The Lion Foundation returned over $699,000 in grants for community groups in Whanganui last year.

Notable grants were $50,000 towards a new local ambulance for St John, $25,000 to Whanganui Safe and Free, $25,000 to Carlton School, $25,000 to Netball Whanganui and $15,000 to Family Support Services Whanganui.

Other recipients included the Whanganui Rugby Union, Hospice Whanganui, Age Concern Whanganui, Whanganui Volunteer Centre and the Wanganui Sports Foundation.

Overall the Lion Foundation returned $37.8m, provided in 2882 grants to charities, schools, community groups and sports clubs across the country.

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Head of partnerships at the Lion Foundation Marcus Reynolds said he was happy with the result given the increase in demand for money.

"The number of applications we receive continues to grow, which is an indication of the financial pressure being faced by charities and not-for-profits everywhere," he said.

"The more money we can return the more great things these groups can do. Luckily for us we have some outstanding venue operators throughout New Zealand that do an amazing job."

Reynolds said that a number of trust funders have a narrow focus on where their grants are directed and that this excludes some of the groups that are most in need of one.

"Our view is that this money belongs to the community, which is why we have an inclusive funding model that supports every aspect of the community from arts and culture, to health, to education and sport," he said.

"At the end of the day we hold a social licence to act in the best interests of the community, put simply it's not our money."

He said the Lion Foundation is proud of its funding model.

"Money is never stripped out of an area and invested elsewhere, funds raised stay local except for a small proportion that goes towards national bodies that have a direct and tangible benefit on the ground," Reynolds said.

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"If there's an issue with the number or quality of applications in a certain town or suburb we step up and deliver funding forums to help organisations understand how it all works."

The vast majority of returned funding grants were distributed by regional grants committees made up of local representatives, who bring their experience, passion and knowledge to the decision making process.