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Rural Philanthropy Summit: Coming Together for Common Good

The second-annual Rural Philanthropy Summit combined people and plans in one place to support new ideas and ongoing successes

May 8, 2024

The 2024 Summit expands on regional success

Like-minded motivation around creating individualized, lasting change was seen on May 8, when affiliate leaders and rural funders from across Missouri came together for the Rural Philanthropy Summit.

Hosted by the Community Foundation of the Ozarks and Philanthropy Missouri, “Creating Thriving Communities” featured thoughts and topics related to rural-specific realities. It followed the success of the inaugural summit — thought to be the first of its kind in rural Missouri — in 2023.

“After last year’s summit, we heard lots of stories about folks making new connections, sharing their personal experiences and considering new ways to approach their work,” said Winter Kinne, president and CEO of the CFO. “We are so delighted to be co-hosting the summit with Philanthropy Missouri again this year. We both know we cannot have a thriving and equitable Missouri without thriving and equitable rural communities.”

Part of that work is having people together in one place, like they were at the Oasis Convention Center in Springfield. As Kinne put it, “We’re pleased to bring together funders and partners who share that vision and are committed to improving the lives of rural Missourians.”

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Keynote speaker Bonita Robertson-Hardy, co-executive director of the Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group

The day was filled with theme-specific sessions that addressed needs often seen in rural areas, and how challenges have been overcome — like getting a YMCA funded and constructed, even when a community was originally told no.

“Figure out how to collaborate,” said Rachael Martin, affiliate coordinator for the Barton County Community Foundation, in a panel of success stories. “Find what our goals are. Just get out there and start talking to people.”

It was a reminder that while needs are reflected uniquely in various communities, they often are faced similarly: With passion, and need for solutions.

“You care deeply about improving the lives of your neighbors and work to understand the most pressing needs in your communities and to find solutions,” encouraged Michelle Miller, president and CEO of Philanthropy Missouri. “You are already making such a difference.”

The morning’s keynote speaker was Bonita Robertson-Hardy, co-executive director of the Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group, who spoke about strengthening a community’s wealth-building efforts through collaboration and regional action.

“It’s really critical to think about what are the assets, what already has momentum, within the community,” she said. “Where are there supporters or folks around already thinking about just different assets of products within the community? Then really taking a step back and constructing a value chain. Where is there momentum around something, where are there investors around something?

From left: Michelle Miller, CEO of Philanthropy Missouri; Crystal Narr, executive director, Chillicothe Chamber of Commerce; Wendy Harrington, VP of development, Hannibal Regional Healthcare System; Racheal Martin, affiliate coordinator, Barton County Community Foundation; Shelly Haag , board president, Barton County Community Foundation

“This has proven to help a lot of communities — but it really is about investing locally and making sure that wealth is rooted locally.”

Smaller groups shared stories of common needs, such as access to senior services (Christian County’s was shared as a success), community-building through recreation in Cassville and child care in rural areas.

One example of the latter came from a funding partner: Mindy Honey, executive director of the Silver Dollar City Foundation, shared how the nonprofit’s Hope Grants help rural schools in Stone and Taney counties enhance their early childhood education options — and also support workforce development.

“Now they’re sending them five days a week,” Honey said of the Kirbyville district, which subsidized the cost of early childhood services for parents through a grant. “The kids are seeing the benefit, and it’s huge.”

Keynote speaker Chris Thompson shared over lunch about some of the projects West Central Missouri Community Action Agency and West Central Development Corporation (dba New Growth) have accomplished to advance rural Missouri – down to even helping transport rural residents via a network of volunteers.

“We all face those things even if the reason is a little different,” said Thompson, who serves as CEO of the organizations. “We’re in this together.”

The afternoon’s wrapping up didn’t end the work: Leaders expressed hope that attendees will continue efforts in their own communities. Eventually, that may be extended even farther through the Rural Missouri Development Partners group, which was announced during the summit and links organizations and funders on a new level.

“We hope that today’s summit inspired you to keep doing great work that you are already doing,” said Alice Wingo, vice president of affiliates at the CFO, “And to consider new ways that you might ensure the communities that you serve and the people within them are thriving.”

By Kaitlyn McConnell, writer in residence at the Community Foundation of the Ozarks

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