Grant-making in a crisis: what we learnt

March 18, 2021

A deep diver wearing wetsuit, mask and flippers in a blue sea
Our first grant round of 2020/21 was unlike any other.

As the global COVID-19 pandemic hit Australia’s shores, our first priority was to support stations to stay on air and keep their communities connected and informed. We acted quickly, consulting with peak sector organisations and forming a Taskforce and COVID-19 Grants Advisory Committee to guide our response in a rapidly evolving situation that posed many challenges.

Our aim was to help as many stations as possible with the available resources. In the end, we distributed over $9 million to community broadcasting organisations – $7 million through our Sector Investment, Development & Operations and Content grants, and $2.6 million through COVID-19 Quick Response and COVID-19 Crisis grants.

In response to feedback from community media organisations about the management of grants during the COVID-19 crisis, we initiated a deep dive analysis to assess the effectiveness of the decisions made and processes undertaken during that time. As a part of this exercise, we engaged community media consultant and broadcasting veteran, David Melzer, to conduct an independent analysis to help us debrief and identify key learnings. David recently delivered his final report to the CBF Board.

The deep dive process and David’s final report have been very useful in allowing us to gather insights on what we did, what we learnt, and what we might do differently next time. The findings and recommendations have provided us with helpful advice and direction on how we might respond to future crises – knowing that future actions will need to adapt to the nature of the emergency.

Key reflections

Some of the key reflections from the deep dive analysis and report include:

  • This was a rapidly unfolding crisis which required decisions to be made very quickly to address an escalating and unprecedented situation. The timing of the grant round meant that we were making decisions without full understanding of the financial impact of the impending pandemic. Even now, we are not in a position to understand the full impact of the events of 2020.
  • While many grantees were delighted with the funding support we provided, pausing assessments on our standard grant round and re-opening the round to allow applicants to adjust their requests in light of the unfolding pandemic, added to the stress many were experiencing as they dealt with the practical requirements of implementing social distancing, remote broadcasting and other COVID-19 protocols to stay on air during the crisis. Our organisational response added additional workload to our small team of staff and volunteers, many of whom were working remotely and juggling other responsibilities. The sector and CBF team both did an amazing job under the circumstances during this incredibly difficult period.
  • When we created a separate COVID-19 Crisis Fund by re-directing funds from the standard Content and Development & Operations grants rounds as part of our crisis response strategy, the flow-on affect was that we made our usual grant round more competitive. This put additional pressure on funds that were already stretched – the ongoing need for support across our sector is great, yet the funds we have available can never meet the demand. We know that applying for grants can feel like a rollercoaster, and while applicants generally understand their requests may not be able to be met, it was particularly challenging to meet the expectations of all stations who hoped they could rely on the CBF for support in a crisis.

Our response

Actions we have taken include:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted some existing weaknesses in our grant processes. We’ve taken the opportunity to address these and, for many of the issues identified in David’s report, we have already implemented remedial actions and acted on feedback received – this has been an important part of our work over the past few months as we prepared to open and run our Round 1 2021/22 Development & Operations and Content grants.
  • We worked closely with key stakeholders throughout the unfolding pandemic and intend to keep doing so. The experience has highlighted how much we can achieve when we work together with the sector’s peak bodies, and how important these organisations are in providing stations with practical support in good times and in bad.
  • We are also mindful that as the community broadcasting sector’s funding agency, we need to strike a balance between walking hand-in-hand with sector organisations to ensure our grant programs appropriately meet the sector’s needs, and maintain processes that allow for appropriate, fearless and independent decision-making that will support the future of the sector as a whole.

Where to from here?

The feedback we’ve received, together with the deep dive process and David’s report, will inform our thinking as we work towards the development of our new strategic plan. It also provides a useful framework to help us plan and deliver our ongoing support to the sector in times of change.

Many staff and volunteers in our sector are continuing to work through the impacts of a year of living, working and volunteering through a pandemic, and this continues to be an incredibly stressful and draining time for many in our sector.

We know we still have much to do in continuing to support the sector through the longer-term economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and, in looking to the future, to make the most of the opportunities that have emerged in the past year. We will continue working hard to provide community broadcasters with the support you need and will listen and act on your feedback to improve our processes.

Stay in touch

The report and deep dive analysis are part of a larger ongoing conversation about how we can best support the sector through our grants. We always welcome questions, feedback and ideas – please contact us anytime