My introductory Blog last month described the work of the Rural Philanthropic Analysis Project (RPA) and some of our basic tenets: 1) Philanthropy is helping to support some important rural work around the country, 2) more focused attention is needed from philanthropy towards our rural communities, and 3) funders, rural communities and community stakeholders can best advance the sustainability and growth of rural regions through joining around deeply felt commitments to elevate the long-term health of all community members.
Which, considering all this, brings us to some basic questions. Where would a funder learn about effective rural philanthropic work? How could a funder learn from the expert practitioners – the people on the ground actually helping communities make change happen?
There are over 40 funder networks listed under the Council of Foundations umbrella on their website. It’s an impressively wide-ranging group with philanthropic interests that are both issue-based (e.g. environment and education) and population-based (e.g. immigrants and the disabled), as well as all sorts of other important groupings of learners.
But what about rural? There is no established network for rural funders and I would like to suggest that might be just fine. There are important state, regional and national efforts that seek to provide that space for learning. Philanthropy Southwest will soon be hosting its second Rural Funders of the Southwest Affinity Group meeting. The Colorado funders have pioneered a Rural Philanthropy Days formal structure that does joint site visiting to rural regions of the state. Finally, the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy, in association with the National Rural Health Association and Grantmakers in Health, has hosted a two-day gathering of federal and private funders interested in rural grantmaking.
What is a more powerful idea than an isolated rural funders network is the following: What if all the funder networks developed workgroups or committees that served to focus their particular constituency on effective rural philanthropy and the value that philanthropy could bring to rural communities? Think of all the funder networks having organized content at annual meetings and learning opportunities throughout the year. Think of all the funder networks having a designated member who was the rural philanthropic spokesperson for their members and appeared frequently on radio, in print and throughout social media. What an easy, inexpensive and powerful message!
Similarly, funders interested in rural communities need to go to where leaders and practitioners are chewing on real problems and solutions. The RPA has developed a list of over 75 regional and national membership groups interested exclusively in rural progress and will be doing surveying and interviewing with them over the next couple months. They range from rural community colleges and K-12 educators to national groups formed around issues like rural child poverty, food access and water quality. Many of these groups have state chapters and affiliates. Take the time to engage with these leaders and start combining the insights of experts outside of the philanthropic industry.
We invite any of the funder networks or the rural practitioner groups to participate via original Blogs or dissemination of their own rural-centric material to our growing audience.
Stay tuned for more!
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.