August 3, 2017

Grants in Australia: There's $26 billion up for grabs, but who's winning?

Grants. If you're a university researcher, a business looking to ramp up, or any one of Australia's 600,000 not-for-profit organisations, you can't avoid them.

This article is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of CSI or its partner universities.

by Kathy Richardson, Executive Director, Our Community

Around $26 billion is given out in grants across Australia every year. (That's billions, with a 'b'. Every single year.)

They're dispensed by local councils, state and federal government departments and agencies, by family foundations, community foundations, corporate foundations. Each funder is looking for a different outcome, but all have expectations about outcomes – grants aren't gifts; they come with strings attached.

Good outcomes are not guaranteed, however, and countless auditors’ reports have shown that many millions of dollars worth of grants have been wasted on projects that did not work or whose lessons were not heeded. Common problems include poor program design, inadequate technical and administrative systems, and too much outside interference in the selection process.

That's not acceptable. As we point out in our Grantmaking Manifesto, every grant dollar should produce the maximum benefit for Australian society. Every grant should be both efficient (conducted at the minimum cost and in the minimum time) and effective (producing socially and/or economically valuable outcomes). Every grant should be based on a coherent and plausible rationale. Every grant should be awarded on the basis of clear, transparent, and publicly accessible criteria. Every grant should be an improvement on the last grant.

Since 2006, Our Community has set out to find out how this mass movement of funds can be better managed by speaking to those who know the problems best – grantseekers and grant recipients.

The Grants in Australia Survey is the biggest research program of its kind. The 2017 leg of the project, released this month, has taken on board the responses of more than 1200 individuals, all of whom were involved in applying for or receiving a grant in the previous 12 months on behalf of a not-for-profit organisation.

So what did we find out? Here are the top 10 findings:

  1. 1. Big organisations: small grants
    Large not-for-profit organisations (those with annual revenue of more than $1 million) are not just winning large grants, they’re scooping up many of the small grants (less than $5000) on offer as well.
  2. Pressure building for local government
    State/territory governments are the most relied-upon source of grants for not-for-profit organisations, but their importance is declining over time, while local government is becoming increasingly important, particularly for small not-for-profit organisations.
  3. Corporates continue to lag
    Corporate grantmaking in Australia was building as an important source of funds for not-for-profits between 2007 and 2010 but fell away after that and has not yet recovered to 2010 levels.
  4. Grantseekers report increasing success
    Not-for-profit organisations are reporting either stable or increasing success in getting grants (though we're not sure whether that's because there are more grants available or because the organisations we survey are getting better at getting grants).Sport and recreation and arts and culture organisations apply for fewer grants than organisations from other segments of the not-for-profit sector.
  5. There's work to do in reducing non-completion rates
    Ideally, anyone who made a decision to apply for a grant would proceed to submission, but a huge amount of time is being wasted on applications that are started then abandoned. More than half of the people we surveyed said they’d started an application that they didn’t end up submitting.
  6. Moving to more strategic grantmaking
    Multi-year grants and grants for core costs are getting harder to get, despite ongoing campaigns to encourage more of this type of funding, while a third of grantseekers report difficulties in forming a meaningful relationship with a grantmaker.
  7. Funders, if you only do one thing this year …
    The headline area for grantmaker improvement is in the provision of feedback to unsuccessful applicants. We've taken the pulse on this issue for more than a decade and grantseekers still highlight this as a key pain point.
  8. Grantmakers like outcomes reporting. Paying for the reports, not so much
    Grantmakers’ enthusiasm for outcomes measurement is not matched by their willingness to fund it. Grantseekers are increasingly asked for evidence of outcomes, but are overwhelmingly being forced to fund their own outcomes measurement activities.
  9. There's a way to go in the shift to online forms
    Grantseekers’ preferences for application forms switched from offline electronic forms (fillable PDFs and Word documents) to online electronic forms around 2013 but the shift is not yet complete, with a good chunk of grantmakers continuing to use offline electronic forms to collect applications.
  10. Habits of successful grantseekers
    Successful grantseekers are more likely than unsuccessful grantseekers to form a relationship with grantmakers. Successful grantseekers are less likely than unsuccessful grantseekers to start an application form they don’t take through to completion.

Our survey has uncovered a range of lessons for the dispensers of grants as well as recipients. We've distilled these into fact sheets for both parties, while the full report can be downloaded at: or contact if you’d like to receive a PDF copy.

About the author
Kathy Richardson is Executive Director and “Chaos Controller” at Our Community, a social enterprise and accredited B Corporation that provides training, software and data science initiatives for not-for-profit organisations, grantmakers, and other community builders. Visit


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