ICYMI: Why Philanthropy Continues to Underfund Rural America—and What Grantmakers Can Do

"Long before the pandemic hit, Americans living in rural areas have faced a daunting list of problems—a diminishing number of hospitals, limited transportation options, population decline, lack of broadband access, high levels of poverty, and more."

"According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “Rural America at a Glance 2021” report, about 46 million people—or 14% of the total U.S. population—live in rural areas. The report found that people who live in these areas “often face greater difficulties accessing provisions and services or commuting to work, among other economic challenges.” These challenges have made it all the more difficult for rural Americans to cope with and recover from shocks and stresses, including but not limited to the pandemic."

"One of the major reasons a significant funding gap exists between rural and urban areas is that most big funders are located in, and are therefore often focused on, large cities like Los Angeles and New York. As Eric Nee recently outlined in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, despite the fact that the poverty rate is significantly higher in rural America than in urban regions, philanthropists give far more money to urban areas, largely because that’s where the money is based."

“'Most of our members are place-based foundations in that, unlike the large national foundations, they give and work mostly in their immediate community or the state,' Carroll said. Because these are local foundations, they have a greater understanding of their communities and can better serve their needs."

"According to Carroll, these organizations make a big impact in ways beyond providing funding. They serve as conveners. They often provide technical assistance and capacity-building to nonprofits. They commission research and data from local universities to gain a better understanding of the problems and issues their communities face. They even engage in policy advocacy, bringing together organizations and residents to push for policy change."

“'That’s a powerful role that they play, and it ends up being highly invisible work, because they’re not out in front,' Carroll said. 'They’re doing the quieter but really important connective work that really builds communities and builds capacity.'"

"In addition to collaboration between small and large foundations, partnerships between the public and private sectors are also a way forward. The recently signed infrastructure bill will allocate $65 billion to increase broadband access in rural areas, $55 billion to improve water and wastewater infrastructure, and $110 billion to repair the nation’s bridges, highways and roads. While philanthropy cannot address all of rural America’s needs, it can play a crucial role in filling the gaps left by public resources and helping to guide incoming funds."

Read the full article here.