Stepping into the CEO role at FRRR in 2015, there were several areas I was clear about and ready to hone in on, but I also knew there were several things I needed to learn about to make some positive changes for FRRR’s future.
Throughout this steep learning curve, I drew on support and guidance from my Board and team, my former colleagues, and I have been supported and encouraged by my sector colleagues – who have met my views on where FRRR should head with enthusiasm.
The peer support network is truly invaluable, in what can be a lonely job! While I have received a fair bit of (appreciated) advice along the way, the thing that sticks with me is the importance of humility, authenticity, and focus on purpose. Many conversations over the past two years have reminded me of these things and have helped to guide me when I hit the unchartered leadership territory of being a new CEO.
Three things that I was clear on:
- The philanthropic landscape was shifting, quite rapidly in some areas with new forms of giving, greater focus on impact, and a growing appetite for more data, information, collaboration, and impact.
- The issues facing rural communities were, and will continue to be, complex and multi-faceted. FRRR remains the only national philanthropic vehicle dedicated to strengthening rural Australia. Our connection with communities, our ability to lean in and listen to needs, priorities and issues; and respond with relevant and fit for purpose grants is incredibly valuable. But, the demand is much, much greater than FRRR is able to meet.
- We face a challenge of sustaining this community closeness while operating at a national scale, across so many issues and scaling up our work. From the first day in the CEO seat, I have been questioning how to best leverage FRRR’s model to reach more communities, to provide relevant support on issues that matter, and to carve out space to work strategically on issues of national significance.
In any organisation, there are many strategic paths to choose from. The choices we make are important, but it’s also critical to remain flexible and have the right foundations to allow for change as needed. Over the past two years, we focused on our foundations. We went right back to purpose; looking inward and outward, to consider how we respond to the opportunities, context and challenges for FRRR as it prepares to enter its third decade.
After 17 years, FRRR is at a point of maturity – we know who we are, and that our approach and philosophy is aligned to our stakeholders and our purpose. But I knew that we weren’t quite ready for the next leap, and I made a few key decisions that focus on getting our foundations right; poising FRRR for growth and continued localised depth and national reach.
Three key actions that are shaping FRRR’s way forward:
- Deeper relationships and appreciation of how important local context is. In the first year, I restructured our team to a state-based model. Our time in communities keeps us focused on why we do what we do, and we remain committed to growing support for the issues that communities themselves identify. Now, 18 months into this structure, we are attracting better grant applications from more communities, including historically hard to reach places such as Tasmania and NT.
- Harnessing our historical data and articulating the theory of change to take FRRR forward. FRRR has received 28,000 applications for funding since 2000. That is a huge amount of information about needs in rural communities over almost two decades. We’re dissecting this data to analyse how FRRR has responded, priority areas, and what issues, geographies and types of projects the philanthropic sector has contributed to, via FRRR.
- Systems, systems, systems (the less “glamorous” part of a leadership role). We are updating our systems to enable growth – by unlocking available data and streamlining processes, this will free up our time to ‘work in the field’ and focus more on capacity building, responding to community priorities, taking a national view and driving more giving to rural Australia.
FRRR plays a truly unique role in small rural, regional and remote communities. With the work we’ve done this year, we are even better placed to be able to see the real challenges, opportunities and drivers at the grass roots level, and play this information up and down between government, business and philanthropy to improve the lives of those living in rural, regional and remote Australia.
FRRR’s role is evolving. Our vision and mission has not changed, however, now we have the infrastructure to step up our data reporting and we will use this to be an even more effective influencer in the philanthropic sector. But we take a genuine approach to a community led philanthropy; embedding the community voice in everything – so it is critical that the data and the stories of rural reality go hand-in-hand.
In the year ahead, we will continue to listen to community leaders and develop local capacity, build on our current and new donor partnerships and work with our partners to make a sustainable impact.
Natalie Egleton is passionate about facilitating effective responses to issues facing rural communities and working collaboratively to achieve sustainable outcomes. She was appointed CEO of FRRR in 2015, having joined FRRR in 2012. Outside work, Natalie lives in a small rural community in rural Victoria and has been actively involved in a number of committees, so she knows too well the challenges that small community groups face.
Natalie will be a speaker at the upcoming Generosity Forum 2018. To hear more from Natalie about what community-centric philanthropy looks like in practice, how to do it and why it’s effective, check out the Forum program.