The Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal’s recent journey to deliver an Impact Report that examines the first 16 years of the organisation’s operation delivered surprising insights and revelations that not only confirm the anecdotal success of its partnership model, but set the course for its future collaborations with government, business and philanthropy. Here, FRRR CEO, Natalie Egleton, unpacks the process and shares valuable lessons learned.
Nicole Richards, October 2018
The Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal (FRRR) has been helping philanthropy move beyond its urban base to connect with rural, regional and remote Australia for more than 18 years.
In that time, FRRR, as a funder and fundraiser, has amassed an enormous body of knowledge that encompasses grant-making, program development, philanthropic responses to natural disasters and the changing needs of rural communities.
The effectiveness of the FRRR partnership model has attracted a broad range of supporters that spans the Australian Government and Sidney Myer Fund as founding members, corporations, community foundations, private ancillary funds and individual donors.
“We’ve always played the role of cross-sectoral backbone in terms of the way we harness the resources of philanthropy, business and government,” explains FRRR CEO, Natalie Egleton.
“FRRR was established as a partnership vehicle, and we work as a neutral convenor which means we can enable different needs and priorities or approaches to be met.
“It’s very much about finding those nuggets of alignment,” Egleton continues.
“Our partnership base is really diverse; some of our partners are funding rural issues, others have an interest in areas like education. What we’re able to do is hone in on those particular areas and offer something to our partners that enables them to be more impactful and get their funding to places they couldn’t get to on their own.”
Egleton adds that the majority of the organisation’s partnerships tend not to follow a formal, structured approach, but instead grow organically as a trusted relationship develops.
For evidence of the success of FRRR’s partnership model, look no further than the recently announced $17.5 million funding which has enabled the expansion of the organisation's support of drought-affected communities through the Tackling Tough Times Together (TTTT) program.
The Australian Government contributed $15 million towards the program, with the remainder provided by philanthropy and business including the Tim Fairfax Family Foundation, ANZ, Paul Ramsay Foundation, Sidney Myer Fund, Pratt Foundation, Australia Post, Westpac Group, The Snow Foundation, Santos, Aussie Farmers Foundation, Ronald Geoffrey Arnott Foundation, Qantas Foundation, NRMA, Rex Airlines and private donors.
“It’s been an extraordinary response,” Egleton says. “It also shows that FRRR is a trusted partner that is called upon, and used, by a diverse funder base. Our donors know that those funds will get on the ground and they have confidence in knowing that other funders are involved and it’s that collective model that makes it so effective.”
The additional TTTT funds have elevated FRRR’s ability to scale up its response to the drought and will enable three new staff members to join the team to manage the program, as well as facilitating work with communities to develop capacity building projects.
The Foundation’s recent Impact Report, 2000-2016, which was supported by Sidney Myer Fund, is the culmination of two-years’ worth of deep work. The report captures and formalises the impact of the nearly $70 million worth of grants FRRR had made towards its goal of enabling communities to build their social capital and economic resilience.
“The Impact Report was a really significant project and is a game-changing piece of work for us,” Egleton explains. “It’s effectively created a baseline for our work and enabled us to share our impact with the sector to inform the next stages of our work.”
Egleton says the genesis of the project was the longstanding need to dig through and translate the organisation’s data (including 26,000 applications for funding and 8,000 grants) into meaningful insights and demonstrated impact.
“One of the first things I noticed when I stepped into the CEO role was that I didn’t have a line of sight that clearly told me what we’d really worked on and importantly, what we hadn’t worked on,” Egleton says.
“I knew anecdotally what we’d done, but we didn’t have a way to capture it all and we can’t set our strategy or test the effectiveness of the FRRR model and determine where we should be working if we can’t see that.
“There was also an element of wanting to report back, to be able to go back to government and show them how we’d leveraged that initial $10 million investment, which is now up to about $85 million.”
After pulling together a project brief, FRRR engaged Regina Hill at Effective Philanthropy, who, Egleton says “helped us get through what felt like a foggy, murky process.”
“We needed help,” Egleton says simply. “We couldn’t even ask the right questions of ourselves.
“Regina was able to cut through the data and find a thread in a way that helped us view the projects and work through different ways of categorising it, ending up with seven focus areas and sub-categories.”
FRRR used stakeholder feedback and held a series of workshops with past grantees to help formulate coding rules for the project as well as surveying outcomes that had been achieved.
“The really critical part was the question of attribution and how we measure that impact,” Egleton says.
“From very early on, it became pretty clear that measuring impact in a way you might traditionally see it done, for example quantitatively in terms of how many people benefited from a particular project, was actually impossible for us to do and would continue to be impossible.
“One of the most valuable lessons for me in this process was that the way you define and measure impact needs to be fit-for-purpose,” Egleton says. “We started the project thinking we’d end up with one thing, but realised that we actually needed something completely different.
“The most interesting revelation was the role our grants had played in the broader ecosystem of the community,” Egleton explains.
“We’re often not the only funder in that community and the contribution of those grants is usually one part of many in a system of other things that are going on within the community. For instance, making a small grant that will enable a community to put an air conditioner in the community hall can in fact lead to improved outcomes in maternal and child health.
“We needed to say that the thing that matters is what we’re enabling and unlocking in those communities. This is really useful for us because we can work with where a community is at – whether that’s survival mode, in which case they probably need equipment and services; or maybe the community is in an innovation space and is ready to take on new challenges.”
The Impact Report shed valuable light on FRRR’s approaches, validating the organisation’s ongoing commitment to the value of small grants in rural communities. The majority of the organisation’s grants are relatively small, with the median grant coming in at just over $4,000. Interestingly, though modest, these grants have been found to be leveraged by the community in cash or in-kind services at least three times or more.
“The report helped validate our very deliberate choice to be a small grant provider across a broad base. There’s often a lot of discussion about small grants and whether they make an impact but what we’ve been able to articulate through this report is that small grants can be incredibly catalytic. What’s fundamental is the context and the understanding of the ecosystem and putting the grant in the right hands. If it’s done within those considerations, we’ve found there are long term, lasting benefits that trickle through the community with lots of outcomes.”
With rural and remote communities facing complex challenges running the gamut of climate change, resource management and economic pressures, Egleton says the only way to achieve lasting impact is to invest in the local capacity of a community’s people.
“If those communities have people and organisations that are able to be really strong advocates and voices for issues that matter, they can break down siloes and encourage collaborative efforts across the community that can’t be done in any other way,” Egleton says.
“Rather than going into these communities and saying, ‘This is what we think the solution is,’ the question needs to be ‘What do you need?’”
To learn more about Tackling Tough Times Together and other FRRR programs, visit the FRRR website.
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Photo by Alex Eckermann on Unsplash