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Partnering with Regional, State, and Local Foundations

For rural organizations that have never partnered with a philanthropy, partnering with regional, state, and local foundations can be a great place to start. Regional, state, and local foundations often have a strong understanding of the communities they serve and the geographic and demographic characteristics of their service area. They are highly interested in creating improvements in their region, state, or local community. Rural organizations should also consider opportunities available from community foundations.

Local Philanthropy

Every community has local foundations. Local foundations are deeply invested in the success and growth of their communities and generally have small geographic areas where they invest. Though endowments at local foundations are generally smaller than foundations that make grants nationally, rural organizations may often begin the process of seeking support and funding for their programs by securing partnerships with local foundations and local philanthropy. In some instances, larger national funders may prefer to see that organizations first attempt to secure local funds, and this may make the organization a more competitive applicant.

As with national foundations, many local foundations are private family foundations, and they may be established by an individual or family with a connection to the area. Some private family foundations may focus on one particular topic of interest, like education or the environment, and others may prefer to keep their grants open to a broad range of missions and organizations. Often a member or members of the founding family are still active on the board and help guide investment decisions. Other families may decide to set up a rural donor-advised fund, which is more informal than foundations but can be a good source of charitable funding for nonprofit organizations.

Local foundations generally know one another and are part of a tight-knit network in the community. Their goal is to help connect organizations to resources and make an impact in the community.

One particular type of local philanthropy is the United Way. There are local United Way organizations affiliated with the national office in rural communities across the country. Unlike many other national nonprofits, local United Ways set their own priorities for action and giving based on the most important needs identified in their communities. United Ways play a role as a convening organization to bring together local partners to address these needs. United Ways can also support local nonprofits through donor engagement, public relations support, and grant funding. Many United Ways have a community impact fund, which collects and disperses donations to nonprofits working in their areas of interest. Information about how to apply for these grants can be found on local United Way websites.

State Philanthropy

In addition, philanthropies may invest in rural communities across a state. State-level foundations serve a larger population, so grant funding may be more competitive than at the local level but not as competitive as many national-level grants. The Colorado Health Foundation is a private foundation that funds projects in communities across the state. The Colorado Health Foundation has program officers on the ground at the local level in order to build connections with stakeholders and build community engagement. The Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, another state-level philanthropy, has made major investments in rural North Carolina counties to improve health in the state.

Regional Philanthropy

Philanthropies may also serve a region of the country. For example, the Dorney-Koppel Family Charitable Foundation, along with other partners including Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, funded the creation of 11 pulmonary and cardiac rehabilitation clinics in Maryland, West Virginia, North Carolina, and Louisiana. The Benedum Foundation supports initiatives in West Virginia and southwest Pennsylvania and is the largest funder in West Virginia besides the government. Regional philanthropies may invest in a specific geographic area and have staff located in the region.

Philanthropies participating in a network or affinity group may also work together to support a region. For example, the Appalachia Funders Network serves as a resource for funders located in the Central Appalachian region of the U.S. Established in 2010, the purpose of the Network is:

“to accelerate an equitable Appalachian transition by convening and connecting funders for learning, analysis, and collaboration.”

The 40 network members' goals include coordinating local and regional grantmaking in Appalachia.

Examples of Regional, State, and Local Foundation Models

  • Colorado Health Foundation serves Coloradans with low income or who are in some way economically or socially disadvantaged by addressing four focus areas for improving health: physical health, mental health, community health, and health equity.
  • Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky is a nonprofit organization investing in health policy, research, and demonstration projects throughout Kentucky. Current initiatives include reducing tobacco use, promoting responsive health policy, and improving children's health.
  • The Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust has made a major investment in underrepresented and financially challenged rural North Carolina counties. This initiative, expected to span the next decade, is called Healthy Places North Carolina, and the goal is to improve the health and well-being of residents living in some of the most impoverished rural North Carolina counties. Each county that is awarded money through the Trust has a different focus area depending on the needs of the community. For example, Halifax County is addressing childhood obesity while McDowell County is addressing workforce issues like access to child care.
  • The Rasmuson Foundation provides grants to Alaska-based nonprofit organizations, nonprofit leaders, and individual artists that support promoting a better life for Alaskans. In 2017, the foundation provided funds to construct the Bethel Family Clinic, located in remote southwestern Alaska.
  • The Columbia Gorge Collective Impact Health Specialist (CIHS) position was funded in 2014 through a grant from Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital to the United Way of the Columbia Gorge. The CIHS helps to identify community needs and secure funding for those programs. Read more about this position in RHIhub's Models and Innovations.
  • From July 2010 to June 2013, Power Up, Speak Out! — a program striving to prevent teen dating violence — became part of a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Local Funding Partnership and was implemented in several rural Montana counties. The curriculum was provided free of charge to schools and violence prevention agencies due, in part, to the O.P. and W.E. Edwards Foundation.
  • While not foundations, electric cooperatives are not-for-profit, consumer-owned energy providers that provide funding to rural communities through “round up” programs and through charity events such as golf tournaments or silent auctions. Funding is generally given out to local organizations in the form of grants.
  • The Rural Health Care Coordination Network Partnership connects federal grantees with local philanthropic organizations to provide additional support. As part of this program, Williamson Health and Wellness Center has partnered with universities, FQHCs, and foundations to improve the health in their region.

Considerations for Implementation

The presence of regional, state, and local foundations varies widely among rural communities. Some areas may be relatively small with limited resources while others may have one or more foundations in their geographic area.

Funders may have particular regions that they invest in, so it is important to check whether your program meets the eligibility criteria.

Program Clearinghouse Examples

Resources to Learn More

Find Your Regional Philanthropy-Serving Organization
List of philanthropies providing regional-level grants, organized by state.
Organization(s): United Philanthropy Forum

Philanthropic Infrastructure
List of regional-level philanthropies organized by type of organization, including: funder networks, regional associations, academic centers of philanthropy, philanthropic support organizations, nonprofit policy organizations, and nonprofit infrastructure organizations.
Organization(s): Council on Foundations