Heartbeat of Rural Australia

In September 2021, FRRR commissioned the Heartbeat of Rural Australia study, exploring how not-for-profits and community groups in remote, rural and regional Australia are faring, in the wake of nearly two years of constant disruptions. The study was undertaken through The Xfactor Collective Foundation, by specialist member Survey Matters.

Our aim in commissioning this research was to generate both qualitative and quantitative data to articulate the vital role that community organisations play in the social, economic, cultural, and environmental resilience and vitality of their communities and regions. We also wanted to understand the cumulative impacts of natural disasters, and COVID-19.

But above all, we wanted to help amplify and give greater authority and influence to these organisations in the design of policies, investments, and solutions for their communities’ sustainability and vitality.

You can read the report in full, or explore some of the highlights below. Thanks to our partnership with Seer Data and Analytics, you can also dive into the full dataset, and cross-reference it with other studies.

FRRR will run webinars to explore the results. We’d appreciate your help in raising awareness of the webinars:

Heartbeat Research Study

At a Glance: The Respondents








Incorporated Associations


Registered with ACNC


DGR-1 endorsement


Turnover <$250,000


Turnover <$50,000


Run primarily by volunteers

Key findings

Nearly nine in 10 organisations (87%) contribute to the local economy. Almost all provide some form of cultural and social support.

In the last two years, nearly half of responding organisations had to contend with drought; 37% faced bushfires; 26% floods; and nearly 20% dealt with the mouse plague.

By far the most detrimental effect has been the inability to meet with one-another, resulting in isolation, reduced wellbeing, and increased stress.

Access to sufficient funding to continue to operate and expand capabilities is by far the largest constraint facing community groups:

  • On average, running costs account for 58% of revenues received by community organisations.
  • More than half of respondents say they spend at least 75% of their income on operating expenses.
  • Yet funders often restrict ‘admin costs’ to just 10%.

  • More than half of respondents report that uncertainty is of greatest concern to them, resulting in “increased general stress / mental health”.
  • Retaining volunteers and paid staff has become more difficult in the last 18 months to two years. Approximately a third of respondents have reduced volunteer hours.
  • In more than a third of respondents, volunteers are feeling overwhelmed and community groups are finding it tough to keep going and supporting their communities.

  • This means that for many, even if services could be provided virtually, pivoting to online delivery was not an option.
  • Just under a third rated their internet access extremely reliable. That drops to just 20% in more remote communities.
  • Half of respondents in remote areas reported either no internet access or extremely or somewhat unreliable coverage.

The report highlighted small changes in funding arrangements that will make a big difference, including greater flexibility in how and when funding can be used.

  • Community organisations want their funding partners to get to know them, and to better understand their unique situations.
  • Only around half of respondents agreed that they are able to influence decisions made about their area or that funders listen to and consult them about issues affecting their communities.
  • There was also a call for greater flexibility in how and when funding can be used, and a simpler application process, with less red tape.
  • Critically, groups also call for longer-term or ongoing funding for these groups, allowing them to plan more effectively and to use resources more efficiently.

What else do community groups want?

  • When asked what else organisations need, beyond funding, to improve their ability to provide their services, the most common response was more volunteers.
  • They also want access to training to help run the organisations, and ideally in-kind support such as access to experts in different fields.
  • Groups are also keen to network with one another, to share ideas.

Read the full report.

Explore the data further on the Seer Data and Analytics platform. Registration is free.