Thursday, September 10, 2015

Agriculture Secretary says philanthropy needs to play a bigger role in rural America

Foundation investments in rural America have decreased not just regarding grant making but also capital investment, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said during the keynote speech on Wednesday at the National Rural Assembly in Washington, D.C., Rick Cohen reports for NonProfit Quarterly.
Vilsack said, “We began early [in his tenure at USDA] to have a conversation with the private foundation world," Tim Marema reports for the Daily Yonder. "What we’ve seen unfortunately, tragically, is not an increase in investment; we’ve actually seen a decrease . . . Private philanthropy needs to understand the role that rural America is going to play in the really big picture.” (Yonder photo by Shawn Poynter)

It's helpful to host rural philanthropy conferences in response to calls for rural philanthropy—such as the ones the Council on Foundations held in Missoula, Little Rock and Kansas City—but "when a deal is cut with the foundation sector's trade association with the obvious purpose of increasing foundations' rural investment, and the results are actually negative, that should be a wake-up call for foundations—and their nonprofit partners," Cohen writes.

Discussion is only helpful when followed by actions, and a panel of grantmakers who spoke before Vilsack's speech—Justin Maxson, president of the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation; Kathy Annette, president of the Blandin Foundation; Heeten Kalan, a senior program officer with the New World Foundation; and Jamie Bennette of ArtPlace America "were at a loss to name the rural philanthropy venue where funders could push for more attention to rural," Cohen writes.

Dee Davis, the founder of the Center for Rural Strategies and the chair of the National Rural Assembly steering committee, said, "I think the Secretary has a lot of hope for rural America, and he has an ambitious agenda, and I think he's tired of seeing philanthropy play such a negligible role. . . . The Secretary seemed discouraged that philanthropy keeps pulling back into their own area codes." (Read more)

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