Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal (FRRR)

This article is a personal reflection from our IRCF Program Facilitator in Ulladulla, Monica.

Over the past five years, the IRCF program has woven a rich tapestry of community growth and cultural understanding through an array of touchpoints, workshops, group discussions, events and training sessions. These have allowed community members to network and learn a little bit more about our local Indigenous culture.

As the Ulladulla Community Facilitator, I’ve had the privilege of participating in numerous Welcome to Country ceremonies, each one deepening my appreciation for our connection to this beautiful land and its traditional custodians. I have also enjoyed hearing many community members personalising their Acknowledgements of Country and learning about their connection to this beautiful Yuin nation.

Some of my memorable experiences with community members include:

  • Participating in my first smoking ceremony to officially open the High School Sanctuary;
  • Witnessing artist Nicole Smede sing in the Dhurga language where her beautiful voice resonated with the spirit of our culture, reminding us of the importance of preserving endangered languages as well as endangered species;
  • Didgeridoo meditation with Matt King;
  • Standing barefoot, with my hand being painted in ochre;
  • Listening to Elders speak about the endangered Black Cockatoo;
  • The moving sounds of clapsticks; and
  • The graceful dances and storytelling that provided deep insights into Indigenous traditions.

I have also enjoyed sitting in circle with the Ulladulla Yarning Mob to explore how we can help them connect to cultural practices, as well as discussing with local groups how they can learn more about culture and support our local Indigenous service providers.

Throughout our road mapping, workshops, and discussions, we embraced the ancient practice of ‘Sitting in Circle.’ This method, rooted in Indigenous cultural ways, ensures everyone has an equal seat at the table, fostering safe spaces for discussion and allowing for the sharing of passions and perspectives. One local resident, Webby from Lake Conjola, commented that this inclusive hosting method made him feel ‘safe and heard’ and encouraged him to explore various community activities.

Sitting in Circle has also empowered our community to bravely tackle important and difficult conversations. We’ve explored collective needs over individual priorities. Exploring ways to support local Indigenous and other minority groups through our community vision and principles, conversations, offers of support and actions.

I am grateful for the opportunities the IRCF program has provided, allowing myself and many community members to continue our lifelong journey of learning about Indigenous culture. My heartfelt thanks go to the local Indigenous community members who have generously answered our questions, supported and inspired our learning.

Following Black Summer, the Women’s Resource Centre (WRC) identified the need for more volunteers around women’s issues in Bega Valley. So, they decided to create a role for a Volunteer Program and Activities Coordination Project Worker.

Among the responsibilities of the role were:

  • Revising induction processes and forms;
  • Maintaining regular communication with volunteers;
  • Ongoing support and supervision of volunteers;
  • Developing rosters;
  • Designing recruitment and workshop flyers;
  • Liaising with workshop facilitators; and
  • Liaising with other community organisations about volunteer opportunities.

Jade Simpson was recruited into the paid role, working 21 hours a week, supported through FRRR’s IRCF program. Bringing a wealth of insight on the local community and exceptional interpersonal skills to the role, Jade’s been highly successful in recruiting and retaining volunteers at the WRC. During the project, 21 women volunteered more than 350 hours of time at the Centre, taking on roles such as meet and greet, gardening, organising and tidying the Centre, providing admin support and contributing to the Southern Women’s Group historical research project. Jade has also been instrumental in the facilitation of more than 17 workshops. Several volunteers have now become regular weekly contributors, while others have since transitioned to work opportunities.

Jade says that a key element of success has been training, both for herself and WRC Manager Jane Hughes, in addition to the volunteers. Topics included grant writing; suicide prevention; digital mentoring; volunteer recruitment and retention; and domestic violence awareness.

According to Jade, the key to success however was having a clear plan for engagement and sharing the outcomes from the increased volunteering. This included speaking with local media to promote volunteering and at events such as Mental Health Week, the National volunteer Week Celebration, the ‘Many Hands’ Volunteer Expo and to Bega Valley Shire Council.

Having this role allowed Jane to focus on efficiently running the busy Centre in her own limited work hours and to be more readily available to the women accessing the service. The impact of the role has been so significant that WRC has been successful in obtaining further funding to maintain the role for a greater length of time.

“Jade has been incredible, the project has significantly increased volunteer engagement at the WRC. Her hard work has made it possible for us to provide essential training opportunities, to facilitate stronger community engagement and crucially, to work towards securing the continuity of the volunteer coordinator role through various grant applications,” Jane told us.

There are often significant and unexpected benefits when NFPs are given support to build their networks and develop strong and effective systems.

A case in point is the Tomerong School of Arts (TSA) in NSW. It manages the Tomerong Hall, which has been a community owned and managed facility since 1926. But they noticed lingering impacts from COVID, including social isolation. When the area lost access to local media outlets, and with internet access in the area poor, it was difficult to let locals to know about opportunities to come together.

Through the IRCF program, TSA sought funding to enhance communication within the community. They opted for a two-part plan designed to strengthen community networks, develop partnerships between NFPs and businesses, and generally foster social capital. 

The first project was to create a Welcome Guide for people new to the area, containing information about other NFP’s in the area, available resources, activities at the Hall and the monthly markets. The second was the development and distribution of four newsletters, called the “Tomerong Trumpet”.

The publications were all developed locally, with input from an editor and local artists and published by a local printer. A variety of contributions were also made by local services, people and NFPs. Editorials in the newsletter included information on community fundraising activities and social events, community services and newly established businesses such as Dave’s Coffee Van, based at Tomerong Hall.

With people not having individual mailboxes in the area, distribution was facilitated by several businesses and community services, including Tomerong Post Office, the Tomerong markets and the School of Arts themselves. Digital copies were also made available through social media.

This new way of communicating yielded multiple benefits, including an opportunity for community members to learn journalism, website development and communication skills. In fact, the quality of the Welcome Guide and newsletters was so high that the Editor was approached by various local businesses for advertising. The resulting revenue was used to print beautiful, glossy covers for the publications.

The impact of this project cannot be understated. There has been a 56% increase in the number of stall holders at the Tomerong markets and a 48% increase in market attendees. There has also been an increase in the quantity and diversity of activities at Tomerong School of Arts, with the hall being hired for Yoga, Tai Chi, NDIS groups, weddings, memorials, events during Harmony Week, by the LGBTGIA+ community and various dance groups.

The Hall has become a hub of activity and a source of wellbeing and information for everyone in the community and they were even required to expand their management committee with two additional members.

Perhaps most important of all though, the communication activities have had wonderful ripple effects, including introducing local residents to each other & consolidating a wonderful sense of community. A great example of how this organisation delivered on their goals to better connect with people in their local area and help them become more responsive to community needs and aspirations.

Through IRCF, we saw that organisations that had capability in forming and nurturing partnerships and could engage with multiple community perspectives experienced a greater impact from being involved in the program. This reinforces that strong collaboration is built from experience, different skills and approaches. This was explored recently in more depth at a workshop in the Nambucca Valley.

Bowraville Social Enterprise Precinct (BISEP) has held a series of activities to equip themselves with resources to support the Nambucca Valley community moving forward. Recently, Robin Clayfield shared her expertise in supporting organisations and grassroots community groups to work together effectively for positive change at a session called Dynamic Groups and Sociocracy.


The workshop offered interactive ways for groups to develop a strong sense of culture and clear strategy that is inclusive of multiple perspectives. Robin ensured the group was aware of the facilitation techniques she was using so that they had the ability to use the new skills immediately. She also offered the group an introduction into Sociocracy and the opportunity to practice the process, an interesting methodology that enables diverse groups to work together on a shared purpose, while maintaining autonomy.


The group that gathered included old and new faces, which confirmed that community engagement efforts are paying off. The digital system and communications platform also initiated through IRCF and managed by the organisation, The Valley Hub, is an ongoing form of engagement and is amplifying efforts to connect the community. We’d love to hear how your organisation is harnessing systems to engage local NFPs and residents and ultimately create a stronger community.

Roadmap workshops have been an important part of the IRCF program in each community. Each year in each of the eight participating communities, a diverse group of people from across the community sector comes together to harness each other’s knowledge and together map out what will make the greatest difference in their community.

The competitive nature of many funding and granting programs can hinder collaboration between not-for-profits. The annual IRCF roadmapping process is a space for the community to ‘un-learn’ competition and build enhanced local partnerships and relationships.

One South Coast participant reflected that, “Roadmapping was brilliant. We had a big demographic of people, and it made everything very concise and clear.”

Each roadmap developed is a unique reflection of the priorities of each IRCF community, with a few recurring themes. One of those recurring themes is engaging young people as the next generation of leadership for communities and the not-for-profit sector. This was tackled head on when young people from Ulladulla High School came together in March to develop a roadmap of their own.

The result: a ‘Youth Roadmap’ for the community with some brilliant ideas for how young people can work alongside existing community organisations, events and infrastructure to enhance them and get the next generation more involved. There is now a movement for change building in partnership with local backbone organisation, the Dunn Lewis Centre.

So why is developing a roadmap so important? They create a shared vision that can act as a map for how the community – and young people – can move forward together with greater connection and a shared vision and common goals for a thriving future.

More than $120,000 awarded to local not-for-profits

FRRR and Gardiner Foundation have awarded $124,478 to 27 community groups across Gippsland, South Western and Northern Victoria for local initiatives that will support, strengthen and sustain their dairying regions.

Group of people
South Western Victorian recipients attended the 2024 Gardiner Foundation Community Grants presentation and workshop in Warrnambool

For 22 years, the Gardiner Foundation Community Grants program has empowered not-for-profit organisations in Victoria’s dairy communities to create and lead projects that help locals to connect and support their farming regions to be sustainable and vibrant places to live and work.

This year, Victoria’s dairying regions will be boosted by a wide range of community-led projects including:

  • Building resilience and cultural vibrancy in Lockington, by providing musical equipment for the Locky Ukers’ community ukele practice and performance;
  • Improving Anam Cara House Colac Inc’s organisational infrastructure by installing a solar panel system to reduce operational costs and allow for savings to increase care services; and
  • Supporting Fabelo Incorporated to improve community health and social wellbeing by contributing to young children’s learning activities at a local festival in Fish Creek.

Allan Cameron, Gardiner Foundation CEO, said that the organisation’s longstanding partnership with FRRR has enabled it to invest more than $2.4 million in Victoria’s dairying regions.

“The Community Grants Program aims to support purpose-driven, not-for-profit organisations in rural and regional Victoria by enhancing their capacity to serve their local communities effectively.

“Since the program began in 2003, we have supported over 600 projects across the state. These grants provide crucial financial support to community groups, helping them overcome challenges as they work to revitalise their communities.

“We take pride in recognising the remarkable efforts of these groups within their communities, often carried out voluntarily, and in assisting them by funding projects that they believe will significantly enhance community resilience,” Mr Cameron said.

Jill Karena, FRRR Place Portfolio Lead, said that the impact that the Gardiner Foundation Community Grants program has had over the past 22 years is a testament to what is possible through collaboration with partners like Gardiner Foundation.

“Not-for-profits work tirelessly to strengthen and grow the social and cultural fabric of their communities. But with the current economic landscape and climate-related transitions impacting Victoria, keeping these organisations up and running is becoming exceedingly difficult. Therefore, it’s not surprising that this year we saw a predominant need from community groups for funding to develop organisational resilience and capacity.

“Victoria’s dairy regions are resilient and resourceful, and we have seen, firsthand, the transformational change and outcomes that local people can achieve when they have access to funding.

“We are proud to play a small role in enabling these groups to drive change, build connections and share the vibrancy and determination of those living in Victoria’s dairying regions,” Ms Karena said.

The full list of grant recipients and their projects are below.

OrganisationProjectLocationGrant

GIPPSLAND

A Better Life for Foster Kids IncCrisis Cases for Emergency Foster Care
Improving community health and social wellbeing via the provision of Crisis Cases to support the transition of children into foster home emergency care in the Sale area.
Sale$4,960
Baw Baw Shire CouncilTables and Chairs for the Social Club Room
Build community resilience through improvements to a meeting place that is used by local groups to improve social connectedness in Ellinbank and the surrounding region.
Ellinbank$4,800
Bruthen and District Citizens Association IncCommunity Grow Swap Learn Program & Workshops
Build community resilience through purchasing equipment and running workshops that increase capability and capacity for local community gardening and increase participation and learning to improve community health and wellbeing.
Bruthen$5,000
Fabelo Inc on behalf of Fishy StoriesFishy Stories
Improving community health and social wellbeing by contributing to young children's learning activities at a local festival.
Fish Creek$5,000
Fish Creek Football Netball Club IncRecipes for Recovery Cookbook
Build community resilience by recording the stories of the families within our community through food, producing a functional recipe book that will be treasured by generations to come and support local fundraising.
Fish Creek$5,000
Friends of Coal Creek IncDigitisation of the Historical Assets of Coal Creek
Build organisational capacity to preserve historical items through digitisation, which will support tourism and enhance local identity and pride.
Korumburra$5,000
Heyfield War Memorial Hall Committee of Management IncUpgrade Kitchen Cupboards
Improve community infrastructure with new kitchen drawers to increase utility for senior and disabled community members at the Heyfield War Memorial Hall.
Heyfield$3,300
Hillview Bunyip Aged Care IncCommunity Kitchen Project
Build community resilience through installing a kitchen to provide a facility for local catering and programs to address food insecurity in Bunyip and surrounding communities.
Bunyip$5,000
Labertouche and District Men's ShedUpgrade Wood-splitter to Electric Start Motor
Build organisational capacity by installing an electric start motor on the wood-splitter that enables the local Men's Shed to contribute services of land clearing, firewood collection and woodworking to the Labertouche community.
Labertouche$3,578
Treble F Singers IncTraining and Administration Aids
Build organisational capability through purchasing audiovisual equipment and a laptop to improve operations and administration for the local choir, supporting local opportunities for participation and performances to support community activity.
Leongatha$2,907
Venus Bay Tarwin Lower and District Men's Shed IncFestival FREE Fun for Kids
Build community resilience and a stronger economy through providing free activities for children and entertainment for locals and tourists to support attendance of the 2024 Tarwin District Community Show.
Tarwin$5,000
NORTHERN VICTORIA
Gargarro Botanic Garden Ltd on behalf of Friends of Gargarro & NurseryGrowing More Than Plants
Build community resilience through extending a community-run nursery to support volunteers, grow plants for the local botanic garden, and support the community organisation's financial sustainability.
Girgarre$5,000
Greta Valley Landcare GroupMoyhu Walking Track Landscaping Project
Enhance community infrastructure by establishing a safe and educational pathway for accessing the King River from Moyhu to support both residents and visitor enjoyment of, and connection to, the local environment.
Moyhu$5,000
Gundowring Recreation and Hall Reserve Committee of ManagementThe Gundowring Hall in the 21st Century: Warm in Winter, Cool in Summer
Improve community infrastructure with a split system air conditioner installed at Gundowring Hall to support increased community meetings, craft and wellbeing activities.
Gundowring$4,752
Lions Club of Upper Kiewa Valley Inc on behalf of Kiewa Valley Community GardenSprout & Stow - Kiewa Valley's Garden Gear Garage
Enhance community facilities with a lock up container installed to store and maintain gardening equipment for all the users and visitors to the Kiewa Valley Community Garden.
Tangambalanga$5,000
Lockington District Business Centre IncLocky Ukers Project
Build community resilience and cultural vibrancy in Lockington with musical gear to support the Locky Ukers in their community ukele practice and performance, ensuring inclusive participation and improvement.
Lockington$2,129
Murrabit Advancement Association IncMurrabit - Keeping Up With the News! Improve capability of organisation by purchasing a new photocopier to support local information distribution, including a monthly community newsletter that enables connection, enhances the services volunteers provide to community, and promotes local activity for greater participation and economic strength.Murrabit$5,000
NCN HealthChills Skills Across the Community - Supporting the Mental Wellbeing of Children in Moira Shire
Build the resilience of primary school children through implementing a mental health program with local facilitators trained in an evidence-based program and supported to develop an ongoing community of practice.
Cobram$5,000
North East Regional Pre-School Association Inc on behalf of Whorouly and District PreschoolA Water Garden for Whorouly Kindergarten
Increase the capacity for learning through play with the installation of a water play area with shade sail at Whorouly Kindergarten, supporting educational and social development of current and future preschoolers and children attending playgroup.
Whorouly$5,000
SOUTH WESTERN VICTORIA
A is for Atlas LimitedDining Room Tales X Keayang Maar 2024
Build community resilience through delivering unique international artist experiences to enable rural communities access to global learning experiences for social resilience, and enable tourism opportunity.
Dixie$4,419
Anam Cara House Colac IncRenewable Rays for Respite - Sustainable End-of-Life Care Through Solar Energy
Improve organisational infrastructure with a solar panel system that will reduce operational costs and allow for savings to increase care services.
Colac$4,537
Beech Forest & District Progress Association IncStrengthening Community Through Rebuild of the Old Beech Forest Bakery Oven
Build community resilience and foster connection through installing seating and steel benches to complement the re-build of old Beech Forest bakery oven to benefit the community with staple food access and increasing economic and educational opportunities to build a more inclusive, sustainable future.
Beech Forest$4,975
Cobden District Health Services Inc on behalf of Cobden Men's ShedThe Cobden Men’s Shed – Shed Extension
Build community resilience with an extension to expand Cobden's Men's Shed facility and increase the capacity for participation and activity that supports mental health and social wellbeing.
Cobden$5,000
Coragulac & District Kindergarten IncSkylights and Ventilation
Increase the capacity for learning through installation of skylights and ventilation at Coragulac & District Kindergarten, supporting educational and social development of current and future pre-schoolers.
Coragulac$5,000
Progressing Cobden Inc on behalf of Cobden & District Historical SocietyEquipment to Enable Cataloguing, Labelling and Storage of Collected History
Build community organisational capacity by upgrading the equipment of the local historical society to enable digital cataloguing and conservation that will preserve local identity and support research on local and family history.
Cobden$4,121
Terang & District Progress AssociationActivities at Colour Terang Festival 2024
Foster community vibrancy and social connection via free activities for children at the Terang Colour Festival, to enable affordable participation for the whole community.
Terang$5,000
United Way Glenelg Victoria IncorporatedImagination Bush Library
Increase the capacity for learning and social development by providing children with books to build their literacy skills and love of reading.
Dartmoor$5,000

The IRCF program is designed with roadmapping, community facilitators and capacity building at its core. In the NSW South Coast, the program is culminating in 2024, so the team took the opportunity to codesign four final roadmapping workshops using techniques learned at the Art of Hosting workshop.

A strong learning from the IRCF program around how to connect with busy volunteers who juggle many balls and wear many hats, is the art of invitation. For these workshops our invitation was ‘Lets celebrate our collective effort & explore how to continue the momentum in our community’.

These workshops embraced the opportunity for the groups to review the roadmaps, explore what else may be done, and of course to network. We took a supportive approach to enable the groups to delve into collaborative projects that will benefit the entire community – which will be the focus of the remaining funds generously provided by the Snow Foundation and Bendigo Bank Community Enterprise foundation in the communities.

Attendance at the workshops was strong, with FRRRhosting 55 people. When everyone had gathered, we opened with a check in question at each location: “Can you tell us about a benefit you have personally felt or gained from the IRCF program?”

The sharing that came from this considered question was much richer than any survey could have gathered. Carolyn Ardler, South Coast Program Manager for IRCF, said, “Using Art of Hosting techniques to delve into deeper conversations has been such a strength of the program.”

The groups shared that they now felt more connected to and aware of the NFP community. They have formed stronger relationships within this community and they can now see who is doing what and who has similar needs and common struggles. Not only that but they had formed friendships. The sharing of the skills they had gained was outstanding, with some sharing their growth following opportunities such as the Art of Hosting Conversations that Matter, Regenerate residential program and the Changemakers program, all of which focussed on leadership skill building and connection.

Other learnings were the wide range of capacity building workshops and opportunities throughout the four years. The joy of getting to know people and learn so much from one another without following a cookie cutter approach was one of the biggest benefits of the place based program.

On more than one occasion, people shared that this was the “first time they had popped their head up to see what else was happening.” One Rotarian who has been involved since the beginning of the program said that, “It gave Rotary an opportunity to look at our organisation differently, as well as the opportunity to work with and support other organisations.” A lovely comment was made by a volunteer that it provided “camaraderie – that we all are striving to improve our society.”

The IRCF roadmaps all identified that the NFP sector has a desire to connect with cultural services and better understand the competency journey that comes when connecting more deeply to local first nations culture and people. A participant shared that she has now “a deeper appreciation of indigenous culture.”

The exploration of where we can build on this momentum was different in each community with some groups emerging focused on how community can collectively address important national issues such as homelessness, regional transport and deeper first nations connections, whilst other groups are building alliances across the sector to advocate for funding. The emergence of backbone organisations that support the sector is a strong theme, with one organisation already embedded deeply after four years and wanting to establish more processes and networks to support the volunteers in community.

The workshops were a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the ripple effects that the program has had and to enable us to capture the importance of networking. It provided a space for openness and generosity of the people in the room to shine – creating the opportunity to renew connection and trust in the communities.

Recently our IRCF Program Manager, Nancy Sposato, along with representatives from Junee Community Centre, Junee Community Power and Junee Shire Council spent three joyful days learning about The Art of Hosting at a workshop led by Percolab (formerly Campfire Coop) in Bright, VIC.

They came together with 40 community leaders from across the country. Each leader brought a passion for nurturing community conversations and a desire to do it better.

For Junee members, this participation was supported by an IRCF Toolbox grant with local leaders intending to apply skills gained towards developing effective and meaningful ways to foster inclusive community engagement and to have a shared language to be able to support each other in their efforts well into the future. The Junee initiatives that will directly benefit from this investment in people include a project that engages young people in the NFP sector, the development of culturally safe services and uptake in the renewable energy transition.

Nancy reflected, “A question that comes up time and time again is how to manage conflict and differing perspectives in a community. This is a very natural question when people are working on projects that they care strongly about and when people have invested a lot of time and energy.”

The skills gained over the three days offered efficient methods and insights into the awareness we need to have as individuals and the ways people can work together to foster positive cultures where everyone participating feels supported and included. Participants of the workshop spoke about using some of the tools they had learned immediately in work and during meetings.

Nancy and the rest of the community leaders, left with multiple techniques for having important conversations that can be applied to multiple contexts, frameworks to use for collaborative project design and creative ways to collate and share information gathered from community conversations to support greater impact and momentum.

You can check out a foundational Art of Hosting technique, the Four-Fold practice, at the link below.

Learn About The Four-Fold Practice

Four Victorian philanthropic organisations have joined forces in an exciting $5 million partnership with the Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal (FRRR) that will strengthen the capacity and resilience of communities over the next five years.

Five women standing in front of a garden
IRCF Victoria Co-funders (L-R): Ferdi Hepworth, Grants Lead of William Buckland Foundation ; Louise Kuramoto, CEO of the Jack Brockhoff Foundation ; Debra Morgan, CEO at the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust ; Natalie Egleton, CEO of the Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal ; Sarah Hardy, CEO of The Ross Trust

Three Victorian communities will be named later this year, following a detailed process involving needs analysis, mapping key issues, causes of disruption and the funding landscape, and an exploration of community readiness for the investment. 

The partnership comprises the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust, the Jack Brockhoff Foundation, The Ross Trust, and William Buckland Foundation. FRRR will deliver the program, following the success of its similar Investing in Rural Communities Futures program (IRCF) in NSW over the past five years.

The funding will enable local not-for-profits (NFPs) to become more confident and collaborative in their approach to improving and sustaining the vibrancy, resilience, and liveability of their communities, ultimately enabling them to thrive, not just survive, especially during times of natural disasters.

“Investing in and strengthening the social and economic fabric of Victorian rural communities fosters long-term resilience,” says the CEO of FRRR, Natalie Egleton. “We know that our model can deliver these outcomes, and the multi-year model builds a whole-of-community approach.”

The $5 million funding will be used to employ local facilitators, deliver capacity building activities for the local NFPs such as governance training, volunteer development, marketing and fundraising support, and events. Funds will also be allocated to the three communities via grants for priorities and for organisational capacity building. Evaluation is central to the program.

The NSW program

The NSW program started in 2018 after FRRR recognised that many grassroots organisations were ‘locked out’ of philanthropy and often unable to access opportunities to invest in their own organisational capacity due to their size, distance, financial capacity, and lack of staffing.

“Most of the NFP work that happens in small towns is volunteer run and there just isn’t any money or resources to help them be sustainable,” Natalie said. “Local leaders know what is going to make the biggest difference in their community and we knew that supporting local solutions would be key.”

The program commenced in Junee, Leeton, and Nambucca Valley with the support of Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation. The Snow Foundation and Bendigo Bank then joined to enable FRRR to take the program to Ulladulla, Batemans Bay, Nowra, and Bay & Basin. The Australian Government provided additional funding to expand the program in the Shoalhaven region and launch the program in Bega through their Black Summer Bushfire Recovery Program.

Evolution of the Victorian partnership

The plan to bring a similar program to Victoria began in late 2022 after The Ross Trust began discussions with FRRR and the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust. Conversations then began with the Jack Brockhoff Foundation and William Buckland Foundation. Importantly, the leaders in all these organisations had strong existing relationships and numerous granting collaborations with each other, as well as with FRRR.

“I could see that this program was about building the skills, resources and capacity of local not-for-profits – and that it was working,” said Sarah Hardy, the CEO of The Ross Trust. “It was also clear that any Victorian partnership would need a commitment of $5 million to get off the ground. That is a lot of money for any one mid-sized philanthropic, when we all have ongoing projects.”

Sarah said the positive and trusting relationships between the five organisations meant they were able to openly discuss whether it was a project that their trustees and directors would support.

The CEO at the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust, Debra Morgan, said the early conversations and resulting partnership benefited from like-minded organisations working together.

“We realised early that we couldn’t do anything this significant alone, and that working together would help us to affect better and longer-term change,” Debra said. “This collaboration sets a new bar in how we work together, and it’s certainly the longest-term project we have funded under our new strategy.”

Louise Kuramoto, the CEO of the Jack Brockhoff Foundation, said that it was the first time, other than a commemorative grant, the foundation had made a five-year commitment to a project.

“The philosophy behind this program is not unusual, but the amount and duration are,” Louise said. “The solid track record of FRRR gave all four funders the confidence to invest at such a scale. It’s wonderful that we can come together to support communities and the people in them.”

For the Grants Lead of William Buckland Foundation, Ferdi Hepworth, the program perfectly aligns with her organisation’s long commitment to country Victorians.

“We have had a long partnership with FRRR and more recently we’ve been funding a program where FRRR distributes small grants to communities, and we had already been talking about how we could better support them,” Ferdi said. “It was very easy to say yes to being part of this partnership.

“We often see governments and big business leading change, but it’s the people in the community who best know the ingredients required to help that community thrive. This project supports those people with the skills, knowledge, and confidence to work together to achieve change.”

After many emails, online and in-person meetings, visits to NSW communities, and discussions with their trustees and directors, the four funders set themselves a deadline of June this year to see if they could raise the $5 million to commence the program in July 2025. By April, they had done it.

“For four mid-sized philanthropic organisations to raise $5 million when we already have current commitments shocked us all, but in a good way,” Sarah said.

How the program will work in Victoria

FRRR will study past granting trends and community profiles and will map issues and disruptions occurring or on the horizon, as well as the funding landscape, to select the three communities. The process will also include community consultation, with a shortlisting process that will invite expressions of interest. Given the program is grounded in deep collaboration and co-design with each community, it is vital that there is a sense of readiness to embark on the five-year partnership.

Once communities are selected, a locally based community facilitator will work with the local NFP sector to scope priorities, gaps and opportunities that will be collated into a sector roadmap. The roadmap, which will be refreshed annually, will be the framework for activating capacity building activities and funding, and for monitoring progress, celebrating change, and adjusting priorities as needed.

Natalie from FRRR said she was confident many Victorian communities would be enthusiastic about the opportunity, adding that, like in NSW, it was likely the communities would be at very different starting points.

“Success is turning out to be different in each community, which is fine because the indicators we are interested in all focus on changes in mindset and sector collaboration to drive new and better opportunities for their communities – and that has been a major success,” Natalie said.

FRRR will employ a program manager who lives in Victoria and is familiar with key concerns and issues in the state. Local facilitators will also be employed in each community. Over time, it is expected that more than 20 people will be employed in the program. Staff and volunteers will benefit from training and professional development and possibly partnerships with councils, TAFEs and universities.

Deb Samuels is the People Portfolio Lead at FRRR and will oversee the Victorian project.

“We now have five years of NSW evaluation data and interviews and the recurring theme is that people in the communities feel much more empowered to make decisions and collaborate,” Deb said. “If they know a large grant opportunity is coming up, they know who to call to say, ‘let’s pool our efforts to apply’.”

Deb cited examples of success that could be replicated in Victoria, such as one NFP leader rallying to halt the closure of a local bank branch that was relied upon by vulnerable residents, and another leader now running for mayor.

“Local leaders involved in the IRCF program have shared they would not have had the confidence to do things like that in the past,” Deb said. Young people can also engage with the program and see themselves as an important part of the NFP sector.

“One of the best things somebody said to me is that ‘the funders believed in us and invested in us, and now we believe in ourselves and what we can do’.”

Unmet need also increases

FRRR distributed a record $22.5 million last financial year, shared across more than 550 remote, rural and regional communities across Australia, according to the Foundation’s just-released 2022/23 Annual Review.

Remote and rural communities experience inequity, disadvantage and vulnerability across many basic aspects of day-to-day life. Yet they continue to rise to the challenge, innovate and deliver solutions that not only address issues but prove that better outcomes are possible with just a bit of support.

Last financial year, FRRR’s 1,158 grants enabled 972 grassroots organisations and groups to pursue local projects that responded to the now all-too familiar effects of natural disasters; accelerated the net-zero transition; and addressed long-standing structural issues such as housing, energy and food security, service provision and digital inclusion.

Natalie Egleton, CEO of FRRR, said the Foundation saw the largest number of applications in its 23-year history.

“In the face of these challenges, communities continue to pull together, harnessing the strengths of local people and their connection and commitment to their places to forge ahead. I’m proud of the role that FRRR has played in supporting these remote, rural and regional communities to strengthen, adapt and innovate to navigate and find solutions to these challenges.

“Last financial year, FRRR received 2,639 eligible grant applications requesting a total of $64 million, up more than 25% on the prior year. What this signals is that life is getting back to ‘normal’ following COVID, but it also highlights the ongoing challenges remote, rural and regional communities are facing when it comes to securing funding for local projects.

“Unsurprisingly, more than a third of our grants went to communities vulnerable to, or impacted by, climate-related disasters. Nearly 430 grants totalling $11.1 million were awarded for initiatives supporting the medium to long-term recovery of places affected by disasters, and projects helping to prepare communities for future climate-related impacts.

“In 2023 we received more than 1,310 donations, ranging from $1 to $7.9 million, totalling just over $25.4 million (excluding fees and deferred income). We are grateful for the continued commitment of our supporters and the trust they place in us to get funding to where it’s needed most and to strengthen capacity to adjust and rise to the challenges in these communities.

“Despite an increase in donations, FRRR could still only fund just over half of the eligible applications received. So, we continue to seek new partnerships with government, philanthropy, business and individuals to allow us to fund more of these projects.

“No matter how big or small, we know our grants make a difference to these communities. This year, for every dollar granted, a further $1.76 was leveraged, opening the door to further funding opportunities, and building confidence.

“We also continued to advocate for more well-informed investment in rural people and organisations. Looking ahead, we’ll keep having these conversations, sharing our insights to ensure these people and places get improved access to sustainable social and physical infrastructure and opportunities that build community connections.

“The tenacity of remote, rural and regional people to keep their communities vibrant and sustainable motivates us to continue to strive for our shared vision for a more vibrant, resilient and sustainable remote, rural and regional Australia,” Ms Egleton concluded.

FRRR’s FY23 Annual Review is available at www.frrr.org.au/AR23.