Rural woRx – Will 2018 be the Game Changer for Rural Philanthropy?

We end the calendar year –and our first six months of the rural philanthropic project—with a strong sense of optimism. There is a growing recognition that rural communities have been left behind in the current wave of philanthropic theorizing. Importantly, there is an appetite to dig deeper into the ways that rural philanthropy can improve.

2017 sustained and elevated some emerging rural philanthropic programs and strategies. A few are–

Hurricane Harvey ResponseEpiscopal Healthcare Foundation, Hogg Foundation, The George Foundation and an organized public/private partnership of Galveston funders supported short and long term work on rural crisis relief, rural safety net physical and mental healthcare services, housing rebuild planning and research on the long-term prospects for rural residents forced to relocate.

Equity– For the first time in memory, rural equity –both reflecting the increasing diversity of rural America as well as generations old power differentials – is finally an increasing part of the dialogue for funders looking to enhance their rural impact. Sometime in the near future, it will be unacceptable for funders to ignore equity issues in their rural work. We hope that the Policy Link Equity Summit in April 2018 will serve to further sanction equity as a rural challenge and opportunity.

Private funders and federal agencies– Private rural funders and federal agencies like the Appalachian Regional Commission, Delta Regional Authority and the Denali Commission are engaged in co-funding and programmatic alignment discussions in ways that are new, mutually beneficial and reflecting that the opportunities for rural growth are poorly served by segregation of programs and issues.

Private funders and State Offices of Rural Health– While all 50 states have Offices of Rural Health, only a handful have actively engaged with private funders over the years. There appears to be renewed interest with funders and these agencies for a deeper understanding of private/public partnership.

Rural Funders Groups– For many years, the Minnesota funders have been the best(and only) example of a named cohesive funder group working on rural issues. There is growing interest in states like Texas and Missouri–and the Appalachian region– on how rural funders can speak with one voice and provide a platform for attracting new private and public investment.

Focus on the Rural ElderlyGrantmakers in Aging, through a grant from the Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies, has entered into previously unexplored waters with recent publications on the basics of grantmaking re: rural older adults and the impacts of opiods on rural elderly. In process is in-depth work on rural older adult transportation strategies to be highlighted at an early 2018 conference in Berkeley, CA.

10 Predictions (And Hopes) for 2018

1-Different staffing relationships involving both placement of foundation staff in rural areas and rural-friendly use of technology will emerge. The Colorado Trust is pioneering some of this thinking.

2-New and existing health conversion foundations, in close collaboration with community foundations, will be the leaders in the evolution of rural place-based work.

3-Evaluation concepts specific to long-term rural philanthropic work will continue to evolve and become increasingly accepted as ways to measure the ability of foundations to be effective change agents in the rural space.

4-There will hatch new foundation-funded communications channels for rural communities with news and information that has largely exited rural places with the demise of locally owned newspapers and radio stations. In the interim, spread the news about the great work being done at The Daily Yonder and the Rural Health Information Hub.

5-New funder/community planning models will emerge that respond to ways that rural communities work in a manner that incorporate some concepts of Collective Impact and Design-Thinking but speak more specifically to the broad aspirations of rural communities.

6-Rural child care quality and availability will become a major focus of a number of rural funders as will the world of rural veterans- which represents over a third of all veterans nationally.

7-Innovative work in individual and collective rural leadership development will become a standard piece of foundations rural strategies.

8-More states will embark upon the adoption of broad-ranging rural development plans like those in North Carolina and South Carolina. Many of these will be foundation funded.

9-Foundations will commission additional narrative stories of rural philanthropy in action like this year’s MDC “Philanthropy as the South’s Passing Gear: Fulfilling the Promise” report and the National Committee on Responsive Philanthropy’s “As the South Grows series.” In 2018, look for Dr. Doug Easterling’s (Wake Forest University) study of health conversion foundations and NORC’s briefs on their 2017 tour of rural America.

10-Personal and professional rural experience will become an important asset for foundation employment and a few rural experts will become the leaders of major funders.

In 2018, we will dig deeply into the lives of funders and their communities, along with work to highlight the important work being done by rural stakeholders that isn’t yet on the radar of funders. Finally, we will be developing ideas on what are sustaining models to guide rural philanthropy.

We thank all of you who have supported us in this new venture and hope that you will continue to share with us your work, frustrations, concerns and wild-eyed ideas that just might work. Thanks for a great 2017 and continued meaning and aspiration for 2018.