I have been there. The visit from the big city or national funder. The awkward conversations with the visitors that want to get the best shrimp and grits or crawfish. And the never-ending sense that you are selling something that, even with the best intentions, the visitor is never going to understand. They may get enamored with your project, but never truly recognize the place and why your work is supporting a vision in ways that speaks to the rural dimensions of local people.

The 2016 presidential election saw a rise in interest in rural philanthropy—some by funders trying to understand and rethink their work. Other times by funders looking to retrench and defend their strategies. This all in the midst of the tens of thousands of family and community funders already deeply embedded in rural places and a continuing boom in the creation of healthcare conversion foundations—most with a significant rural footprint. Interest has waxed and waned since then but now more urban-based and national funders are engaged in rural conversations than have been for the past 20 years.

The blessing of the heightened interest in rural philanthropy is that it is calling into question many funder assumptions that are urban-based—emphasis on scale: big evaluations, reliance on large nonprofits and intermediaries. What it doesn’t always come with, unfortunately, is a commitment to being authentic.

Here are three achievable ways for funders to be authentic in their rural work—whether they are large or small, new in the space or veterans.

  1. Hire people from rural personal and/or professional backgrounds
  2. Work with intermediaries and contractors that have rural personal and professional experience
  3. Have an internal rural quality control lens that is funder-wide

Read the full article about authentic rural philanthropy by Allen Smart at the National Center for Family Philanthropy.