rural road

Director’s Blog 6.0

As we head towards the homestretch of the currently funded Rural Philanthropy Analysis Project (RPA) here at Campbell University, I thought it time to review what we have done to date and what you all can expect to see through the end of 2018.

When asked to describe the work of RPA, my best shorthand has always been “to energize, elevate and align” people interested in supporting rural America through a philanthropic lens. The gap that we have been addressing from day one is three-fold: (1) An incompletely developed sense of good rural philanthropic practice and how that needs to match with a more fully understood version of “What rural is,” (2) A shortage of places to learn from others about rural work, and (3) The lack of a consensus when considering the question, “Why Rural?”. In the polarized and politicized environment of today, all three of these still ring true—perhaps even more strongly than in recent years.

Since inception, one of the strategies of RPA is to be visible in as many places as possible where a rural philanthropic voice can help advance responses to the three gaps above. To that end, we have:

  • Developed, pitched and been solicited for more than 20 blogs and articles to date for audiences as diverse as Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) and Exponent Philanthropy. Our SSIR piece on Rural and Civil Society has been viewed many thousands of times and our four Exponent Blogs have been some of their most viewed of the year. The topics have ranged from tactical rural philanthropic tools, coverage of rural philanthropic movements around the country, and equity considerations in the rural context.
  • Presented (or scheduled to present) at a dozen funder gatherings from Washington to Miami, with stops in Pikeville, Kentucky, New Orleans, and Boston, among other places.
  • Developed and implemented two new rural funder gatherings. One in conjunction with the National Rural Assembly and one for southern rural funders in Atlanta coming up in October.
  • Talked with more than 20 national rural organizational leaders about their relationship with philanthropy and their recommendations going forward and wrote a summary for the field.
  • Taken a deep look at the educational programming for 35 philanthropic resource organizations and wrote a summary for the field. A similar look at state and regional associations of grantmakers will come this fall.
  • Taken a deep look at the educational programming for 35 philanthropic resource organizations and wrote a summary for the field. A similar look at state and regional associations of grantmakers will come this fall.
  • Taken a look at historic/current rural philanthropic and rural leadership programs. We will be issuing summaries this fall.
  • Developed issue briefs on funding in specific rural issue areas like veteran affairs and LGBTQ to be issued this fall.
  • Conducted 3 site visits (with a 4th on tap for October) to inform case studies that will document strategies and practices of successful statewide and regional rural funders, including how they are (or might0 work successfully with national funders interested in rural philanthropic investment.
  • Begun a process for prototype web-based rural resource center that could serve as a repository for all thing rural and philanthropic.
  • Responded to hundreds of phone call and email seeking resources, information or just someone to talk to that was empathetic to rural communities.
  • Convened on an ongoing basis a National Advisory group of diverse voices around rural issues and experiences.

In addition we have launched well- utilized conduits for communicating via social media and email blasts.

So where is all this going you may ask? At present, we are in the early stages of putting together a Call to Action for what we believe are the necessary next steps to continue the momentum that has been created thus far. A few key components of the Call to Action will be:


  • A Code of Conduct for Rural Philanthropy that stresses equity and opportunity.
  • Recommendations for fundamental shifts in philanthropic behavior and structure (like program officer roles) that must be instituted to support better (and more) rural philanthropy.
  • A distillation of next steps for advancing certain components of the developing rural philanthropic field like evaluation and communications.
  • A plan for creating a sustainable structure for rural philanthropy that would support peer learning and, field building, and provide a brokering service for funders and communities alike.

All of this of course will take time and money—like most things. I do believe that now is the time, lest the energy be lost in the next election cycle and philanthropy moves onto something else.

Thanks to all of you for your continuing interest. The level of interest and support; they have provided me with the most gratifying 15 months of my 30+ year career. Please let me know how you see the work advancing towards the common goal of a more sustainable rural America. And, as always, let us know if you have a burning question that you want to explore and we will try and get you back something that helps advance your thinking. We are all about the learning!

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