Archibald and Edyth Bush established the Bush Foundation in 1953. They left few restrictions and were thoughtful about the purpose of the foundation. They gave us both guidance and flexibility to figure out how to use Archie and Edyth’s resources to do the most possible good for the community.

Today, the Bush Foundation invests in great ideas and the people who power them in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and the 23 Native nations that share the same geography. We work to inspire and support creative problem solving—within and across sectors—to make our region better for everyone.

I am a product of the region we serve. A biracial woman who grew up in a very rural community in Minnesota, now living in Minneapolis. I am the daughter of a rural dentist and a public health nurse who also created leadership programs for rural women. I have the honor of serving as the vice president of grantmaking for the Bush Foundation. Serving community and finding ways to move philanthropy toward equitable, antiracist practices, helping leaders to become inspired, equipped, and connected to work across differences to create a region where everyone can thrive are things that excite me each day.

A primary focus of the foundation is on leadership development and support for organizations taking innovative approaches to building networks and solving problems in rural and geographically isolated areas. Can you talk about why you take this responsive approach and how grantees and their communities have benefited?

Our region is incredibly diverse and innovative in both people and landscape across rural, urban, and suburban communities. Our responsibility is to invest across our entire region. We think about our responsibility to invest in rural areas that are often overlooked by the majority of funders, AND to help reframe some of the national narrative that is often both negative and misinformed about rural people and communities. Foundations have the opportunity to deploy not only financial capital, but also social. We can influence others, not to amplify ourselves, but to highlight great work and strong communities within our region. All across more geographically isolated landscapes, people are connecting across differences to create solutions and foster ideas in really rich ways. Of course, in order for any idea to move forward, people need to be inspired, equipped, and connected to make it happen! For that reason, we deeply invest in the leadership growth of individuals as well as supporting ideas to develop, test, and spread. We are not an issues-based foundation. Rather, our strategy is to provide long-term funding of ideas AND of people, responding to what the community sees as the highest and most transformative need.

Some think of our region—North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, and the 23 Native nations that share this geography—as “fly-over country,” if they think of us at all. I invite you, dear reader, to challenge the assumptions you hold. Small communities have deep power and influence as well as intersected fortunes with those from more urban areas. Localized strategies and ideas bloom here that can benefit people all across the country. Hunger, climate change, polarization, and more are issues folks in urban, rural, and suburban areas are all facing. It’s rare that the best ideas come from one world view—we thrive when we can connect, see one another, and create ideas from the sparks that fly when people from different perspectives work toward change together. What have you been missing, intentionally or unintentionally, that could be a key investment for your mission? If you are not seeing rural and Indigenous people and communities in your grantee list, you are ignoring important work. For our country to thrive in the future, we must support and recognize the brilliance that lies in people in rural communities and the power of coming together for change.

Read the full article about grantmaking for rural communities by Chris Carlson and Anita Patel at FSG.