I am a big-city activist living in the most rural county in Massachusetts. While a grant writer for local antipoverty programs, I learned that rural grants are scarce. “Statewide” foundations concentrated resources in metro areas, save for a token rural grant or two. The few national funders of rural causes ignored Massachusetts, which is perceived as well-resourced and thriving.
Not quite so in my county, which grapples with both systemic and individual racism, including in police–citizen relations. The community is responding to a growing opioid addiction crisis as creatively as it can but needs resources to prevent more deaths.
Observing first urban and then rural marginalization helped stoke a “fire in the belly” that brought me to the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP), which historically and today shines a spotlight on how philanthropy neglects rural communities. Former executive director Rick Cohen was particularly passionate about this issue, and when we lost him we lost a great champion for rural America.
Thus, as the project director of NCRP’s Philamplify initiative, I was excited to study the Oregon Community Foundation (OCF), which serves a geographically large state with a pronounced urban/rural divide. Nearly 19 percent of Oregonians live in rural areas, and many of these areas have suffered economically as the timber industry has shrunk, resulting in an erosion of local government services and rising antifederal sentiment.
In our new Philamplify report, The Oregon Community Foundation: Can It Build a Statewide Legacy of Equity and Inclusion?, constituents praised OCF for its strong rural presence and consistent grant support. If they were CEO of OCF, surveyed grantees said, they would “[c]ontinue coming to where grantees are . . . even if we are extremely rural,” and “[m]aintain close relationships with rural communities throughout Oregon.”
Although it distributes grants across urban and rural regions, OCF has been less sensitive to grant equity for identity-based groups. OCF is credited with proactive engagement through the Latino Partnership Program, but has a reputed aversion to funding social change led by people of color. A