Legendary Rural Sociologist Darrell Hobbs tells the story of visiting an Ozarks town, and getting lost on backroads. He found a farmer outside his house, so pulled into the driveway to ask directions. “How’s a fella usually get to Columbia from here?” Dr. Hobbs asked. “I usually take a bus,” came the reply with a wry smile. The Community Foundation of the Ozarks (CFO) serves 60 counties in central and southern Missouri, the majority covering the rural Missouri Ozarks. Our residents care deeply about their communities, but like so many in rural America, feel left behind, and suspicious of outsiders who are “here to help” (and poking around asking for directions, apparently).
What makes the CFO work is that our 53 affiliates are governed by those who know and care for their communities the most: Their own residents.
Every gift matters, no matter how large or how small:
Since its founding in 1973, the CFO has granted out more than $500 million to this region of nearly 750,000 Missourians. Of roughly 800 U.S. community foundations, the CFO is the 74th largest in assets, but the 6th busiest for transactions. That reflects our region – generous, but not especially wealthy.
Programs focus on advancing rural places:
The CFO has launched several programs over the years trying to address the rural challenges in our area. The Rural Schools Partnership and its partner initiative, Ozarks Teacher Corps, help build capacity in rural districts through place-based grantmaking, developing philanthropic assets for schools, and providing a pipeline of teachers to schools in small communities through a scholarship and training program. The Growth in the Rural Ozarks (GRO) initiative provides economic development expertise for smaller communities to develop and implement a locally based plan. Our focus on the transfer of wealth, currently being updated with 2020 Census data, has been fruitful as well, with nearly $20 million in estate gifts received from smaller communities just in the past two years. Of our nearly $400 million in charitable assets, about one-third is linked to the affiliate foundation network, which started in 1993.
There is a rich potential in our rural areas. Our residents have a fierce pride in their hometowns, and oftentimes, local resources to help them address problems.
Sometimes, they just need a little direction.