Giving Compass' Take:

• Rural funders face a choice between funding proven programs and innovating new ones. This is not necessarily an either/or decision, but funders must choose how to allocate their resources between them. 

• What are your top priorities for funding? Does sustaining existing programs achieve your goals? Is there an opportunity to spark new ideas to achieve your goals?

• Read about 5 ways philanthropists can support rural communities.

As you think about what role you might play in your rural community’s philanthropy, consider the following questions:

  • Do you want to grow and sustain what works?
  • Do you want to spark new ideas and innovations?
  • Do you want to do both?

As a sustainer, you might engage in work that seeks to support and enhance schools, parks, arts groups, or the local health and human services system with direct grants to services and capital improvements.

As a funder who sparks new ideas, you might work initially on your own or in partnership with others. Spark-focused funders are re-imaginers and provocateurs—leading communities to think about where they want to go rather than making better the current state of things.

Finally, you might think of how to allocate your resources and attention to sustaining work and sparking ideas in your community. One shorthand way to think about your role as a sustainer and/or a sparker is to understand whether your rural community is:

  • A natural asset site: Does the region have the type of physical beauty and resources that have shaped their histories and may shape their futures?
  • A rural area of transition: Is the area in the midst of transition from being definitively rural to more suburban? Or is it becoming more isolated as other rural communities around it fade away?
  • A rural area of longstanding poverty: Is the community struggling to hold on against all odds—just as it always has?

None of the community attributes listed above require an either/or choice between playing the role of sustainer or sparker. Instead, they should help you heighten your awareness of the context of the place and how you might best work there.

Read the full article on rural funders by Allen Smart at Exponent Philanthropy