It’s a critical time for Rural America, but what do we know about it? There are 60 million rural people in the United States, roughly 19 percent of the nation’s population. Yet, the level of (under)investment by philanthropy in rural communities is still staggering—at less than 7% of all grantmaking.

The rewards of rural philanthropy for both communities and funders can be transformative in ways that are both attributable and sustaining. No funder is too small to help rural communities pursue their hopes and dreams, and no funder is too large to contribute to the nation’s rural landscape—with a bit of thoughtfulness and rescaling, anyone can make an impact in Rural America.

So how can you better understand the rural context? While funders should certainly have a solid grasp of their own goals and strategies when entering rural philanthropy, it’s also critical to understand that rural communities are very different from urban ones — and very different from one another.

What does a successful rural engagement look like for a well-intentioned philanthropy?

  • It’s broadly rooted in the place. In rural philanthropy, place—rather than a funder’s particular interest areas—should drive strategy.
  • It’s invested in existing assets that likely look different from urban ones. Strengthen what is already there. Consider general operating support for valued partners, and compensate them for their time and wisdom as they help you get to know their community.
  • It’s open to new interpretations of success. Very little evidence-based or best-practice work has been developed or tested in rural communities.
  • Work doesn’t happen from behind a desk. Rural investments also often require staffing models that place foundation staff within rural communities or even hire from those same communities.

Read the full article about rural philanthropy by Allen Smart and Betsy Russell at GrantCraft.