Giving Compass’ Take:
• PhilanthropywoRx makes the case for creating a rural philanthropic network to address the needs of America’s rural communities.
• Could a network help you engage in or improve rural philanthropy efforts?
• Learn about philanthropy’s role in rural communities.
What are Opportunities for Funders in the Rural Space?
There is no single “rural” solution. Instead, opportunities for engaging in rural communities are as varied and dynamic as the communities themselves. Rural philanthropy gives funders a unique opportunity to re-think processes and improve effectiveness by:
1. Expanding the definition of “grantee”— While there may be fewer large non-profts, there are a number of anchor institutions like libraries, hospitals, community colleges, extension offices and parks and recreation districts that are trusted local entities with long histories of serving folks across their rural communities.
2. Working with informal leaders and leadership networks — Rural communities generally have leaders that operate without formal title or role; they just get things done and are trusted voices within their communities. Tink faith community, small business and youth athletics. These are the leaders who will deliver change in rural communities.
3. Collaborating with local funders — Place-based rural funders are excited to explore partnerships with regional, state and national funders since they have the insider knowledge, even if they don’t always have the financial or human resources necessary to fully implement strategy.
4. Making smaller grants — Funders interested in the rural space don’t always have to make major financial or programmatic investments. Big impact can be stimulated by grants of less than $100,000, or sometimes less than $10,000.
5. Revisiting the definition of “return on investment”— Te metrics used to measure ROI, as well as other notions of philanthropic success, must be rethought in rural philanthropy to better capture concepts around community change, positioning for the future and renewed energy. Rural philanthropy can make a big difference by helping people advance their vision of their own community and tackle longstanding issues.
What structures currently exist to support rural philanthropy?
With the shutdown of the 10-year-old National Rural Funders Collaborative in 2011, philanthropy has lacked for a nationally identified commitment to rural communities. Rural Funders Collaborative leaves a strong legacy, and the time is right to take their recommendations and move towards integrating much of the existing funder work that is currently going on in the rural space. We need a nationwide vehicle for rural communities and rural funders to exchange ideas, develop relationships and work mutually towards sustaining and growing rural America.
Te field is not without pockets of interest. Tere is a great deal of energetic discussion. Rural funder groups are forming within states, regionally and nationally to begin to set an agenda for the next stage of rural philanthropic focus. Similarly, some national issue-focused funder groups are having discussions about rural advocacy, and issues like the 2020 census, broadband access and opioid abuse are bringing together funders to better align resources and strategies. Almost all existing funder groups have rural-serving members and have inherently rural-specific work embedded in their agendas.