This blog marks the half way mark of our currently funded journey focused on the field of rural philanthropy. What began in my mind as a way to catalogue and elevate examples of innovative rural philanthropy that spoke to the assets, hopes, and dreams of rural people has now become something filled with a heightened sense of urgency. Why urgency? Because the confluence of political disruption, attention to equity, and awareness of social divisions in our country make it the perfect time to capture the growing interest in the connection between the future of rural America and the behaviors and practices of funders—big and small.
As examples I offer the following:
- Rural philanthropy groups are forming and strengthening throughout the country in states like Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota, and Missouri, and regional groups are doing the same in the Southwest and the Northwest.
- Three separate national gatherings focused on rural philanthropy are being organized over the next six months.
- Three conference sessions with a rural theme are included at the upcoming Grantmakers in Health annual meeting.
- My colleagues and I will be publishing a new monthly rural philanthropy column in the Daily Yonder-the leading on-line journalism site for all things rural.
- There are a number of recent blogs and postings around rural work from Grantmakers for Education and Exponent Philanthropy.
- A stronger-than-ever private/public funder partnership meeting is planned for this June in Washington DC and plans for a pilot rural funder/federal regional level meeting in Atlanta is slated for October.
- Recently completed reports have garnered significant attention on related topics like health conversion foundations and rural civic engagement.
Time to start a movement with an agenda
With all this interest and activity, we are moving towards more and better rural philanthropy, right? Not yet!
We’ve got a common interest, but not a common agenda. A successful rural movement needs to:
- Blend together the best practices of existing rural philanthropy like long-term commitments, reinvented staffing models and rural-centric evaluation models;
- Move forward with a commitment from a few regional and national funder leaders to work towards the development of a field of rural philanthropy that includes development of better rural-centric evaluation, communications tools and peer-learning models;
- Bring in the voices of rural leaders –traditional and new —as an ongoing feedback mechanism, particularly around the challenging issues of rural equity; and
- Find our voice and promote an assertive agenda of “Why rural philanthropy” to counter the age-old myths about “Why not.”
Compare this to the people and purpose that started Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (and its predecessors). Foundations and their leaders wanted to do better based upon a deep commitment to learning and the field, and they came together to make that happen.
Over the next months, via all our networks, I will be putting forward a mantra that describes what new rural philanthropy needs to look like if we are to capture this unique moment in time. I invite you to join me and hundreds of my closest friends who are out there working to create a vibrant rural landscape for America!