Giving Compass' Take:

• Rural foundations take on five strategic roles that increase engagement and uplift local communities through education, local infrastructure, voice, and leveraging fundraising capacity. 

• How do rural foundations differ from others? Are bigger foundations doing the same things? 

• Read about the decline in rural philanthropy in recent years. 

When most people think of foundations, they think of deep pockets. In rural communities, the creation of big-dollar health conversion foundations garners media attention and sparks public awareness. But as with their mammoth cousins, these foundations represent a small fraction of overall foundation assets and giving in rural communities.

Quite frequently, it’s the rural funders with modest financial means that make the biggest on-the-ground impact. Successful small foundations in rural areas leverage a number of non-financial assets to improve the lives of those they serve. They focus on meeting each community’s own vision of success by exploring the strategic possibilities that are well beyond the realm of check-writing.

Here are five strategic roles that small rural funders play with great success:

Put issues on the table. With little expenditure of funds but plenty of leadership, smaller funders can write op-eds to the local newspaper, commission objective studies, and otherwise elevate issues of concern, opening a door for local people to engage in discussions that previously were off the table.

Educate the community. Foundations with few financial resources can provide easy-to-understand, in-depth public education on issues that are important to the community.

Build local infrastructure. Smaller foundations can provide technical help to nonprofits that need to partner, merge, or create greater efficiency and impact in other ways.

Leverage fundraising capacity. Small rural foundations can support the kind of preparation necessary for nonprofits to seek major grants from state, regional, and national sources, both public and private.

Grow local voices. Small foundations can train and mentor residents to speak out for their community. This effort might begin by training people to speak to their elected officials, county managers, and county planners.

Read the full article about rural foundations by Allen Smart at Exponent Philanthropy