In the midst of the Federal government’s initial response to the COVID-19 outbreak, The Parenthood – a national NFP representing parents, carers and supporters – realised that it had to move quickly to insert itself into the childcare debate.
The government had announced the introduction of free childcare during the pandemic and The Parenthood knew there was an opportunity to press home its advocacy for an improved childcare deal for the post-COVID recovery. It applied for a rapid advocacy grant from the special COVID-19 donor pool set up by Australian Progress in association with the Australian Communities Foundation and the Australian Council of Social Service. The $6000 grant came through in only four days, ensuring The Parenthood was able to mobilise significant media coverage and create a survey that not only helped re-energise their supporters but provide additional content to disseminate across the country.
When the pandemic hit, The Parenthood board member Owen Wareham said the board quickly identified what a grant could be used to achieve. “The funding gave us a leg-up with the media coverage, but we also needed to activate our support base, to reconnect with our audience and amplify parents’ concerns.’’
Around the same time, Joel Dignam, executive director of renters’ advocacy organisation Better Renting in Canberra, was confronting a similar urgency as the pandemic’s debilitating impact started to erode renters’ certainty about having a roof over their head.
“Our main concern was that if renters lost their jobs, then they wouldn’t be able to pay their rent, and they may be evicted. All of which has implications for our public health, as well as the economy,’’ he says.
Better Renting also applied for a rapid response grant from the Australian Progress donor pool and received $6500 to support its campaign for better rental rights and to extend the eviction moratorium.
“The grant gave us the confidence to respond quickly,’’ Joel says. “And from a philanthropic point of view, a smaller grant, with a lighter application process, is often suited to smaller organisations who don’t always have the capacity for a more demanding process.’’
The fund built quickly - $100,000 in a month, and from there, 17 grassroots advocacy projects were approved from around 100 applications. The goal is to raise $20,000 a week for the next 12 months, leveraging off the advocacy success to ensure stronger policy outcomes on the other side of the pandemic.
Australian Progress’s executive director Kirsty Albion said the health crisis exacerbated inequality across the nation.
“What we have seen with this program is how small grants can make an extraordinary difference to those organisations’ capacity,’’ she says.
Critical to the grants’ success is the speed of the turnaround time. Applications are assessed each week. “We consider are they grassroots? Is it advocacy? What’s their capacity to make a difference,’’ Kirsty explains. “And the capacity to harness a moment often determines the success of a campaign.’’
At the heart of it though is an understanding of the level of goodwill within the philanthropic sector to continue to support such activities. “I think there’s a lot of appetite to support people through COVID,’’ Kirsty says.
The Besen Family Foundation is one of several notable donors, providing $20,000 to the funding pool. “The Besen Family Foundation contributed to the Rapid Advocacy Fund to ensure grassroots, not-for-profits and advocates who are assisting those impacted by COVID-19 can communicate with policy and decision-makers to promote and protect the needs of their clients, ‘’ Foundation CEO Tabitha Lovett says. “We are deeply concerned about the effects of COVID-19 on the community’s physical and mental health, job security and support networks.
The grants already disbursed included $4,500 to the First Peoples’ Disability Network, National $1,500 to the Refugee-led Advisory and Advocacy Group, $3,000 to the Melbourne Activist Legal Service and $6000 to the Alliance for Gambling Reform. Each grant is designed to mobilise, campaign, monitor, unite, support or expand work in each of the organisation’s operations.
But being nimble is the key. The Parenthood grant was received at 6 pm on a Monday. It was approved by the following afternoon. The result has put Parenthood on the cusp of having a firm stake in a significant change in childcare policy. “We’re really close to getting where we want to go,’’ Owen says. “We know we don’t want to go back to the old [childcare] system after this and it appears the minister is not snapping back to where we were.’’
For Joel, there were some early wins on the renters’ moratorium, but the advocacy doesn’t stop there. Although state and territory governments will try to prevent evictions, Better Renting wants to ensure everyone follows the Tasmanian government’s lead in protecting lodgers and boarders from eviction too. Perhaps not surprisingly, it’s a work in progress.