On Thursday, the Council held its fourth monthly Twitter Chat - or #PhilChat - in partnership with the Chronicle of Philanthropy to pose the question: Is Philanthropy Succeeding in Rural America? With more than 30 active participants and 300 tweets, it proved to be one of most successful #PhilChats to date. Not just quantitatively, but in the number of important takeaways for the sector.
Now I write this with one caveat: I am not a policy expert or practitioner of rural philanthropy, but I did attend the Council’s Rural Philanthropy Conference in Kansas City last year. Instead, I approach this from a social media/public relations perspective.
The topic was chosen for several reasons. It was apparent during last year’s conference that there is a strong need and want for more data, sharing, and resources, and there are a number of challenges both unique to rural communities and the field as a whole. Throughout the #PhilChat, it became even more obvious that this was the case. A comment posted on the Council’s Facebook page summed it up perfectly: “I’d just like to thank you for hosting this. We need more of these where we can exchange links/data.”
As with other #PhilChats, we invited several special guests to participate based on their expertise in the field and/or public policy. This time around, guest tweeters included Chris Beck of the U.S. Department of Agriculture; the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship’s Ahmet Binerer; Tim Marema of The Daily Yonder; West Virginia Grantmakers’ Paul Daugherty; and Linda Reed of Montana Community Foundation, who all offered valuable input based on their knowledge and experience in the area.
Woven throughout the 300-plus tweets were several common threads that are quite telling about the state of rural philanthropy:
- More needs to be done to keep young people in rural areas and engage them in philanthropy.
- The lack of infrastructure in rural areas is both a barrier for philanthropy and an opportunity to make a difference.
- There have been many examples of successful public-philanthropic partnerships, but more are needed.
- Specific geographic issues make it difficult for rural funders to unite behind single causes.
- The different and strict definitions of “rural” act as a barrier.
Based on the #PhilChat, if I now had to answer the initial question “is philanthropy succeeding in rural America?” I would have to give it an incomplete grade. Many challenges need to be hurdled, but there is a dedicated field who are ensuring philanthropy delivers to rural communities, and there are enough examples of success to show that there is promise.
Am I wrong? How would you answer the question? And what does the sector need for successful rural philanthropy?
Have an idea for a future #PhilChat? Please email me with your suggestions.
Mark Carpenter is manager, public relations at the Council on Foundations.