State of Philanthropy in Rural Areas
While estimating the total share of grantmaking in rural communities is challenging, research
suggests that only a small percentage of foundation grants are dedicated to rural communities.
Specifically, in 2015, the Economic Research Service (ERS) within the U.S. Department of Agriculture
released a study on
grantmaking trends in rural communities. This study found that rural organizations received, on
average, 5.5% of total domestic grants from large foundations between 2005 and 2010. From smaller
foundations, rural organizations received 7.5% in 2005 and 7% in 2009 of the value of small grants.
The ERS study notes that these figures do not take into account that some grants for urban
communities may have benefited people in rural communities. It is not possible to quantify these
benefits based on the available data.
Key findings from the ERS study include:
- Private independent foundations (those that receive endowments from individuals or families)
provide the most grant funding to rural and non-rural organizations.
- The average real value per person of grants from large foundations to organizations in nonmetro
counties was $88 per person, almost half the average provided to organizations in metro counties.
- Metro and nonmetro counties with either a larger college-educated population or more assets held by
nonprofits received more grant dollars per person.
- Rural organizations received more grants for higher education; the environment; and recreation and
leisure activities — in contrast to urban organizations, which received more grants for health;
medical, science, and technology research; and the arts, culture, and humanities.
Efforts to Encourage Philanthropic Investments in Rural Communities
Efforts are underway to explore ways to encourage philanthropies to invest in rural communities. For
Philanthropic Analysis, a project at Campbell University, supported in part by the Robert Wood
Johnson Foundation, is working to enhance the field of rural philanthropy by exploring how to shift
the paradigm of philanthropy to encourage investment in rural communities.
Representatives of various parts of the federal government have made statements about the importance of
increasing philanthropic support in high-need rural areas:
Despite federal efforts to encourage philanthropic investments in rural areas, building partnerships
with philanthropies remains a challenge for many rural programs. Challenges Rural Organizations May Face in
Seeking Philanthropy Support describes possible reasons for this challenge.
Anecdotal evidence based on discussions with philanthropies investing in rural communities suggests that there
is a resurgence of interest in funding rural communities and a new
movement of engagement about improving health and well-being in rural communities.
Philanthropic Investments in Rural Community Health
Philanthropies are investing in rural communities in a number of important ways. Some philanthropies offer
support — unrestricted funding that supports any aspect of a program. By securing unrestricted
rural programs can respond to unforeseen challenges and pursue more innovative solutions to local issues.
Below, we describe several ways that philanthropies invest in rural communities.
Strengthening Community Capacity
Strengthening rural community capacity involves providing the necessary tools, training, and/or
funding to individuals and local organizations in order to improve their ability to serve the needs
of their communities. Examples include:
- Implementing model interventions, policies, and practices
- Sustaining programs, services, and supports
- Building and maintaining a workforce
- Providing community education
- Achieving policy, systems, and environmental changes
- Funding operational costs that cannot be financed in other ways, such as employee salaries, rent,
technology, utilities, office supplies, and professional development activities
Improving and Supporting Economic Development
Many rural areas across the country are facing economic
challenges related to a loss of production jobs and declining populations. Philanthropies can help
support economic development in rural areas by funding job training, education programs, start-up costs for
new businesses, and other efforts to spur job creation. For example, the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation
has a long history of supporting economic development in rural West Virginia and southwestern Pennsylvania. The
Foundation takes a regional approach to economic development that involves promoting agricultural and
technological advances as well as providing capital for communities in concentrated poverty.
Investing in Healthcare Infrastructure and Increasing Access to Care
Rural communities may require capital funding in order to maintain and
grow healthcare facilities and increase access to quality care. Philanthropies have played an important role in
building healthcare capital in rural areas, which can include making renovations to facilities and installing
health information technology systems. For example, the
Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable
Trust Rural Healthcare Program provides funding to improve access to and quality of care in the Upper
Promoting Healthy Aging
Older adults disproportionately live in rural areas compared to
urban areas, and most people want to remain in their own homes and
communities as they get older (“aging in place”). To support healthy and successful aging, rural
need resources like geriatricians and other healthcare specialists, long-term care services, social services
providers, and accessible transportation.
Grantmakers in Aging is an organization of philanthropies that make
strategic investments in programs that promote healthy aging in
rural areas. These initiatives include a three-year project, Creating a
Sustainable Network for the Rural Aging Movement, that is designed to increase knowledge-sharing,
facilitate partnerships, and invest in resources for rural older adults.
Improving Access to Transportation
Transportation presents a key challenge for rural communities. Safe,
reliable transportation networks are needed to support access to healthcare, social and community
services, education, employment opportunities, and healthy food. For more information, see the Rural Transportation Toolkit.
Philanthropies can improve access
to transportation in rural communities by supporting community-based transportation services. Grantmakers
in Aging held a rural
mobility summit to focus on addressing the challenge of transportation and aging in rural communities.
Addressing the Opioid Crisis
Opioids, alcohol, and other substances are a concern across the U.S., and rural areas face additional barriers to preventing and treating substance
use in their communities. These include having fewer services, such as treatment facilities and challenges
related to stigma in seeking services. For more information, see the Rural
Substance Use Disorder Toolkit.
Many philanthropies are interested in addressing substance use disorders
by promoting prevention activities and increasing access to treatment and rehabilitation. For example, the
Montana Healthcare Foundation makes investments targeting
substance use disorders during pregnancy.
Resources to Learn More
Foundation Funding to Improve
Rural Health Care
Provides examples of how foundations have supported efforts to increase access to care, implement
alternatives to hospital services, and create telemedicine networks.
Citation: Health Affairs, 35(1), 174-5
Philanthropies Join Forces for Rural Health
Provides an overview of the first three annual meetings of the Rural Health Philanthropy Partnership,
a collaborative group connecting foundation executives, federal government agencies, and other key
rural health stakeholders.
Author(s): Cruger, B.
Organization(s): Rural Health Information Hub
Citation: The Rural Monitor
Philanthropy Partnership: Leveraging Public-Private Funds to Improve Health
This column describes two of the projects funded by the Rural Health Care Coordination Network
Partnership Program (RHCCNPP) grant, which use two different care coordination models to bridge their
regions' health equity gaps.
Author(s): Miller Temple, K.
Organization(s): Rural Health Information Hub
Citation: The Rural Monitor