Communities Foundations in COVID-19

The power of local funds to ease the impact of national health crisis

In Perth and across the broader south-west of the nation, the Wungening Aboriginal Corporation, is being funded to deliver food and hygiene parcels to thousands of Aboriginal clients through a collective of 18 local member Aboriginal community-controlled organisations.

In Sydney’s south-west, a local foodbank has been able to continue its work supporting families struggling with the consequences of the COVID health crisis because of a cash injection.

In Melbourne, a social enterprise that is a clothing manufacturer, digital textile printer and fashion label, has been funded to turn its hands to making medical scrubs for health staff.

In Hobart, a school that supports students who have disengaged from mainstream education is now receiving iPads to help those students without devices to continue working online, while teachers deliver learning packs and youth workers do a daily check-in.

All of these initiatives are linked by one powerful force – the capacity of philanthropy, often through a local community foundation or giving circle, to provide a rapid response initiative to the health emergency.

The funding has meant that many small organisations whose existence was imperilled by the lockdown can go on supporting their communities at a vital time. The situation also underlines the capacity of community foundations in particular to leverage their local contacts and expertise for maximum impact. The trust between many of the organisations on the ground and their local community foundation has enabled the funding applications to be expedited without any loss of rigour. And the impact, in many cases, is instant.

But there is no denying that the landscape many of the foundations in particular are negotiating is complex and demanding.

The Northern Rivers Community Foundation, covering seven NSW local government areas in what is considered to be one of the nation’s largest foundations, is about to unveil its Resilience and Regeneration Fund.

“This is not just a response to the health crisis,’’ the Foundation’s Executive Officer, Emily Berry, explains. ” This is drought, bushfires and then COVID. Some of our communities are in trauma…and so many parts of the community are in different stages of coping.’’

The response, from a range of funders across the country, has been spontaneous but measured, empathetic and strategic. Often, it’s taken the form of collaboration or partnerships to increase the speed of the response and delivery, or to share important resources.

Whether it is the collaboration between Philanthropy Australia and the Australian Communities Foundation to establish a national free on-line COVID-19 granting platform, or the launch of the Sydney Community Foundation’s partnership with the Sydney Women’s Fund for the Be Kind Sydney initiative, there has been a shared recognition of the need to find ways to provide on-going support for many not-for-profits whose services are now facing great demand.

In Canberra, the Snow Foundation has joined with the Chief Minister’s Charitable Foundation, and the John James Foundation, to deliver an initial $500,000 to local not-for-profits.

“Collaboration is needed now more than ever to strengthen community organisations and charities to be able to continue to operate and help those in need, especially where demand has increased significantly,’’ CEO of the Snow Foundation Georgina Byron said.

Western Australia’s Relief and Recovery Fund was launched recently to provide urgent help to those working on the ground. “The money raised will be distributed to not-for-profit organisations that are providing food and housing, social support and health services for the; homeless, Indigenous Australians, low-income families, seniors and those heavily reliant on sectors such as the arts, who will face increased struggles because of reduced or lost income,’’ Fremantle Foundation Executive Officer. Sue Stepatschuk said.

One of the recipients will be Perth-based Wungening Aboriginal Corporation, an Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation, which is working toward a healthy, safe, strong and sustainable Aboriginal community. It is working with a collective of 17 other Aboriginal organisations across Noongar country, in the state’s south-west.

Wungening will use funds across the organisations; and they will be the primary contact with organisations such as Foodbank WA, Secondbite and OzHarvest to help deliver food and hygiene parcels to thousands of Aboriginal clients.

The 18 ACCOs have thousands of Aboriginal clients who are not presently serviced (or adequately serviced) by other not-for-profits or the broader government welfare system. It’s estimated that food/hygiene parcels of $50 a week (at full retail value) are likely to be needed per client.

Outside the cities, the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal was an early responder to the bushfire crisis and established a perpetual Disaster Resilience and Recovery Fund that will provide on-going support for communities through the current health emergency.

While there have been many larger organisations that have mobilised to provide aid in the past six months, notably during the bushfires, there is widespread acknowledgement of the power of “local’’ when it comes to rapid response.

“We have a place-based approach and we know our community,’’ Gerlinde Scholz, Executive Officer, Australian Community Philanthropy, says. “People understand who’s in need.’’

It’s a rule of thumb, for the small foundations as well as the large ones. The Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation in Melbourne last month made $555,000 in grants to six NFPs across the homelessness, health and social enterprise areas to provide additional support through the crisis. It has established a COVID-19 Community Resilience Fund Account to provide additional resources.

Other organisations are working at a practical level to ensure the personal connections that are often vital to collective giving are not too compromised by the social distancing required during the COVID lockdown. Melbourne Women’s Fund, for example, has established a task force to research ways to deliver events via technology that enhances the opportunity for engagement and information exchange.

Progress Australia, partnering with the Australian Communities Foundation and ACOSS, has launched a Rapid Advocacy Fund that has generated $80,00 to fund 12 strategic advocacy campaigns to “…ensure the government’s expanded stimulus package and broader policy response to the pandemic centres fairness and justice.’’

And specific areas of need that have come into sharper focus because of the lockdown, such as education also have special funds to provide targeted support. Schools Plus’s fund to support the nation’s schools, teachers and students and has already started disbursing grants to schools in disadvantaged communities.

Even some giving circles, such as Impact100, have changed their approach to providing urgent assistance. Sophie Chamberlain, of Impact100 in Western Australia, said the organisation consulted US and other Australian chapters and then embarked on a simpler grant application process, a quicker granting turnaround and provided more grants for less money than usual. “We stayed true to some of our guiding principles,’’ Sophie said, “but we are also responding to the current situation, supporting our local charities to survive through these turbulent times.’’ The expectation is that there will be five grants of $50,000 each disbursed in August, rather than October or November.

In Geelong, the GiveWhereYouLive Foundation has distributed $240,000 in emergency grants, drawing directly on its corpus, with additional support from the Erdi Foundation.

GiveWhereYouLive Chief Executive Officer Bill Mithen said recently: “It’s no good saying “We want to hang on to our funds for a rainy day.“ The rainy day is here – it’s pouring.’’

Collective Giving reports & resources

Fremantle Foundation

Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation

Philanthropy Australia & Australian Communities Foundation National Funding Platform

Northern Rivers Community Foundation

Australian Progress

Schools Plus

Be Kind Sydney

Melbourne Women’s Fund



The Snow Foundation

Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal

Inner North Community Foundation

COVID-19 Funding Opportunities

Access the Australian Communities Foundation National Funding Portal for philanthropic funders to connect with the funding opportunities available to tackle COVID-19.

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