The challenges facing regional, rural and remote communities are diverse, complex and interconnected. They are exacerbated by a limited capacity to raise funds, either due to population size or economic wealth, limited access to resources and a limited knowledge of, and access to, philanthropy.
As a national funder, focused solely on rural, regional and remote Australia, FRRR is exposed to the full spectrum of communities. That includes remote towns with a population of two that bursts when people gather to meet and connect around an event or occasion; to large regional epicentres with feeder towns that leverage from what a denser population base offers, while fighting to retain an identity that retains and attracts residents; and small towns that can be passed in the blink of an eye, leaving the traveller less rich for not stopping to experience the treasures of local skills, food and produce, and social connections.
Equally, we see a variety of initiatives—from micro, such as a community newspaper in need of a photocopier—to macro, such as building a community centre that supports future needs. But we always see a place for both large and small scale philanthropy.
Scale is often determined by our own lived experience, our own giving. We might consider a $2,000 gift inconsequential if our giving spans the tens or hundreds or thousands. Yet, for a community of 300 people, the impact of $2,000 can be substantial. It can address a priority issue, providing either a permanent solution (such as a community garden program connecting the kindergarten with the aged care residence) or alleviate immediate disadvantage (uniforms, books and school resources for disadvantaged children, enabling them to confidently start the school year).
Social capital is built on the bonds within community, the bridges and connections between communities and the networks communities have with influencers, decision makers and policy makers. The size and scale of a community differs across different parts of the country – and so fit for purpose funding may not break the bank, but it can build the bonds within community. It can be as simple as fitting out community meeting places with adequate heating and cooling to enable social connections and bonding, for example.
So how do we define a ‘small grant’? Is it the scale of the gift or the scale of the impact? In a recent review of the small grant landscape, we found that numerically, small grants vary from $750 to $40,000. But this focus on the numbers may downplay the impact.
Scale must be fit for purpose, and aligned with our values and purpose. Are we trying to achieve deep and persistent change for community representatives—such as access to a cultural development opportunity for a volunteer curator at a community run art gallery or wheelchair access at the local hall?
Or are we trying to achieve deep and persistent change for a small community—a mental health forum to identify available mental health support channels in remote communities and discussion and action on how gaps might be addressed, cultural development camps to strengthen connections between Indigenous youth and elders, or the provision of ‘virtual babies’ in high schools to reduce teen pregnancy rates?
Due diligence in our sector is strong—we assess the potential grant recipients’ organisational capacity, financials, leadership, budget value, and project plan. We can often dismiss smaller scale projects as lacking longevity of impact and fiddling around the edges. However, small grants can be catalytic and community groups regularly leverage these funds, at least three to four times. We hear time and again that they are often the difference between a project getting off the ground, or not.
For example, we recently heard from one of our grant recipients, who believes the $2,022 grant FRRR provided for an after school care program connecting isolated children, was the catalyst for significant change.
Without this grant the project would not have gone ahead. We are extremely grateful and excited to receive the grant as it means we can begin to provide a service that was outside those otherwise available… Thank you for the opportunity.
Coordinator, Neighbourhood House, Tasmania
Who does it?
FRRR isn’t the only organisation running small grant programs. Many philanthropic funders including the Gardiner Foundation, R.E. Ross Trust, William Buckland Foundation and Myer Foundation also provide small grants. Corporate foundations, such as Australia Post and increasingly local community foundations like the Tomorrow Today Foundation, are granting funds in a scale accessible for many.
FRRR has a core specialty in delivering small grants for rural, regional and remote Australia which has evolved as much by fate as design. We have learnt that fit for purpose is important, and that the dollar value of our support can have little bearing on the impact and legacy of a grant.
When FRRR offers larger grants, some community groups seek to be gifted the funds over a longer timeframe—the sheer size of a dollar figure can cause angst and stress in volunteer groups that have operated on the smell of an oily rag.
And so, the longevity of the relationship that the community groups can have with us as funders—the networking with influencers and decision makers that is critical in social capital—is just as important as the scale of the funding. This takes philanthropy to its true definition of donation of time, treasure and talent. As funders, sometimes we forget that our time and talent can be as impactful as our treasure.
Philanthropy, for many, is seen as something for the wealthy end of town. Individuals and communities consider philanthropy out of reach to them. Yet if we think about volunteering as philanthropic, rural communities have the highest contribution to philanthropy — in 2010, the regional and rural volunteer rate was 41 per cent.
Given philanthropy can be a daunting unknown, making the financial element easier to access and engage with is important. Small grants demonstrate that each and every donation can leverage impact.
Small grants enable an organisation to take smaller steps and stages to achieving a large goal, pacing the time commitment and the effort required to bring along other supporters and community more broadly. In many small grant programs, across philanthropy and government levels, small grants are something familiar and can feel within the capacity and capability of community organisations. This can prompt an organisation that may otherwise not engage with you as a funder to apply for funds.
Small grants can allow a community organisation to acquire a ‘track’ record of delivering on projects, and therefore demonstrate to funders their capabilities. Success breeds success, and we should not under-estimate the value a few ‘small’ wins – and the confidence it can develop and make to a community and the issues they can address in their community.
Collaborative use of expertise and reach
A number of donors want to contribute to rural and regional Australia, but their hands are tied. Private ancillary funds, in particular, are required to give to deductible gift recipient (DGR) non-profits, so there are a lot of organisations they just can’t reach. That’s where FRRR comes in, acting as a conduit, connecting those in need, with those able to assist. Last financial year, our 80 donor partners were able to reach more than 750 charitable projects.
FRRR’s collaboratively funded Small Grants for Rural Communities (SGRC) program has run for the last 15 years, providing grants of up to $5,000 for not-for-profit projects and activities that are charitable in purpose. It has delivered more than 2,800 grants valued at more than $8.4 million, including:
- small-scale community infrastructure (such as meeting places, recreation reserves);
- education (from early childhood to adult);
- well-being programs (addressing physical and mental health);
- economic development initiatives (such as events, tourism, and projects like farmers’ markets); and
- Natural Disaster Recovery and Preparedness (such as enhancing local communication channels or equipment for local fire services).
All grant makers have enormous power — our responsibility is to listen to local needs, understand the scale of the impact a grant can achieve, and ‘walk in their shoes’. So don’t dismiss small grants – they can deliver value and make a tangible difference, especially in rural, regional and remote Australia.
Alexandra Gartmann is CEO of the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal (FRRR). The Foundation was established in 2000 to champion the economic and social strength of Australia’s regional, rural and remote communities through partnerships with the private sector, philanthropy and governments. FRRRcan receive funds from a range of entities and distribute these to rural regional and remote charitable projects. These projects and organisations do not need any particular tax status, enabling philanthropy to reach into ALL parts of Australia. To find out more about FRRR, visit www.frrr.org.au.