Small-Town Philanthropy: More than Money

[imgbelt img=frame2.jpg]The Barry Community Foundation in Michigan builds all kinds of assets – not just financial ones. Creating stronger communities means investing in relationships and ideas, taking calculated risks and creatively challenging the status quo.


reducing their support for rural areas, Hildreth and her colleagues have found a way to change the community direction.

“We’re creating a giving community,” she says. “We’re creating a culture of loving where you live.”

Barry is a county of 60,000, sandwiched between the cities of Grand Rapids, Battle Creek, Kalamazoo and Lansing, where most Barry residents work. Hildreth, president of the foundation, brags that there is not a spot in Barry County that’s more than 10 miles from a lake. (Editor’s Note: Barry County is what the Daily Yonder classifies as an “exurban” county, one that falls within a federally designated metropolitan area but that has a sizable population that lives in Census tracts that are rural.)

Last month, Hildreth and I spoke in Dallas at the Rural Policy Leadership Institute, where rural advocates, practitioners and leaders from around the country gathered to construct short-term action plans on issues like broadband Internet access, rural philanthropy and rural entrepreneurship.

(The institute was one of the final activities of the Rural Policy Action Partnership, a partnership among MDC, a nonprofit that helps communities overcome the barriers to educational and economic opportunity; Center for Rural Strategies, which publishes the Daily Yonder; the Institute for Emerging Issues at N.C. State University; INC/Network Impact, which helps build networks and develop social innovations; and networks of rural organizations around the country.)

[imgcontainer left] [img:frame2.jpg] An arts and fundraising project for the enrichment center mounted photos of community icons within windows removed during renovation of the old church.

In the rural philanthropy group, we spoke about the movement of national foundations away from rural development and the concentration of assets in urban areas. From 2004 and 2008, philanthropic support for rural areas declined from $92.7 million to $89.5 at a time when total foundation giving increased by 43.4 percent, according to Rick Cohen, whose reports on rural philanthropy have been published by the Daily Yonder and Nonprofit Quarterly. Cohen is continuing to show that dramatic trend and will release a new analysis at this year’s National Rural Assembly.

As national foundations change priorities, rural philanthropy will have even more reason to play a role that extends beyond money.

James Joseph, former president of the Council on Foundations and chairman emeritus of the MDC board of directors (where I work), suggests that philanthropy should use five forms of capital, and only one involves money: social capital, moral capital, intellectual capital and reputational capital, as well as financial capital.  All these forms of capital are on display at the Barry Community Foundation.

The Power of Rural Philanthropy, Alan McGregor and Bethany Chaney write that rural communities often build philanthropy by acknowledging that “everyone is a prospective donor, and everyone is a beneficiary.”  Barry Community Foundation uses its moral capital by changing who is in the conversation on philanthropy.

For years, like rural communities around the country, Barry County has worried about the exodus of young adults from the community to places with greater job opportunities. Through the Youth Advisory Council, young adults write grants, select grantees and enter positions in local leadership.

The high school students go to elementary schools to teach grant making. At one school, there was no way to know what time it was or the temperature outside, so the students solicited $110.76 to put clocks and thermometers on the wall. The grant limit was $100, so they promised to raise $10.76 in matching funds.

When the council received a proposal to build a soccer field, written by adults, they turned it down on the spot.

Financial capital. All foundations know financial capital, where they start and too often where they end.

[imgcontainer left] [img:map2.jpg] Barry County, Michigan

Barry Community Foundation has about 200 funds that made up more than $18 million in assets in 2011. An endowment for staff and administrative costs allows all new funds to go toward the community.

When deciding which issues to target for priority grantmaking, the foundation begins by asking, “What does our community need and want?” Hildreth says.

In Barry County, like many communities around the country, job creation is a priority for financial capital. While Barry County has a higher median income and lower unemployment rate than Michigan as a whole, the weakening of the auto industry hurt the two manufacturers where many residents worked. In one response, the foundation has begun a partnership with a local bank that will result in loans to community businesses and start-ups.

Hildreth began her career as a nursing aide before a back injury forced her to change professions. She took the job of founding executive director at the community foundation in 1995, at that time also playing the lead role for the United Way, after turns in medical billing and newspaper sales.

Eighteen years later, Hildreth and the Barry Community Foundation provide lessons in how today’s rural philanthropy can offset falling external funding with enthusiastic deployment of other forms of capital. 

Max Rose is a program associate at MDC in Durham, N.C.  Through its Passing Gear Philanthropy program, MDC helps foundations deploy capital in all its forms to advance well-being and long-term vitality in the regions they serve. More information on Bonnie Hildreth and the Barry Community Foundation is available in this this 2010 profile by the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship.