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Small grants, big impact: Rapid Advocacy Fund awarded Best Grant Program 2021

Profile of Dom O'Donnell
Written by Dom O'DonnellPosted on 1/12/2021

“Funding strategic advocacy projects is one of the most powerful ways to multiply our collective impact, tens, if not hundreds of times,” says Elise Dalley, Impact Director at Australian Progress – one of the founding organisations of the award-winning Rapid Advocacy Fund.

Established at the outset of Covid-19, the Fund has distributed $150,000 to 25 community-led grassroots organisations advocating for change within the windows of opportunity opened during the crisis.

“Funding for advocacy is best done at two speeds,” says Elise. “The first is long term investment, which over time, enables advocates to build public support for social reform, on issues like marriage equality, the NDIS and climate.

“Then there are moments in time when issues are most salient and dominating newspaper headlines, and rapidly deployed resources can make an extraordinary difference and secure lasting policy change,” says Elise.

“Covid-19 was one of those moments when almost overnight issues like social security, housing, health equity and civil liberties became headline news. As existing inequalities were exacerbated, communities had the unique policy solutions needed to secure better outcomes for their communities.”

If we quickly pool gifts and inject urgent funds into strategic advocacy projects, we can centre the expertise of lived experience and community movements in the rapidly evolving policy landscape

In this Q&A, Elise shares the details of the Fund’s unique model, impact highlights from grant partners, and what’s in store for the Fund over the next 12 months.

Tell us about the Rapid Advocacy Fund model.

The project was launched with a simple theory of change – if we quickly pool gifts and inject urgent funds into strategic advocacy projects, we can centre the expertise of lived experience and community movements in the rapidly evolving policy landscape and build the capacity of grassroots organisations advocating for a fair and equitable recovery. 

With a brief application process, rapid due diligence, and weekly grantmaking meetings with donors, we created a fast-tracked Fund to support grassroots advocacy at the speed the crisis demanded. 

What makes the Fund unique?

The rapid and responsive nature of the Fund: As the pandemic took hold, the nature of government decision-making changed overnight and grassroots communities found themselves needing to rapidly pivot their work to seize emerging opportunities for reform in a fast-moving policy landscape. The Rapid Advocacy Fund was designed to respond to this rapidly evolving situation at the speed required by the crisis we faced. During the granting period in 2020, we met weekly to assess applications and transferred successful grants typically within 48hrs of a decision. 

Centring lived experience in advocacy: Grassroots organisations bring unique expertise of the issues their community face, are highly responsive and are typically under-resourced. By providing these organisations with dedicated capacity to advocate, they were able to have an enormous impact on policy debates and decisions, influencing millions of dollars’ worth of decisions.

Philanthropy and advocacy expert co-funding model: The donor pool draws on the expertise and relationships of philanthropy, advocates and Australian Progress as an intermediary organisation. Donors participated in a weekly grantmaking meeting, rapidly assessing applications and collectively deciding on projects to fund. This highly-engaged model of philanthropy resulted in greater shared ownership, more rapid decision-making and deeper connections between philanthropy and advocates.

By taking a portfolio approach, and investing a modest $150,000 in the best advocacy organisations around the country, we knew a percentage would win.

What are some of the impact highlights of the Fund so far?

  • Two grants totalling $4,500 to the First Peoples’ Disability Network, supporting the launch of an urgent advocacy project calling on the National Cabinet to fast track 100 Respiratory Clinics across remote and regional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to prepare for the spread of Covid-19. A month later, after sustained advocacy, the Government announced a commitment to establish up to 100 GP-led respiratory clinics around the country.
  • A $10,000 grant to Better Renting, supporting renters to become prominent spokespeople in the public debate and amplify calls for policies that protect renters, successfully securing eviction moratoriums in multiple states. 
  • A $4,000 grant to Steve Bunbadgee Hodder Watt, in partnership with Gidgee Healing Mornington Island, to win clear and culturally appropriate public health information for remote First Nations communities on Mornington Island during Covid-19. 
  • A $5,000 grant to Digital Rights Watch that helped amplify demands for strong policy and legal frameworks from the Government about the Covid-19 contact tracing app, successfully securing access to the app source code and cautioning against further breaches of privacy or human rights. 
  • A $4,000 grant to Australian Democracy Network helped to establish the Covid-19 Civil Liberties Watch group, who successfully secured a Senate Select Committee to oversee the Government’s Covid-19 response. 
  • A $4,000 grant to Democracy in Colour that grew campaign capacity to have the federal Covid-19 wage subsidy expanded to migrant communities, which raised community awareness and helped build political support that catalysed state governments to introduce their own income support payments for migrant communities (worth hundreds of millions of dollars). 
  • Three grants totalling $10,000 to Tomorrow Movement to run a national day of action, mobilising students around the country in support of Raising the Rate of youth allowance. The campaign resulted in widespread media coverage.
  • Two grants totalling $10,000 to the Alliance for Gambling Reform, which successfully secured a ban on gambling advertising during live sport – particularly harmful during Covid-19 lockdowns – and engaged thousands of community advocates in a ban to remove gambling advertising from SBS. 

Rapid Advocacy Fund grantee, the Alliance for Gambling Reform, successfully secured a ban on gambling advertising during live sport and engaged thousands of community advocates in a ban to remove gambling advertising from SBS.

What’s in store for the Fund over the next 12 months?

The collaborative Fund has established itself as a critical piece of infrastructure bridging the philanthropic and non-profit sectors. Rapid funding for advocacy is always needed, which is why the Fund needs to become a long-term granting vehicle, capable of coordinating and injecting rapid funding to frontline organisations in key moments.

The next twelve months will offer a number of salient ‘moments’ during which rapid response advocacy is most impactful…

The next twelve months will offer a number of salient ‘moments’ during which rapid response advocacy is most impactful, where relatively small investments in advocacy could have profound impacts on policy decisions that will shape the future of our country for years to come.

The Fund is excited to continue supporting strategic responses to headline issues, including economic fairness, democracy and integrity, health, housing, disability, First Nations justice and climate. 

For more information, or to support grassroots advocacy efforts through the Rapid Advocacy Fund, please email Elise Dalley, Impact Director at Australian Progress, at elise@australianprogress.org.au

Rapid Advocacy Fund

The Rapid Advocacy Fund is committed to rapidly injecting funds into strategic advocacy campaigns, especially those responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia. Tax-deductible donations.

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Feature image: Tomorrow Movement (TM) has grown from strength to strength since receiving funding through the Rapid Advocacy Fund. TM’s campaigning for climate action and greater income support led to widespread media coverage during the pandemic.