Summary Report to the Field Number 1: Rural Group Recommendations for National Funders 

As part of the work of the Office of Rural Philanthropic Analysis, we are committed to mining information from a broad range of stakeholders in the rural implementation and research space. As a product of those ongoing efforts, we will periodically present brief summaries of our work that we believe will be of value to the field of rural philanthropy in the context of how to better align and energize our strategies. This is the first of a series of short blogs that we will issue over the next few months. As always, we welcome your insight and input.

From December 2017 through July 2018, we emailed a questionnaire to approximately 50 national rural groups representing a wide range of content areas such as education, broadband, transit, housing and healthcare workforce development. Where appropriate, we followed up with additional emails and phone calls to elicit greater response rates and collect additional information stimulated by the initial written responses. While not intended to be a query bound by using standard research methodology and data collection, we do believe that the line of inquiry provided very instructive and, in some cases, strongly thematic information new to the field.


Individuals representing 22 national rural associations responded to our query. Some of these respondents include Mike Shimmens, Executive Director of the National Rural Recruitment and Retention Network; Dr. Randy Smith, President of the Rural Community College Alliance; Dr. Jennifer DeLucia, Senior Director at the
Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University; Spenser Wempe, Director of Communications at the Rural Community Assistance Partnership; Susan Wilger, Executive Director of the National Center for Frontier Communities; and Robin  Phillips, Executive Director of the National Rural Transit Assistance Program.


Groups responded to a series of questions grouped thematically as follows:

  • What are your current sources of funding support across public, private and individual donor categories?
  • What services, products or leadership are you providing to the rural field?
  • What is a recommended role for national funders in your work respective to issues?
  • What is a recommended role for national funders in your work respective to strategy?


In summary, less than half of the groups surveyed had current relationships with the foundation community, and nearly all groups cited ways that a national funder can most effectively support rural efforts. Many groups expressed the motivation to connect either their national efforts with funders or to assist their local members in accessing local, regional or national funders. Most groups were at least attempting to create and support peer learning environments and were also grappling with how to customize their programs and interventions given the breadth of individual rural geography and systems within states.


Recommendations for national funders were clearly consolidated around several important themes. National funders could create the greatest value in the work of the rural groups by:


  • Bringing promising rural practice to scale
  • Funding and supporting intermediaries/implementers that are more familiar with local rural conditions and with  directly working with rural communities “on-
    the-ground” vs urban-based national organizations without cultural, contextual, organizational, or personal  experience
  • Facilitating learning communities, education, and training
  • Strengthening state-based and local systems that already exist


These themes are consistent with interviews with local and state-based rural funders, which emphasize prospective roles for national funders in the rural space:

  • The evidence-base for rural community-based work (and funder engagement) is very limited and not likely to be financially supported by national rural groups or local and state funders.
  • National funders can – and should —look for implementers with higher levels of rural experience and credibility if they are going to engage (or reengage) in rural place-based work. This was a point that was stressed repeatedly at the recent Grantmakers in Health pre-conference session on funding rural advocacy. All three experienced rural advocates on the panel described how their communities often received little benefit from national funder grants given that urban-based intermediaries often receive the vast majority of the financial support.
  • Strengthening existing state-based systems could assist both with rural engagement and efforts to bring rural best practices scale.


We believe this initial attempt to bridge the divide between national rural advocates and implementers and philanthropy can serve as an instructive first step to create dialogue. If you have further questions about the survey of rural organizations – or want to advance your own ideas — please contact Anna Ault at for additional information.