The Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal (FRRR) is an Australian not-for-profit (NFP) organisation that harnesses the power of collective investment and partnerships between philanthropy, government, the private sector and individuals. It focuses solely on rural, regional and remote (RRR) communities, whose isolation and small population base can mean it’s difficult to raise funds locally. FRRR leverages its unique tax status to raise funds and direct grants and other support to community-based organisations for approved projects, so they can enhance social capital and economic resilience and create the future the community wants.
FRRR relies on donor partners for the funding it distributes, and while it has long-term donor partners, to meet its goals, and address the unmet need, it needs to continually grow its funding base. Additionally, it needs to shore-up current donors to meet the increasing demand from community organisations due to drought, climate impacts and economic changes, among other factors.
It is challenging in a highly-competitive funding environment to keep the Foundation top of mind. Further, RRR communities’ needs are diverse, but relatively few people benefit and so RRR communities are often not high on the priority list of other funders. Therefore, FRRR has to work extra hard to broaden its reach, raise awareness of need, and to explain the complex but unique role it plays.
Business Need and Communication Opportunity
Despite distributing millions in grants to thousands of recipients, for a variety of reasons FRRR didn’t have a framework to evaluate the effectiveness of the grants and track future impact. In 2017, FRRR secured funding from the Sidney Myer Fund to develop this framework. It started by analysing its grant-making activities from its inception in 2000 until December 2016. In addition to informing the design of the evaluation framework, this provided valuable data about impact and unmet demand, which in turn informed operational changes.
The analysis found:
- FRRR had distributed around AU$66M via 325 grant rounds to Australian RRR communities (which is typically leveraged by communities three times over, meaning a cumulative investment of c. $260M).
- It awarded more than 8,200 grants (median value c. $4,000).
- There were 26,411 applications, but FRRR could meet only 31% of requests for funding.
With FRRR aiming to grant out $10M a year by 2020 (from $6.4M in FY2015/16), the release of the report provided an opportunity to highlight the impact of donors’ support of FRRR, as well as the areas that needed additional assistance. It was also an opportunity to reaffirm FRRR’s credentials, introduce FRRR to a new audience, remind past donor partners of what had been achieved with their support, and seek further donations.
- To increase understanding of FRRR’s impact, strengthen and deepen current donor relationships, and generate increased donations or new partnerships by the end of FY2018
- To equip FRRR’s supporters and with information they can use to advocate for FRRR within their networks
- To support FRRR’s staff by providing analysis that helps them attract new donors
The Communication Solution
With little Australian-based research about rural, regional or remote philanthropy, JAW Communications was confident that leveraging this research would be a good way to reach new donor partners and solidify relationships with existing partners and advocates. It would help tell the story about what communities can achieve with a little support from philanthropy, and highlight the vital role FRRR plays in getting funds where they are needed. The report’s release also coincided with the philanthropic sector focusing more on impact investment and detailed evaluation.
An independent research consultant analysed the 26,000 grants, and prepared a draft report, while a second consultant ran a series of focus groups with grant recipients to further inform the analysis and help validate the evaluation framework. While all of this information was relevant and valuable, it needed work to make it engaging and readable. However, it also needed to retain the stamp and style of the researcher, who is well respected in the sector.
JAW Communications worked with FRRR’s CEO to develop an informative yet engaging Impact Report that could be distributed at face-to-face briefings and also be downloaded from FRRR’s website. We built on the consultant’s draft report, adding historical context, developing case studies about the impact of FRRR in communities (drawing on the focus groups), and developing infographics to make the document more readable. We also created a high-level fact sheet, calling out key data points, knowing that a summary would appeal to key stakeholders.
In all of the communications, we incorporated several key messages, including the following for audiences:
Donors – Current, Past & Prospective:
- Research confirms FRRR is an effective partner – trusted, efficient & able to reach RRR communities.
- Research confirms too that small grants are an effective way to support RRR communities.
- There is significant unmet demand, and further support is needed.
Influencers & Advocates:
- FRRR is uniquely placed to channel philanthropy to RRR NFPs.
- Recent research confirms FRRR is an effective partner.
- There is significant unmet demand, and further support is needed.
- This research confirms the important role of small grants and FRRR’s role in supporting RRR communities.
- It provides information that you can use when engaging with donors or prospective donors.
The primary channel for sharing the insights from the research was face-to-face briefings. We chose this because it is not something that FRRR frequently does, so holding such events signalled FRRR had something important to say.
Working with the CEO and partnership team, JAW Communications identified which donor partners and stakeholders required private briefings, and who would be happy to hear the news in a joint forum. As they were both a donor and founding member, we prioritised the Sidney Myer Fund, as well as the Government (another founding member). In addition, we held events with key partners and asked to invite potential donors.
To further disseminate key messages, we secured several speaking engagements, including a keynote for a philanthropy conference, as we knew not all donors would be able to make the private briefings. We focused media relations outreach on the philanthropic sector, as a way to reach new potential donors, especially given the primary goal was to attract additional funds. All major titles covered the story. Newsletters and social media supported all this outreach.
Overall, the report and its rollout exceeded expectations, and achieving the objectives. FRRR is extremely pleased with the report, especially as there have been two significant donations that can be directly linked to the work.
Further, since the launch, the data and graphics from the report have been used in fundraising applications and submissions to Government inquiries on particular issues, such as rural services inequity.