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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

How can community-based fundraising positively impact rural nonprofits?

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Rural communities are vital to the strength and energy of the United States, and thus, the health of their nonprofits is equally important. Regardless of the significant population living in rural areas, the economic footprint and the generous political pull, nonprofit organizations in these areas have long been battling specific challenges that nonprofits in urban or suburban areas do not confront, or do so on a smaller scale.

There are a few core and persistent problems that rural nonprofits contend with, which make staying in operation and continuing services a difficult challenge. These issues impact rural nonprofit organizations in every aspect of their operations; however, fundraising has proven to be a particularly difficult obstacle for rural organizations to overcome. There is a wealth of literature and research that highlights these issues and displays the unique barriers that rural nonprofits have continually struggled with based on their geographical location.

In 2009, the Bridgespan Group, a social impact consulting firm, published a comprehensive report detailing the various strenuous conditions under which rural nonprofits must operate. The report revealed an extensive gap of funding when comparing rural and urban nonprofits, as well as startling differences in community needs and services provided. For instance, the report revealed that rural nonprofit organizations received significantly less funding from the federal government, private foundations and corporate giving. In regards to federal government funding, nonprofits received $648 less per capita than urban areas. From private foundations, grants to rural areas accounted for nearly 7% of grants. Additionally, corporate giving was lacking as well in rural areas, with fortune 500 corporations giving out nearly 11,000 grants in 2000, but only 1.6% of that went to rural nonprofits. Rural organizations also scramble to obtain a steady flow of individual donors, stymied by low populations and the proven high rate of poverty in rural areas.

“The scarcity of funding for rural nonprofits means that these organizations—with fewer resources to begin with—must work harder to obtain the money they need to serve rural communities. The result is that rural nonprofits are less able to help disadvantaged residents in rural communities to overcome their challenges,” according to the report.

Rick Cohen, contributing writer to Nonprofit Quarterly who specialized in rural philanthropy, spoke to the continued failure of grant making foundations to award grants to rural nonprofits. “The failure of foundations to put much grant money into rural nonprofits is historic and persistent.  Despite frequent promises to the contrary, foundations haven’t done much to narrow the disproportional gap between urban and rural groups’ access to foundation dollars.”

Nonprofit organizations are often seen as incubators of innovation. One such innovation, developed by Vu Le and other nonprofit leaders of color, is Community Centric Fundraising. This movement, as described by CCF, is rooted in equity, social justice and of course, community. CCF does not ask nonprofit leaders to disregard the principles of traditional donor centered fundraising, but rather, it asks more of nonprofit leaders and donors. It asks nonprofit leaders to be more thoughtful and discerning in the funds they seek and accept, while imploring donors and funders to examine their patterns of philanthropy and how they can be more equitable in their giving habits.

Rural nonprofits can implement the principles of CCF, of which there are ten, to strengthen their communities and begin conversations around wealth, equity and philanthropy. It should not be approached as a quick solution for deeply rooted fundraising woes, but a continual learning and unlearning of current fundraising practices. Vu Le contends that, “I feel that in our quest to make our donors feel good so that they will keep giving, we often underestimate them. We separate them out from the community that they are in, and we reinforce the dichotomy of donors as the benefactors helping “other” people, and we make them feel “warm and fuzzy” for doing it. I don’t think we focus enough on getting them to see the bigger vision, a vision that extends beyond our own organization.”

Rural nonprofits are the perfect incubator for Community Centric Fundraising as their communities are what will sustain them. By lifting each other up and finding meaningful ways to engage in fundraising and nonprofit management, rural organizations will be able to innovate and meet the needs of their most vulnerable populations. In meeting those needs, and in strengthening their communities, rural organizations can directly combat the rural fundraising gap.

Kaleigh Radebaugh is a graduate of the Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management program at Arizona State University. She had a special focus on fundraising in rural nonprofit organizations. Today, as the Development Coordinator at Rise Against Suicide, she seeks to expand their programming to rural areas in order to reach more youth in need of mental health services.

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To learn more about this topic, enroll in the Fundraising and Sustainable Financial Management online certificate program from the ASU Lodestar Center's Nonprofit Management Institute.

Kaleigh Radebaugh


ASU Lodestar Center Blog