With economic, climatic, social and technological forces moving so rapidly, the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal FRRR is constantly engaging with smaller rural communities to understand how they are responding to the significant pressures and opportunities facing them. What they see is a mix of strategies and actions to build resilience and adaptive capacity; strengthen cohesion, connectedness and cultural vibrancy; diversify local economies; and sustain their natural and built assets.
So, in this context there is a lot to learn about what makes an effective philanthropic investment. This prompted FRRR to revisit the 28,000 applications received nationally since 2000 to better understand the longer-term outcomes and trajectories of communities that they have supported. This is part of a larger project, funded by a Sidney Myer Fund capacity building grant, to support FRRR in developing their evaluation framework and theory of change (to be released in the coming months).
A decade of investment in Boyup Brook
As part of the process, they visited the small town of Boyup Brook in Western Australia, population 532. Between 2005 and 2015, this community, located about 270 kilometres south-east of Perth, received just over $48,000 via 13 grants from FRRR.
The projects ranged from hosting bush poetry events to expanding the Greenbush Discovery Theatrette to raising historical awareness and supporting the Boyup Brook Country Music Festival, which attracts up to 15,000 visitors to the region. The projects covered all demographics, from school children to seniors, local businesses to tourists.
With such a diverse range of projects, FRRR felt it would be a good place to explore the collective impact of multiple grants over a decade on the local community. The process included grantees completing an online survey and participating in face-to-face interviews and a discussion group. The aim was to understand the longer-term impacts of their projects for their target beneficiaries, and the wider community.
Sustained and unexpected outcomes
Kerry Anderson from KA Rural Enterprises, who facilitated this community engagement on behalf of FRRR, said there was evidence that initiatives are continuing to add value up to 10 years after they were funded. One great example is the Greenbushes Discovery Centre, which brings tourists to town, provides a venue for presentations, and increases historical knowledge and understanding among locals.
Debbie Walsh, from Greenbushes Discovery Centre, said the committee added value by creating a new space within the Greenbushes Discovery Centre to communicate the town’s heritage, but it’s also had flow-on benefits.
“Collaboration between community groups, the Shire and funding bodies enabled us to create a history DVD and purchase audio visual equipment for the theatrette. We’ve also found that it’s a good, little venue for people to give presentations.”
Another example is the “Cool at School” project that planted trees for shade at the Boyup Brook District High School. The aim was to improve the school grounds, increase shade and allow more outdoor activity time for students. Years on, the trees have grown and this project is having unexpected economic benefits.
“Not only do we have shade in the school grounds for the students but now there is a nice place for the campers when they come for the country music festival. This has been a positive a flow on effect that we didn’t foresee when we made the application,” said a P&C representative.
The Boyup Brook Bush Poetry project is another example of the wide-ranging impacts of a grant. FRRR’s funding provided an opportunity to learn new leadership and teamwork skills while delivering the project. With newfound skills, the local group continues to succeed. It has published two books, is running new events and a Boyup Brook representative has even stepped up to be the President of Bush Poetry WA.
Sustainable skills = sustainable community impact
Perhaps the most significant benefit from the grants was enhanced community capacity, with several participants reinforcing this point in different ways:
- “It helps build capacity of our people and the community. The knowledge and skills that have been gained from those people and the flow on effects.”
- “It takes the pressure off the volunteers who are underpaid and overused.”
- “It gives us some real momentum to introduce new programs and activities.”
- “It gives the community more cohesion. People from different projects and from different areas come together.”
More than just a financial boost
The mere fact that a group gets a grant has significant community benefits. Jodi Nield, from Boyup Brook Community Resource Centre Inc, reinforced the sense of worth it brings:
“When the community receives funding through grants, it really does give them something to celebrate because it adds more value to the town, it adds more value to the existing programs, being able to create new programs.”
This sentiment was nicely summed up by one of the representatives from the local P&C: “It is a hard slog sometimes. People need a boost for their mental and physical health. We haven’t got the services that some city people have access to.”
Broad impact of small grants
FRRR CEO, Natalie Egleton, says that the results confirmed their understanding of some aspects of the impact of the grants but highlighted some additional impacts that they didn’t necessarily expect.
“We know through regular feedback from community organisations that seed funding for their projects often makes a big difference. When we ask the question ‘Would your project have gone ahead without the grant from FRRR?’, 80% of respondents say ‘No’.”
“So, we knew that the grants were important, but it was great to learn about the knock-on effects, particularly around boosting morale and improving community cohesion and mental wellbeing. And it was fantastic to hear that there were some unexpected flow on benefits from projects, some of which are still making a difference 10 years after the initial grant.
“Boyup Brook is typical of many small communities who are working collaboratively on building a sustainable community for future generations,” says Egleton. “Getting small grants into these communities is really essential for their viability and vibrancy, and I would also argue for Australia as a whole.”
6 WAYS SMALL GRANTS BENEFIT COMMUNITIES
From the research FRRR has done to date, there seems to be six common benefits of small grants to small communities:
- A sense of worth and inclusion – grants give small towns something to celebrate and connect to.
- Economic benefit – brings fresh money and often attracts visitors to support local businesses and services.
- Skills development – gained through grant application and reporting process.
- Networks and collaboration – projects spill across to other areas not originally anticipated, and create a sense of connection and social cohesion.
- Mental wellbeing –- engages residents in new activities and creates social interaction.
- Physical wellbeing – long-term cultural change; educates constituents about benefits of healthy eating and exercise.
To learn more about FRRR, visit the website.