Rural Funders, Not Rural Jurors

Till this morning I'd never heard of the National Rural Funders Collaborative, a Dallas-based "collaborative philanthropic initiative" funded by some of the largest foundations in the country, among them The California Endowment, The Ford Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation. The NRFC is prominently featured in a not-yet-online story in the latest issue of The Chronicle of Philanthropy, which is running this week a story about how rural areas, besieged by population loss and poverty, are suffering from the lack of philanthropic assistance.

The NRFC, HQ'd out of 402 N. Good Latimer Expressway, is exec-directed by Jim Richardson, who, says his official bio, "lives in Dallas when he is not on an airplane to some remote rural community." Richardson tells the Chronicle that when the NRFC "issued its first request for proposals in 2001, it hoped to get 30 or 40 good applications," only to wind up with nearly 300 of them. Says Richardson, "It confirmed, beyond what we imagined, that there was not only a clear need for more funding and more strategic funding, but also that there were a lot of nonprofits across the country doing good work." More about that work's after the jump.

Also, writes Suzanne Perry in The Chronicle of Philanthropy:

The collaborative, which supports regional projects that involve multiple organizations, gave about $3.3 million to 17 projects in 15 states during its first phase, from 2002 to 2006. These included projects to promote entrepreneurial businesses in areas such as tourism and cultural heritage in Appalachia; to help American Indians in New Mexico bring back buffalo herds as a source of revenue; and to train health-care workers in remote Alaska.

The collaborative plans to spend at least $1-million a year over the next five years on a new round of projects, narrowing its giving to three regions -- the rural South, California and the West, and the northern Great Plains.

One of the new goals, for example, is to help seasonal farm workers in California develop small businesses. To measure whether the projects are making a difference, the group has asked a program called Success Measures, a division of NeighborworksAmerica, a nonprofit group in Washington, to help grant recipients compile data on actions they have taken to influence public policy, involve people in rural communities in raising money and determining how it is spent, and remove racial and class barriers.

The group's goal is to attract $100 million from its own members, other foundations, and government agencies for its projects over 10 years. So far, its own grants have sparked an additional $40 million to $45 million in giving, Mr. Richardson says.

--Robert Wilonsky

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