Building Infrastructure for Rural Power
The demographics of rural America are changing. Nine out of ten rural areas are more ethnically diverse than they were 20 years ago. In response to a growing interest amongst funders around supporting work in rural regions, Neighborhood Funders Group (NFG) began the Integrated Rural Strategies Group.
This project addresses two key realities:
- First, there is growing awareness of the neglect and disparities in rural areas that led to the embrace of a far-right political agenda in the 2016 elections. As minority populations continue to grow in rural America, it is critical that philanthropy contributes to a strong participatory democracy that engages all communities.
Second, there is recognition of how climate change disproportionately impacts people of color, both globally and within the United States. Organizing work at the intersection of land, people, and the environment is critical at this time.
Work to Date
In May 2017, NFG partnered with Ceres Trust and Universalist Unitarian Veatch Program at Shelter Rock (Veatch) to hold a webinar titled Hope in the Heartland. Over 80 funders attended, confirming the hunger amongst funders for resources related to supporting rural communities. Seizing on the overwhelming interest demonstrated by this large and diverse set of funders, NFG organized a core group to move this project forward, including Veatch, Ceres Trust, 11th Hour Project, Common Counsel Foundation, The Solutions Project, and Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation.
To date, this group has held a series of strategy meetings and pooled initial investments to commission a landscape scan to learn from rural organizers and advocates who see racial equity as core to their work. Highlights from this scan are featured below, with the overall scan reaffirming the urgency, need for resources, and opportunities that exists within rural racial justice organizing work. NFG and partners have organized two sessions at NFG’s 2018 National Convening in St. Louis in June, including a learning tour and workshop focused on rural organizing. With the commitments of these core group of funders, NFG is leading this effort to build a vehicle for funders to provide long-term support to build rural organizing infrastructure that centers values of racial justice and builds sustainable power in rural communities.
Vision and Purpose
The Integrated Rural Strategies Group exists to:
- Support and grow rural organizing;
- Further the work of creating deep democracy in rural areas;
- Facilitate a transition to working economies that are ecologically resilient and sustainable; and
- Protecting land, water, air, and soil for generations to come.
Our core assertions are:
- Rural communities are critical sites of political activity and civic engagement.
- A legacy of extractive industries in rural communities invites re-visioning of sustainable land-based economic enterprise.
- Urban and rural communities are interconnected and dependent upon each other, and solutions must be integrated.
- Racial equity is at the center of our grantmaking.
- Grantee knowledge and experience leads our work.
We will leverage our shared resources to increase long-term support for organizing and power-building work in rural areas, focusing on deep investments in infrastructure and capacity. We will educate funders and elevate the importance of equity in rural areas within the broader philanthropic community, lifting up innovation, best practices, and lessons learned to increase understanding and influence practice in the field. In practice, this work will include developing programming for funder audiences to promote rural organizing opportunities; create vehicles for moving resources to support rural communities; and identifying grantmaking strategies, grantees, and partners in the field to inform this group’s work.
“It’s very powerful to be with others around the state [of Minnesota]. I’ve seen it transforming some of our rural white members who say that they have had few opportunities to engage with people of color around common values and moving work forward.”
--Nick Olsen, Land Stewardship Project
“Equity and inclusion should be the basis of the work we do. Having more people of color leading in their communities would make the work more powerful. People living in their communities are the experts of their own lives.”
--Nicole Donaghy, Dakota Resource Council
As a first step in establishing a framework and priorities, the Integrated Rural Strategies Group commissioned a scan of rural organizing work. From this scan, the group has gained literacy in the organizing work already taking place and further defined the group’s role and intended impact in the landscape of rural organizing. Capturing the voices of organizers on the ground, the scan identified the following priorities:
- Infrastructure and Capacity: More organizers, especially, multilingual organizers; logistical support for mobilizing rural residents; strengthening of organizational systems.
- Strategizing for Impact: Support for coalition-building, information-sharing, and political work.
- Anti-racist Organizing: Support for anti-racist organizing and trainings.
Organizers offered guidance for how philanthropy can enter the space of rural organizing and put their resources to use:
- Truly partner with grantees: Support grantee leadership rather than enlisting grantees in support of funder-driven agendas, models and collaboratives.
- Come with a learning stance: Understand and appreciate the existing mechanics and structures of rural organizing on the ground and how they are different than organizing in urban areas. Learn about the breadth of need, the texture of the work, and the strategies brought to bear due to the economic inequity, isolation, and lack of infrastructure in rural communities.
- Fund deeply and over the long term: Enter thoughtfully into long-term partnership with grantees, in order to invest in building the relationships and institutions that are the infrastructure for organizing work.
We invite funders who seek to begin or deepen their efforts to strengthen power and equity in rural communities to join us. Areas of focus are wide ranging and include climate change and the environment; sustainable economies and agriculture; health; and civic engagement and political power – all sharing the core values of equity and racial justice. Whether you are looking to learn about funding rural organizing; connect with funders exploring this work; or even align and move resources to rural communities – you are welcome.
To learn more, please contact Adriana Rocha, NFG's Vice President of Programs, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (510) 444-6063, ext. 2020.