As Eric Nee wrote in Stanford Social Innovation Review earlier this year, “…the rate of poverty is significantly higher in rural America than it is in urban America.” Yet, philanthropic funding to organizations based in rural and small towns is less than half the average given to organizations in metropolitan areas. New Profit’s initial exploration of the rural philanthropic capital gap has shown us that there are major opportunities to deploy significant resources in rural and small town regions. But applying grantmaking and investment methods based on scale and sustainable growth—methods often used in urban areas—is not what is needed in these communities. This understanding requires reimagining what is needed to close the rural philanthropic capital gap.
As a step toward reimagining philanthropic strategies, New Profit held its inaugural Rural and Small Town Action Summit over the course of three Fridays in March and April. The summit brought together a group of national philanthropic institutions, individual donors, researchers, business leaders, local community organizations, and policymakers to explore how significant pools of philanthropic resources could be powerfully deployed in rural and small town areas. What resulted was an honest discussion and fruitful assessment of what is needed to drive sustained impact, develop local power and agency, and build thriving communities.
“We need to place higher value on alternative models for social change, especially those best suited to the work of creating high-performing communities, and recognize their viability for major, catalytic philanthropic investment,” said Kim Syman, Managing Partner at New Profit.
What is the rural philanthropic capital gap?
What were the key takeaways from the summit?
- Rural and small-town community foundations need general, sustainable operating support much more than they need restricted or project-specific grants. They thrive on the ability to respond to the changing needs of their communities and allocate resources where needed.
- Asset-based thinking is key. We must change our mindset with regard to rural and small-town communities: stop seeing them as deprived or needy, and start adopting a positive approach toward who they are and what they have to offer us as a nation.
- Rural communities aren’t separate from the rest of the country. When we understand that rural and small-town communities are symbiotically connected to urban America, then we’ll understand that supporting them means supporting the country as a whole. What’s good for them is good for all of us.
Get Closer: Profiles of Rural Leaders
“We don’t need high-performing organizations. We need high-performing communities.” Meet Nancy Van Milligen, President and CEO, Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque
“Communities with overarching problems are also equipped with their own overarching solutions.” Meet Felecia Lucky, President, Black Belt Community Foundation of Alabama
“We don’t do one thing. We bring community resources. We’re creating a new way for capital to flow.” Meet Gerry Roll, Executive Director, Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky