After 2016 many donors, field groups, and political and cultural analysts turned their attention—suddenly and belatedly—to rural and small-town America, and to the social and economic circumstances of its residents. Due to decades of philanthropic disinvestment, there was an abiding shortage of local civil society groups in rural and small city America that could help facilitate issue education, civic engagement, and community building.
Heartland Fund addresses this gap, connecting rural leaders with funding partners seeking the uncommonly high returns on investment generated by building permanent, powerful civic infrastructure in small cities and rural communities, championing the policies needed for those communities to thrive.
We are particularly excited that our work emphasizes rural communities of color across three distinct regions of the country. Donors and activists increasingly recognize just how racially and ethnically diverse rural and small-city America is. Ben Goldfarb’s All the People, All the Places report shows that 19 percent of rural residents are people of color—a rate that’s rapidly accelerating. The Rural Policy Action Report reflects the experiences and challenges experiences people rural communities are facing around the country. Heartland Fund believes in a race-forward organizing framework and bringing conversations of class and race together as we support and convene our grantees.
WHY WE EXIST
For too long, the challenges facing rural America have been ignored. These challenges include, but are not limited to, a lack of access to quality healthcare and education, corporate disinvestment, wealth inequality, infrastructure decline, environmental degradation, and political dysfunction. And while problems facing rural and urban communities may be similar, philanthropic investments in civic engagement strategies have been completely divergent. Urban strategies received the overwhelmingly majority of philanthropic investments over the last several decades, while rural strategies were largely neglected. We must address this investment imbalance if we are to have any hope of bridging the growing and often hostile urban-rural divide in America that increasingly blocks progress that would benefit our hardest hit communities.
Reinvesting in rural organizing and civic engagement will require a sustained, long-term, coordinated strategy. The strategy must be focused, yet multi-faceted to adequately address the needs and opportunities facing rural America. Fortunately, such a strategy was developed in 2018, and expanded in 2019. It is called Heartland Fund.
WHAT WE DO
Heartland Fund connects rural leaders with national and regional funders to build permanent civic engagement and organizing infrastructure in rural areas of the United States, including small cities and towns.
We convene both field leaders and funders, providing valuable opportunities for relationship building, learning, strategizing, and joint planning.
We grant to organizations working in small cities and rural areas, organizing and communicating about the many issues relevant to their diverse members.
We help tell stories about rural life, challenges and positive change, supporting a rural news digest and helping expand an exciting narrative project that will unite people across race, class, and place.
We share research-tested best practices to make sure rural leaders have tried and true tools and methodologies at their disposal.