There’s a reason why so many lamingtons are sold in rural Australia, why meat raffles and charity balls populate a proud corner of our country culture.

If you are a regional craft club in need of a new air-conditioner, a rural Men’s Shed in want of a bandsaw, or a remote childcare centre in hope of a new kitchen, there are generally three places you can hunt for funding: local government, local business, or the next school fête.

“Ninety-per-cent of the projects we fund are for community groups that will never have deductible gift recipient status,” says CEO of the Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal, Alexandra Gartmann. “That makes them mostly inaccessible to philanthropy.”

To receive income tax-deductible gifts and tax-deductible philanthropic gifts, an organisation must be classified by the ATO as a deductible gift recipient (DGR). Receiving DGR status is a lengthy and expensive process, and by their nature, most small community nonprofit groups are precluded from receiving it.

“A lot of donors do want to contribute to rural and regional Australia,” Gartmann says. “But their hands are tied. Private Ancillary Funds (PAFs), in particular, are obligated to give to DGR nonprofits, which means there are a lot of projects they just can’t reach.”

Enter FRRR and its special tax status

The funding challenge facing rural and regional community groups was identified in 1999 at the Federal Government’s Regional Australia Summit, and as a result the Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal was created. It was enshrined in legislation, with a unique tax listing to enable it to reach these non-DGR groups.


FRRR CEO Alex Gartmann (L) on the road in Alice Springs

At the same time, the FRRR itself has DGR-1 listing, meaning that gifts to its funding pool are tax-deductible for donors. From $50 Back-To-School vouchers, to hundred-thousand-dollar contributions towards disaster recovery and renewal, philanthropic gifts that pass through FRRR are capable of touching even the most distant and non-DGR corners of the Australian map, while enabling deduction dues for donors.

“Increasingly, philanthropists and PAFs are coming to understand what we can offer, but our message is always going to be Use Us,” Gartmann says. “Partner with us, use us as we were intended – as a conduit for philanthropic and other funding to get to regional, rural, and remote communities.”

The FRRR also has the capacity to ‘lend’ its DGR-status to eligible nonprofits, so that these organisations can fundraise on their own behalf for a specific purpose, over a defined term.

Silver jubilee for Small Grants giving

Fourteen years into its development, the FRRR has already distributed more than $40 million in grants to Australian communities, across a range of programs that includes Natural Disaster Recovery, Building Regional Capacity, Rural Education, Community Arts, and Caring For and Supporting Healthy Ageing People and Communities.

The FRRR Small Grants For Rural Communities program, which pools donor contributions and distributes small grants of up to $5,000 in value, is this month celebrating its silver jubilee round.


A Small Grant for a kitchen renovation in WA’s Three Springs has led to the opening of the town’s only child care facility

In the years the program has been in effect, it has injected more than $8 million to 2,661 community projects. Forty-three per cent of Small Grant applications come from communities with fewer than 1,000 people.

Donors giving to the Small Grants funding pool in 2014 include The Bertalli Family Foundation, The Pratt Foundation, The R.E. Ross Trust, The Yulgibar Foundation, the McCusker Charitable Foundation, The William Buckland Foundation and The Sylvia & Charles Viertel Charitable Foundation (both managed by ANZ Trustees), The Estate of the Late Edward Wilson, and numerous private donors.

Donors can be as involved in the Small Grants application vetting process as they want, Gartmann says, and their expertise and previous engagement in rural and regional issues can often be invaluable.

Going beyond grantmaking

As the FRRR’s team and reach expands, so does its strategy for creating greater impact in rural, regional, and remote Australia. The intelligence that it has garnered from fourteen years on the road in the country’s most dusty and isolated areas puts it in a unique position to offer advice on grantmaking and program structuring to independent philanthropists, trustees, and corporate givers.

“We can also provide a huge amount of feedback to grant applicants,” Gartmann says. “We talk them through ways to strengthen their applications, direct them to other funding sources, and act as a networking service between applicants and potential funders.”

Gartmann says that the potential of FRRR’s regional penetration to have significant social impact is far from tapped.

“There are still philanthropists, PAFs, and trustees out there who want to work in regional Australia, but who don’t know we’re already here – ready to help.”  

///Main image by Hadi Zaher///