The rural-urban divide is increasingly coming to be seen as the defining faultline in American life. Electoral politics provide only the most obvious proof of this: In Manhattan—where Trump has spent decades living, working, and schmoozing—only ten per cent of voters sided with him over Hilary Clinton; in Washington, D.C., the number was just four per cent. On the other hand, Hilary consistently picked up single-digit support in towns like Garfield, Montana, which has less than a single average voter per square mile. (For a thorough post-election urban-rural breakdown, see the New York Times useful reporting on the topic.) More and more, it seems, there are at least “two Americas”: one a spotty archipelago of coastal urban hubs and the other a chunky mass of ‘fly-over’ states (again, see the Times for a remarkable illustration of this).
A new charitable initiative proposes to address this most dramatic of separations. Acknowledging that, “rural America often gets overlooked, if not ignored, by the media and philanthropy,” the nonprofit group Grantmakers in Aging (GIA) recently launched a program aimed at improving the experience of the elderly in rural America. They aim to do this by “connecting and supporting key players, sharing knowledge, and expanding the resources available to rural older adults.” Faced with a rapidly aging population, rural America must deal with challenges in health, housing, transportation, technology, community development, as well as other public-private fields that deeply affect quality-of-life and civil-society.
With a funding grant from the Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies and a steering committee comprised of experienced nonprofit leaders used to working on a local level, the new GIA program seems well poised to make an impact. The group is also looking to guarantee longevity with a related initiative called New Frontiers for Funding, a detailed report introducing grantmaking organizations to the promises and perils of rural philanthropy. “Grantmaking to rural projects has been declining for years and is disproportionately low,” the report notes, a fact that only helps to reinforce the felt divide between large coastal cities—traditionally the nerve centers of organized philanthropy—and millions of people living with inadequate social services and support in rural communities across America.
Perhaps this new little program will suggest a way forward for Big Philanthropy.