July 21, 2011; Source: RE:Philanthropy (Council on Foundations) | Jeff Yost of the Nebraska Community Foundation may be the nation’s preeminent advocate for capturing and keeping the transfer of wealth in rural areas. NCF has conducted studies to measure the wealth in rural areas that could be captured for stay-at-home philanthropy and has organized funds affiliated with NCF into which donors can make donations for general or designated rural purposes, essentially creating in these affiliated funds new small community foundations.

In this brief Council on Foundations blog, Yost reports that 36,353 gifts (Yost’s count) totaling more than $70 million were made to NCF-affiliated funds over the past five years. Some 1,800 community leaders work as fund leaders reaching out to their friends and neighbors “to invest in the future of their hometown(s).”

Nothing takes the place of energy, enthusiasm, and commitment, all three of which Yost has in abundance. Whatever wealth gets captured and redirected toward rural philanthropy in Yost’s model is certainly a plus, but questions remain for rural philanthropy overall:

· A PowerPoint presentation about the Nebraska Community Foundation to the Indiana Office of Rural Affairs dated July 28, 2005 mentioned that 2001-2002 studies by the Foundation estimated a rural transfer of wealth in Nebraska of $94 billion by the year 2050. Given that a sizable portion of this nation’s wealth simply evaporated with the financial sector’s meltdown and the subsequent recession that still persists, are people all that confident about the transfer of wealth numbers that in the late 1990s and the beginning of this century seemed to grow with every researcher’s study?

· As much as Yost preaches rural self-reliance, it cannot go unnoticed that NCF’s program to build affiliated funds was launched with generous grants from the Ford Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and the Aspen Institute among others. The challenge of building rural philanthropy benefits from the willingness of existing national foundations to chip in. Worth noting is that both Kellogg and Ford have diminished their rural philanthropic commitments in recent years.

· Both individual giving and bequests to community foundations have been growing in the form of donor-advised funds, not giving to community foundations. Yost’s model, like many community foundation models, is predicated on community problem solving with discretionary resources, but for most foundations—perhaps not for the NCF affiliated funds—that is a resource in short supply.

· Fund-raising for these new affiliated funds is, no surprise, not only slow, but it proceeds much better in wealthier rural counties than poorer rural counties, yet those poorer areas are exactly the ones that desperately need philanthropic support. —Rick Cohen