Closing the philanthropic gap through voice and vision

Panel on closing the philanthropic gap at Rural Assembly

Posted in Blandin Foundation, Vibrant Rural

Money follows vision.  Without a strong voice to carry your vision, though, the money might not find you.

This thought hit home for me and many others attending the panel on closing the philanthropic gap at this year’s Rural Assembly. With only 5.5% of large foundation grants going to rural communities, I, alongside three other rural funders, participated in the panel to answer the questions: why does this gap exist and what can be done about it?

We covered a lot of ground in the course of an hour, but for me, the answer to both questions came back to voice.

Q. Why does the gap exist? A. It exists because rural America hasn’t been able to voice its vision to urban funders in a way they can understand.

Q. What can be done about it? A. We must develop a more coordinated, well-articulated rural voice.USDA chart 2

At Blandin Foundation, we have spent time digging deep into who we are as an organization to determine how best to articulate our vision. The ability to give voice to our vision has helped us seek out new partners, strengthen existing partnerships and build a clear path to the future.

Similarly, if we want to bring new philanthropic partners into rural work, we need to invite them.

We can go about this a number of ways, but there are two concrete steps that can help get us there.

  1. We, as rural funders, must keep meeting. I can’t tell you how invigorating it was to step into the Rural Assembly and feel like I was at home. The energy was instant because we all had that ember of rural passion burning in our bellies. We spoke the same language, had experienced many of the same successes and struggles, and we were all ready to roll up our sleeves to find new ways to strengthen rural America. The more we connect, communicate and collaborate, the closer we will get to crafting a unified rural voice.
  2. We need to bring rural into the philanthropic conversations we’re already having. As rural funders, we have the opportunity bring rural voices into larger philanthropic conversations. We need to acknowledge we are a part of a philanthropic system. It’s our job to listen to those we serve and share what we are learning with our peers who might not “get” rural as well as those of us that live and breathe it.

Our work in rural Minnesota has taught us that leadership matters. It’s no different when looking at the rural/urban philanthropic gap. If we want to bridge that gap, it’s going to take leadership from those of us who already know that rural is a good investment. Let’s get to work!

For more highlights from the 2015 Rural Assembly, see Nonprofit Quarterly and The Daily Yonder