Skip to main content

Innovations in Rural Philanthropy

Philanthropies are using innovative approaches to engage rural communities. By tailoring their approach to reflect the strengths and challenges of working in rural areas, philanthropies can ensure that their funding will be more successful in creating and sustaining health improvements in rural communities. These are examples of innovative strategies used by rural philanthropies to create meaningful partnerships with rural communities:

Embracing a Community Building Approach

Philanthropies, such as the Ford Foundation, are embracing a Community Building Approach, which:

puts rural residents and local groups at the center of the process as they build their community's future in an inclusive and comprehensive way.

This approach centers on four principles, which focus on:

  • Going where people are
  • Building on existing assets
  • Being inclusive
  • Ensuring the community is at the center

Embedding Program Staff in Rural Communities

Rural communities may struggle to build relationships with philanthropies due to geographic distance, lack of capacity, or lack of time and resources. To overcome these challenges, some philanthropies are hiring local staff in rural areas instead of relying on program officers located far away from funded projects. For example, the Ford Family Foundation hires field coordinators in rural areas to focus on regional community building. These dedicated staff members facilitate long-term relationships with rural communities and help consistently connect local programs to the foundation's resources.

Engaging Community Organizers

Rural communities have a deep understanding of local assets and barriers to health. The Colorado Trust engages community organizers in rural communities to identify challenges to achieving health equity, design programs to address these challenges, and make decisions about how and where to allocate funding.

Providing Feedback to Grantees on Applications

Some philanthropies provide technical support and capacity-building resources to rural organizations. They may provide feedback to help an organization to strengthen its application, such as providing assistance with designing evaluation and sustainability strategies. For example, the Empire Health Foundation uses a Philanthropy 3.0 approach, which is highly collaborative and adaptive. In addition to working closely with grantees to ensure their projects are making meaningful improvements, Empire offers applicants an opportunity to discuss their projects during the proposal phase and provides helpful guidance.

Connecting Rural Programs to Other Philanthropies

Philanthropies are willing to connect rural organizations to other philanthropies, if they are unable to help. Even if the philanthropy is not the right fit to assist the organization, these connections are important and can lead to other opportunities.

Supporting High-Priority Issues

Philanthropies track national or regional trends that are important in rural communities, which is critical given the rapid changes that are occurring in the health field. Some philanthropies are aligning their priorities with those of federal or state agencies — for example, focusing on grantmaking for communities preventing or treating substance use disorders, such as opioid use disorder, and other key issues in rural communities.