Jeff YostMaking Philanthropy Work in Rural America

By: Jeff Yost In: 2011 Rural Conference| Community Foundations| Donor Engagement| Rural Philanthropy

21 Jul 2011

In today’s age of austerity, political gridlock, cynicism, diminishing government resources, and intractable problems, collaboration is essential to get good work done and make it stick, especially in rural America. The challenge we face in most of Nebraska is outmigration, especially of middle-class youth. The consolidation of production agriculture and the lack of diversity in our rural economy has resulted in fewer career opportunities and severe underemployment.

To help resolve this problem, the Nebraska Community Foundation (NCF) uses a collaborative model that relies on the intelligence and integrity of community leaders. Sustainable solutions for community renewal must be led by community members. Outside experts should not impose their values or strategies on the community; they should focus on educating, facilitating, providing technical expertise, and helping the community move to strategy and action faster.

People are most likely to act when asked by someone they know and trust. Our model therefore relies on local fund leaders asking friends and neighbors to invest in the future of their hometown. Our hope is that donors who are in the habit of giving annually to their hometown are much more likely to include their hometown as a beneficiary of their estate, thereby keeping a portion of the transfer of wealth local, even if the heirs to the estate live elsewhere. 

Further, we believe that decisions about local priorities should be determined locally. All grantmaking decisions for an affiliated fund are therefore made by the local fund leaders. NCF acts as a value-added partner for its affiliated funds. We do not replace existing community capacity; we enhance it with education, training, and technical assistance.

NCF has 1,800 community leaders serving as fund leaders. Our decentralized approach-asking community leaders to engage their neighbors-is working. Last year, 7,794 gifts were made to 139 affiliated funds. In the past five years, 36,353 gifts have been made and more than $70 million has been reinvested in Nebraska through NCF-affiliated funds.

More importantly, community outcomes demonstrate that our collaborative approach works. Distressed rural communities are making grants that are creating new economic opportunities, helping community members acquire new skills, building community facilities, and helping former residents return home to raise their families and build their careers.

The model is just one of several working in rural America that will be the topic of conversation during the morning plenary on July 26 at the Council on Foundations’ Rural Conference. Attendees will have the opportunity to hear directly from other funders on “Keeping the Transfer of Wealth at Home in Rural America.” The session will help participants understand which model will work best for their communities and how to achieve long-term results in rural America.

Jeff Yost is president and CEO of the Nebraska Community Foundation.

1 Response to Making Philanthropy Work in Rural America

Where Is the Intergenerational Transfer of Wealth Hiding and How Can Foundations Find It? - RE:Philanthropy

July 26th, 2011 at 10:47 am

[...] for rural endowments, but, as Jeff Yost has indicated in his for “RE: Philanthropy” blog post, the mobilization of community leaders who work together to shape and allocate philanthropic [...]

Comment Form

Welcome to RE: Philanthropy! In this blog, guest and Council bloggers share ideas and insights on the most pressing issues in philanthropy. If you want to contribute, please contact

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Council on Foundations.


Nancy Berglass
Emily Jones Rushing
Jeff Stanger
Susan Patterson
Holly Welch Stubbing
Michelle Zupan
Nicole Robinson
Dawn Townsend
Sara Watson
Larry Kutner
Stanley S. Litow
Angelle Fouther
Lisa Ranghelli
Aaron Dorfman
Rob Buchanan
Jorgen Thomsen
Sofia Rasmussen
Conaway B. Haskins III
Craig Muska
Thomas H. Davis Jr.
Diane Melley
Daniel Mansoor
Heather Lord
Ralph Fuccillo
Susan Beaudry
Mark Neithercut
Rajasvini Bhansali
David Maurrasse
Kim Embretson and Tom McSparron
Brenda Chumley
Jeff Pryor
Jeff Pickering and Susanne Norgard
Sean Stannard-Stockton
Erica V. Ekwurzel
Matt Robertson
Kate Schrauth
Lisa Richter
David Etzwiler
John Barnes
Elizabeth Ramirez
Ruth Ann Norton
Kevin Salwen
Tracy Viselli
Patrick Gaston
Valerie S. Lies
Daniel Kaufman
Michael L. Batchelor
Matthew Chase