Community Foundations

With rural communities at the forefront of so much change across environmental, economic, political and social landscape, like many philanthropic organisations, FRRR regularly considers how we can best help those communities tackle those challenges.

We always come back to the same place – asking the community. After all, local leaders are best placed to know their biggest challenges, and opportunities. But we don’t do it alone. FRRR is fortunate to have hundreds of donor partners who share our belief in the importance of vibrant, sustainable communities.

Among those partners are the network of 38 Community Foundations across Australia, most of which operate in rural and regional Australia. They are important local sources of knowledge, as well as conduits for philanthropy, and for building the culture of giving in Australia.

In October, representatives of Australia’s Community Foundations came together to connect, be inspired and share learnings at the 2017 National Community Foundations Forum (NCFF), which was held at the State Library of Victoria.

This year’s theme was exploring the SMIRF (social, moral, intellectual, reputational and financial) capital of Community Foundations – the creation of meaningful change through leveraging all forms of capital. While there were a number of important takeaways, there are three that have stayed with me.

1. Strength from difference

Each Community Foundation in Australia is necessarily different, not only in age, size, structure and magnitude of corpus, but also in their focus and mechanisms for creating change in their community. Operating within their community, they have the pulse of the social and economic fabric of their community; they know their constituents, their needs, the challenges and also the opportunities.

This makes Community Foundations a great mechanism to support localised impact, in the way that will make the most difference to their community. At the NCFF, we heard some great examples of groups putting this into action.

Give Where You Live, based in Geelong, are working with government, business and the philanthropic sectors to create support for their vision.

Others, like Inner North Foundation, are also focussing on building the capacity of members of that community to participate in, contribute to and learn from the mechanistic operations and strategic planning involved in a Foundation. Their Board Associate program allows them to seek out diverse candidates and build their capacity along the journey towards a directorship.

2. Data-driven conversations

We all know data is important, and the Forum showcased Vital Signs, a reporting structure that uses community knowledge to measure the vitality of communities.

The Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation recently released their second Greater Melbourne Vital Signs report, partnering with academic advisors, and overseen by an Advisory Committee. LMCF explained their Vital Signs report provides up-to-date data on which to base decisions about their granting priorities.

Community Foundations

Fremantle Foundation’s Dylan Smith said the Vital Signs project gave them data to hold up against commonly held views about identity and priorities.

Fremantle Foundation highlighted that the process and journey of gathering data and reflecting upon the result was just as useful as the final report. At NCFF, Executive Officer Dylan Smith explained that they sought stakeholder input to both inform and reflect upon the report. He said the Vital Signs project gave them data to hold up against commonly held views about identity and priorities, and provided a platform for discussing about how the Foundation might support activities that contribute to what the community is most interested, engaged or invested in.

Conversations like these contribute to an iterative cycle where the wider community is contributing and feels engaged in the activities and decision making of the Foundation, fostering a sense of collective ownership and a higher likelihood of wider community fundraising support.

3. An important conduit, deserving of support

The philanthropic sector often talks about how to foster a culture of giving across Australia. There is no doubt that investing in local Community Foundations provides a double pronged bang for buck –money supports local charitable activities, at the same time stimulating local activity and energy around giving and community-led impact.

FRRR has actively supported the Community Foundation movement for many years, in many ways. We have helped shape almost every national conference, and provide scholarships to enable representatives from the network to participate in the conference. In addition, we helped establish and continue to mentor several of the Community Foundations that were set up in the wake of the 2009 Victorian bushfires.

FRRR also leverages its unique tax status to help community foundations with their fundraising and with their grant-making. Community Foundations have varying legal structures and entities, and many hold a Public Ancillary Fund that enables them to fundraise within their community and make grants to Item 1 DGR entities. Through partnerships with FRRR, Community Foundations with those restrictions can distribute funds to non-DGR 1 entities for approved charitable purposes. We can also facilitate donations from Private Ancillary Funds, or donors requiring a DGR Item 1 receipt, to Community Foundations that don’t have that status. In this way, FRRR can be a trusted conduit for funding Community Foundation activities.

If you too want to lend your support to Community Foundations, you can contact Australian Community Philanthropy, FRRR or go direct to your local Community Foundation about their activities, what their needs are, and how you can best support them to achieve localised positive social impact.

Sarah Matthee joined FRRR in August 2017 as Philanthropic Services Manager. She has extensive experience in the not-for-profit sector, having held a range of volunteer, board and staff roles over nine years with Engineers Without Borders Australia, and volunteer roles at environmental and arts organisations. Formerly a lawyer and a chemical engineer, she sees the world through a lens of hope, purpose, and systems.