge all those who are working so hard to grow the funds that are directed via the social sector to make sure that small grants continue to be a key stream of funding. If you’re funding large grants, consider coupling that with some smaller grant funding as well – they may well become organisations you’re able to fund in the future. Or, if you’re funding with a very tight focus, consider how small grants with more flexibility may bring unexpected pathways to that impact. Of course, we always welcome more partners for our collaboratively-funded Strengthening Rural Communities program, so get in touch if you’d like to know more.

Grants provide ongoing support

Seven not-for-profit organisations (NFPs) in Batemans Bay are sharing $131,106 in grants for capacity-building projects that will strengthen these groups, so they can continue to support their communities.

Strengthening Batemans Bay not-for-profits

Funded through FRRR’s Investing in Rural Community Futures (IRCF) program, in partnership with The Snow Foundation, these grants will help these local NFPs with funding for needs and opportunities prioritised through the Community Roadmap.

IRCF is a five-year program designed to provide local NFPs with the tools and support they need to make lasting impacts in their areas of focus for the community. Alongside grants, FRRR is providing resource and support to help bring these plans to life.

The Roadmap was developed through extensive and ongoing community consultation that charted shared priorities and concerns. These grants are for projects conceived in response to the issues identified through this process.

In the seven grants awarded, there was a strong focus on supporting digital transformation, training and networking. Funding will assist organisations in responding to people in need and relieve stress in organisations, which is aggravated by an ever-increasing compliance burden and the ongoing challenges of COVID-19.

Alli Mudford, FRRR’s People Portfolio Lead, said that the IRCF program is now in its second year of helping local NFPs to respond to each community’s specific context and support their long-term sustainability.

“One of the great positives of this program is that local groups come together to share their strengths and ideas to gain a more sustainable foothold in community giving and support. It’s been fantastic to see so many organisations keen to get involved, to collaborate and increase their capacity as a sector to better support their communities,” Ms Mudford said.

“It’s also wonderful to see local organisations stepping up and taking on lead roles. That includes Batemans Bay Rotary, who are coordinating digital skills and systems training, and ongoing IT support to link community services, charities and clubs and enable digital transformation.

“Eurobadalla Shire’s South Coast Health and Sustainability Alliance will contract Community Facilitators, who will assist grassroots NFPs in Batemans Bay to benefit from the IRCF program.

“Other grants will help increase awareness in the community of service availability, such as Eurobodalla Education and Therapy Services who will refresh their brand and update communication and marketing materials for Muddy Puddles, to increase awareness and understanding of the diverse services available.

The four other grant recipients in the Batemans Bay region are:

  • The Circle Foundation Cooperative Ltd – Building capacity for operations, fundraising and community co-design – Critically timed support to enable the Circle Foundation to move from start-up concept to feasibility stage of development. $20,000
  • Clyde River and Batemans Bay Historical Society Inc – Creative Ways to Recruit and Retain our Volunteers – Host a workshop to train the BBHS’s partner NFPs to create action plans for better volunteer recruitment and retention. $6,426
  • Eurobodalla Woodcraft Guild Incorporated – Eurobodalla Woodies Mogo Workshop – Commission the professional services required to support the rebuilding of the Woodies workshop that was lost in the Black Summer fires to enable reconstruction to commence and operations to resume as soon as possible. $10,000
  • The Family Place Inc – Managing Growth in Recovery Appoint a part-time resource to support fundraising, compliance and governance enhancements needed by the Family Place to respond to rapidly escalating demands from vulnerable families. $20,000

In addition to Batemans Bay, the IRCF South Coast program is also working in Nowra and Ulladulla with the support of The Snow Foundation, and in Bay & Basin with the support of Bendigo Bank Community Enterprise Foundation, and in Junee, Leeton and Nambucca Valley in partnership with the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation.

For more information about the Investing in Rural Community Futures program visit –  https://frrr.org.au/ircf-program/.

Calling all not-for-profits in rural Australia

The Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal (FRRR) is calling on leaders of not-for-profit organisations and community groups across remote, rural and regional Australia to tell it like it is in the Foundation’s inaugural Heartbeat of Rural Australia study.

Make your voice heard in the Heartbeat of Rural Australia study

Established in 2000, FRRR is a charity dedicated to connecting the genuine local needs of remote, rural and regional people and places with the good will of government, business and philanthropy. Since 2000, FRRR has distributed more than $115 million in grants to more than 11,000 rural projects.

Working deeply in rural communities over the past 21 years means that FRRR is acutely aware of the critical role that small not-for-profit organisations and community groups play in keeping their communities vibrant and resilient.

However, Natalie Egleton, FRRR’s CEO, says that not everyone outside of these rural communities knows or understands it.

“Many organisations find it tough to keep going at the best of times, but we know that many places have been heavily impacted by drought, fires, floods, the mouse plague and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic – often in succession – and the cumulative impacts are really significant. But how significant? What does it mean for their future?

“There is funding and support being channelled to these communities, but is it getting to the right places? Is it delivered in the right way? What exactly has the impact been of events like the bushfires and COVID on community groups? How are they getting funding to keep going? How are they resourcing themselves, given the volunteer fatigue?

“Our day-to-day work means that we know that without these volunteer-led groups, there would be a lot more gaps in the critical services that sustain remote, rural and regional communities across Australia. But because there is not really any hard data to measure the value of the work they do, and the challenges they face, it’s nearly impossible to quantify the important economic, social and cultural role of these groups.

“We have lots of anecdotal evidence to answer these questions from the thousands of grant applications we’ve seen in the last 18 months and our day to day conversations, but the reality is that is only a snapshot.

“That’s why we have commissioned this study. We need some hard data to inform policy and ensure that funding gets where it’s needed,” Ms Egleton said.

For this survey to be meaningful, FRRR needs as many local community groups as possible from remote, rural and regional communities to participate.

“We’re encouraging responses groups and organisations working with and representing the diversity of the people and places that make up country Australia to ensure we are telling as much of the story of remote, rural, and regional Australia as possible.”

The results of the study will be shared widely with government, philanthropy and business, to inform and influence policy. The report will also provide local groups with the evidence they need to successfully advocate for their community and to tell their stories.

“This survey will be a great tool to provide you and the people you live alongside, with the help and assistance that you need. So, it’s important that you make your voice heard, tell your story and help to shape the future of your community,” Ms Egleton said.

To complete the survey and share it across your community, go to https://frrr.org.au/heartbeat.