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United Philanthropy Forum Offering PSOs Mini-Grants for Rural Philanthropy Programming

Thursday, October 7, 2021

In recognition that rural communities across the United States face continued underinvestment by philanthropy, the Forum has received funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) to leverage the power of the Forum network to increase understanding across the field of philanthropy about concentrated poverty and/or racial equity in rural communities. This work is part of a larger effort by RWJF to advance a more connected and coherent ecosystem of people and institutions to advance equitable rural prosperity. 

This project endeavors to strengthen how the sector works in advancing equitable rural prosperity in primarily rural regions of the country with significant BIPOC populations and concentrated poverty. Ultimately, the goal of this work is to catalyze the expansion and improvement of philanthropic investments in rural communities.  

The Forum will offer mini-grants to regional and national PSOs to support programming around rural philanthropy practices as well as activities and projects that engage rural leaders and practitioners. The grants can also be used to incorporate rural data and key messages into national and regional PSO programming. Over the course of two years, the Forum will give between 20 to 30 one-year grants in the range of $2,500 to $7,500 to PSO members per year. Reviewers will be recruited from the PSO Rural Philanthropy Working Group to evaluate the grant submissions. This is the first phase of grantmaking – we anticipate a second round in the first quarter of 2022. 


  • Clarity of purpose, plan, and strategic partners;
  • Proposed activities align with the PSO’s strategic priorities and/or supports pre-existing work;
  • Proposed activities explicitly seek to partner with rural communities in promoting equitable rural prosperity;
  • Project manager/team (both staff and volunteer) has lived experience or expertise that ensures accountability to rural communities (preferred); and
  • Proposed activities do not advance extractive practices and treatment of rural communities.

Examples of Mini-grant Activities

  • Engage leaders with rural lived experience who are making progress at the local level as paid consultants to guide PSOs and funders on effective models and approaches to addressing issues of concentrated poverty and racial inequity in rural places.
  • Honorariums for speakers presenting on solutions for rural communities including topics such as local rural-serving community foundations; rural-based PSOs in partnership with communities in co-designed work to increase investments in underserved rural communities; and partnership models between national and regional PSOs, funders, communities that specifically address issues of persistent poverty and/or racial inequities.
  • Presenting a “Learning to Action” program series that engages a diverse range of rural leaders in discussing integrity-¬‐driven rural engagement practices, directly informed by lived experience, that focus on non-¬‐extractive approaches to partnering with rural communities, particularly to promote equitable rural development.
  • Collaborate with leaders with rural lived experience to create guiding principles and practices for engaging rural communities that underscore how approaches unique to working with rural communities can result in impactful partnerships. Such an effort can bring together local philanthropy, non-¬‐profit, and other partners to share key practices with national funders seeking to engage rural communities.
  • Identify current and potential rural investments through researching the current level of national foundation investment in a particular state or region that provides a baseline and informs ways to increase investment from national funders around promoting equitable rural prosperity.
  • Develop collective focus areas through facilitating conversations that would "line up" possible future national funder investments in specific national, regional, or state PSOs to improve that rural areas' work in addressing persistent poverty and racial inequities.
  • Assess “on the ground” needs of partners for greater impact by surveying organizations focused on equitable rural prosperity related to a PSO's focus areas (geographic or issue-¬‐based) to determine their greatest needs for capacity building and operational support in order to identify possible investment opportunities across regional and national philanthropic sectors.
  • Improve rural storytelling and increase investment potential by creating a new message/storytelling that understands the unique needs of rural communities, rural-¬‐based PSOs, neighbors, etc. as "the best investment" to make for national funders. This type of effort shifts away from antiquated narratives and broadly amplifying the important, long-¬‐standing work underway in rural communities.

Defining “Rural”

While the definition of “rural” continues to evolve in this work, the description below currently serves as the “working definition” for this project:

  • A county with a population density of fewer than 250 people/square miles overlaid with these equity dimensions: 
  • Historic and cultural context
  • Economic distress
  • Vulnerable to disasters
  • BIPOC-immigrant populations
  • Key role of resource extraction and corporate monopolization
  • Opportunities to organize/build a power base of historically marginalized/invisible populations

Please note that we will certainly entertain other definitions of rural that work best for your specific context and approach.

For any questions about this pilot opportunity, please contact Traci Slater-Rigaud, Director of Member Engagement & Partnerships, at

Special thanks to the Forum’s Rural Philanthropy PSO Working Group Mini-Grant Subcommittee for their thought partnership in the design and implementation of the Mini-Grant program:

  • Paul Daugherty, President & CEO, Philanthropy West Virginia
  • Tiffany Friesen, Vice President of Programs & Partnerships, SECF
  • Faron McClurkin, Vice President of Programs, Neighborhood Funders Group
  • Amy Swiatek, Director of Rural and Statewide Initiatives, Philanthropy Colorado

The deadline for this application is November 11th.

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