Challenges Rural Organizations May Face in Seeking Philanthropy Support
This section provides an overview of the barriers that rural programs face in building relationships
with and receiving funding from philanthropies.
Lack of Access to Major Foundations
Part of the perceived urban
bias in philanthropic investment is because many national philanthropies in the U.S. are located
in urban communities. Organizations in urban communities consequently have increased opportunities to
make contact and build relationships with philanthropies through conferences and meetings. Rural
programs may not have funding for staff to travel to conferences or events, where they might have
greater access to philanthropies, affecting their ability to meet funders and build relationships.
Inability to Meet Matching Fund Requirements
Grant programs sometimes require that an applicant have resources to match the funder’s investment, which may
present a barrier for some rural organizations. Other kinds of matching grant programs may also
present challenges for rural programs. For example, employee matching gift
programs are often funded by corporate philanthropies that match donations made by employees. Large
corporations with matching fund programs may be concentrated in urban areas and may encourage employees to
donate to local organizations.
Demonstrating Impact with a Small Sample Size
Philanthropies want to understand programs' potential to make an impact. They often ask applicants to
estimate the impact of their program. A rural program operating in a community with a low population
density may make a large impact in that community, but serve a small population. Philanthropies may
not be able to invest in programs that serve a small number of people, regardless of how promising
the program is. In an effort to increase their sample sizes, some rural communities are partnering
with other rural communities facing similar issues to secure funding.
A “Needs-Based” Rather than “Asset-Based” Narrative
Much of the research exploring rural communities has focused on disparities and needs, with limited attention to
the strengths and assets present in many rural communities. This narrative of despair and hopelessness
negatively affects how rural communities are perceived by philanthropic organizations and the public.
Philanthropies may perceive that there is nothing they can do to address the challenges facing rural
communities, deterring them from investing. The NORC Walsh Center for Rural Health Analysis conducted a study,
funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, to explore this issue. This research highlighted the importance of
using an assets-based approach, focusing on the capacities that rural communities have to offer, when building
partnerships and developing strategies to improve rural health.
Real or Perceived Lack of Organizational Capacity and Staff Expertise
Rural programs face unique challenges to building organizational capacity. They may not
have adequate funds for staff salaries and program administrative costs. Limited resources often mean
that rural programs cannot invest in business development. Additionally, rural programs may not have
funds to dedicate to recruiting and retaining staff with specialized skills and knowledge in areas
that are important to philanthropies, such as data collection, analysis, and evaluation. Even
sophisticated rural programs may experience challenges in securing philanthropic funding if funders
perceive a lack of capacity because these programs are located in a rural area.
Misperceptions about Rural Communities
Rural communities are incredibly diverse; no two rural communities are exactly alike. They also face different
challenges than non-rural communities. One report by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy,
Philanthropy: Building Dialogue From Within, describes several misconceptions about rural communities
that could affect philanthropic investments:
Self-sufficiency. Rural communities are known for their altruism and volunteerism
and there is a perception of a self-help,
mutual aid tradition in rural America. This concept that volunteerism replaces
philanthropy might affect philanthropic investments in rural communities.
Diversity. Funders may not be aware that rural areas are becoming more
to an increasing immigrant population in the rural workforce.
Demand for arts and culture. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic
Research Service found a disparity in foundation
funding for arts, culture, and humanities in urban areas compared to rural areas. From
2005 to 2010, 14.46% of foundation funding to urban areas was dedicated to arts, culture, and
humanities, compared to 9.46% of funding to rural areas. Some funders may underestimate demand for
cultural resources in rural areas, due to a characterization of cities and urban areas as cultural
hubs in the U.S. Misconceptions of rural areas as less sophisticated than urban areas may make it
more difficult for rural programs to secure funding for arts and cultural activities.
Impact of a single organization. In urban areas, many organizations may
have overlapping missions or address the same key health concern. If one organization fails to
receive funding, others may be poised to serve the same target population. In contrast, one rural
organization or program may serve multiple functions and provide critical services to the entire
community. Funders may not be aware of the impact that a single local nonprofit can have on health
and well-being in a rural community.
Funding Needs for Tribal Communities
Tribal communities have historically received a small amount of funding from foundations. According
to Foundation Funding for Native
American Issues and People, a report by the Candid in cooperation with
Native Americans in
Philanthropy, only 0.3% of the share of total foundation giving in 2009 focused on American
Indian communities. Of this 0.3%, only about a quarter of grant dollars was targeted toward rural
communities. This report theorizes that the lack of funding could be due to a lack of understanding
about the role that philanthropies could play in improving Native American communities.
Resources to Learn More
Funding for Native American Issues and Peoples
Describes trends in foundation giving to Native American communities from 2000 to 2009. The report
describes potential reasons for the lack of philanthropic funding of Native American programs and
provides recommendations for future funding priorities.
Author(s): Lawrence, S. & Mukai, R.
Organization(s): The Foundation Center, Native Americans in Philanthropy
The Intimacy of Place: Lessons for Philanthropy
This column describes the rural/urban divide in grantmaking and suggest that location is a key
factor in overcoming challenges for serving rural communities.
Author(s): Belanger, K.
Organization(s): Rural Health Information Hub
Citation: The Rural Monitor
Building Dialogue from Within
Provides a comprehensive overview of challenges that make it difficult for rural programs to receive
funding from philanthropic organizations.
Author(s): Swierzewski, R.
Organization(s): National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy
but Tough: Nonprofits in Rural America
Compares the nonprofit sector in rural and urban America and describes some key barriers faced by
Author(s): Neuhoff, A. & Dunckelman, A.
Organization(s): The Bridgespan Group