FRRR is having a big impact on rural and regional Australia.

FRRR is having a big impact on rural and regional Australia.

The Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal has distributed more than $65 million in funds to rural, regional and remote Australian communities since its formation, according to a new report assessing the organisation’s impact.

The impact report [PDF] was prepared by Effective Philanthropy with funding from the Sidney Myer Foundation. It assessed the impact of the FRRR’s gifts based on a range of records, with the aim of informing and providing a framework to evaluate the organisation’s activities going forward.

The researchers assessed 325 separate grant rounds run by FRRR from 2000 to December 2016, which received more than 25,000 applications leading to over 8,000 grants being awarded to a range of community groups across Australia.

FRRR CEO Natalie Egleton says locals are best placed to identify what they need, and the report highlights how listening to local community needs has led to positive outcomes for FRRR’s grants program.

“The review confirmed the grants helped to address and respond to the really big issues that face rural, regional and remote communities, including the impact of distance, isolation, size and being an advocate for their needs on issues of local and national significance,” Egleton says.

“Some of those changes include industry and economic adjustment, population opportunities and an ageing population (which rural Australia is particularly feeling), technological advances, an unequal distribution of access, service centralisation (which is affecting the viability of regional towns) and climate extremes.

“So we know our grants have made a vital difference in strengthening and helping to build vibrant communities, and we’ve been doing this one project at a time.”

The report found that grants from FRRR have benefited around 1,487 communities across all states and territories, with the bulk of the funds going to Victoria (42%), NSW (26%) and Queensland (16%).

A major outcome of the FRRR’s funding was improving improving access to activities and services in areas such as education, health and wellbeing, accounting for around 60% of all funds it distributed.

“FRRR’s funding has contributed to filling a significant gap in access to locally available services and programs/activities that enable people to live well in their communities,” the report said.

“It also reinforces the observation that for many rural, regional and remote communities, the greatest focus of effort is on ensuring that the fundamental service needs of their communities are met and that new activities are available as need and opportunities arise.”

The overwhelming majority of the funds went to remote and rural communities, with just 8% of grants going to cities with a population greater than 10,000. Many of the gifts are also small, with the organisation’s median gift being $4,031.

“We started off by focusing on major capital grants and found that the area that was really more in short availability than anything else is small grants. A lot of the work that we’ve been doing is in small grants for small communities,” FRRR chairman Ian Sinclair says.

“That includes perhaps the best contribution that anyone could do, and that is providing $50 grants to schoolchildren that allows them to continue at school. You can get emotional reading thank you letters from children who for the first time have a new set of clothes for school.”

The FRRR has also invested $17 million in community infrastructure, with the report noting that building maintenance had often “fallen to community committees”.

“Anecdotally, FRRR has heard from its grantees that having quality local community infrastructure contributes to a stronger sense of community pride and identity and plays a key role in attracting new residents, businesses and visitors,” the report said.

Another crucial funding area was tied to natural disasters such as Cyclone Larry in 2006 and the 2009 Victorian bushfires, with $9.1 million provided for post-emergency recovery and $1.7 million for pre-disaster preparedness.

Disaster preparedness is also set to be a key priority for the organisation going forward, with FRRR recently launching a pilot of its Disaster Resilient: Future Ready program, which will help three NSW communities develop risk management plans.

“We want to grow our funding to be able to meet more of the unmet demand, and that includes a growth target of $10 million per year by 2020. Doing that is a stretch target, given we do $7 million a year currently, but there is a need there,” Egleton says.

“FRRR is poised to develop strategies and respond across a spectrum of approaches. Small granting will be one of them, but we will also be developing step change community development programs, one of which is the Disaster Resilient: Future Ready program.

“We’ll roll that out nationally. We’ve kicked it off in NSW with state government support. We have three place-based pilots over the next few months, and that’s about building an evidence base.”

Around 60% of the money distributed by the FRRR ($38.2 million) had been funded through the FRRR itself, either from interest on its corpus funds or direct donations. The balance was distributed on behalf of external funding partners (including trusts, foundations, governments and individuals).

The full report can be downloaded from the FRRR website here.