I am excited to welcome you to become part of Campbell University’s new Rural Philanthropy Analysis (RPA) project.* The RPA is taking a deep look at rural philanthropy – foundation behavior and practice – around the country that is helping rural communities move forward for the health and well-being of all their residents.
For nearly 20 years, I have been involved in the practice and study of rural philanthropy. At no time previously has the interest in rural philanthropy been as strong as now. Some of this interest is undoubtedly stimulated by the recent elections and the accompanying sense that the domain of rural America has been excluded from the public discourse. Philanthropy is no different. Within hours of the results of last year’s presidential election being finalized, I received a call from a national philanthropic publication and a separate call from a national foundation wanting to know more about how they could “learn about rural.”
The truth is that hundreds of foundations of every variety – corporate, family, independent, private and public – have been doing strong rural work for decades across the country with a wide variety of approaches. Unfortunately, not enough is known among broader audiences as to what is working, nor is there enough intentionality about aligning local, regional and national efforts across content areas. After all, the closeness of rural community culture demands that local people stretch themselves beyond their personal and professional roles as coach, nurse, pastor or teacher. Philanthropy needs to do the same kind of boundary spanning if it hopes to be a meaningful part of the conversation.
Over the course of the next couple years, we will be helping elevate strong rural philanthropic work while identifying models of impact that merit more attention. We will do this through talking and meeting with funders and their communities while purposefully expanding our reach to those non-funder organizations that have deep rural roots in (e.g.) agriculture, education and transportation.
There are a number of ways to engage and stay in touch with our work. On a monthly basis, we will be writing two blogs: 1) an editorial piece using themes and examples from our due diligence process, and 2) my “From the Director” blog which will be a more informal look at the RPA project and will incorporate the thoughts and ideas of our many partners. These will be available on our website to be launched in early October at www.campbell.edu/rpa. Please let us include you on our contact database to receive news and announcements related to rural philanthropy by sending your contact information to our Graduate Assistant, James Hampson, at email@example.com
As I write from Campbell University’s Buies Creek, NC home (population 2,942), I reflect on a professional life that has taken me across the country and back and allowed me to live and work in some of the wealthiest and poorest places in the United States. Everywhere that I have lived, I have seen philanthropy be an important support for innovation if the approach is one of learning, commitment and long-term vision. Rural philanthropy is poised for that approach.
Along with Johnathan Rine, our trusted Program Coordinator (and rural West Virginia native), I am excited to be part of this journey with you.
Allen Smart has spent 20 years as a grantmaker with the Rapides Foundation in Louisiana and the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust in North Carolina. He is a frequent contributor to writings on philanthropic strategy and consults with foundations around the country on rural issues. Allen is very active in national funder groups, as well as being one of the founders of the annual White House public/private rural partnership meeting.
*This project is supported in part by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation.