Since the 1980s, an escalating combination of resource extraction, economic globalization and automation, retail consolidation, industrial agriculture, fossil fuel development, and regressive tax and budget policies has hurt many rural and small city communities and economies across the country.

In turn, this tangle of obstacles has produced social and political fragmentation across urban/rural, religious and racial lines that make public discussion and consensus around core values, public policy and a vision for a shared future increasingly difficult.  At the same time, there has been a decades-long downward trend in philanthropic investment in people and places outside major metropolitan regions, and that disinvestment is now almost total.

What’s more, when presented with compelling narratives and policy proposals of concern to them – on issues ranging from health care to environmental protection to inequality and economic opportunity – a large number of rural and small city residents support progressive and populist positions. The divides are narrower than we think.

The 2018 midterms demonstrate this. Rural voters shifted their vote by 7% compared to 2016, while suburban voters shifted their vote by 5%.

To some degree, this turnaround is the result of concerted efforts by state and local organizing, issue advocacy and community-building groups to reach beyond major metro regions and into suburbs, small cities and small towns.

The Heartland Fund, a 501c3 donor collaborative housed at the Windward Fund, was launched in 2018 by the Franciscan Sisters of Mercy and the Wallace Global Fund, and since joined by other donors, to begin redressing the philanthropic neglect of rural, small city and suburban communities in the region.

Heartland’s mission is to promote increased multi-issue and multi-racial organizing, issue advocacy, movement building and civic engagement in the Midwest, and to support an infrastructure working to bridge social and ideological divides.

Read the full article about the Heartland Fund by Scott Nielsen at the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy.