Shining a spotlight on rural America


Last updated 3/26/2024 at 1:32pm

Photo provided

Wansa Making with Heather Steinberger. Roundhouse Foundation promotes the arts in rural and indigenous communities in an effort to bring rural voices to the foreground.

Rural America feeds the nation, provides space for infrastructure, and outdoor recreational opportunities for the masses of the cities. Rural communities are often under stress - yet they receive few philanthropic dollars compared to urban centers.

The Sisters-based Roundhouse Foundation (RHF) is addressing those challenges in "Funding Rural," a new podcast launched on March 12. "Funding Rural" explores how philanthropy can better serve rural communities and spark systemic change. Erin Borla, RHF Executive Director, addresses philanthropy in rural America – or the lack thereof.

Only 7 percent of philanthropic dollars, nationally, goes toward rural America. RHF was founded by Borla's mother, Kathy Deggendorfer, and supported by Gert 'Ma' Boyle, and it stands in contrast to those national rural funding statistics. RHF has donated more than $40 million to rural and indigenous spaces since its inception in 2002, because they are passionate about the potential of rural, remote, and reservation communities.

"With my job I get the opportunity to work every day around challenges and inequities facing rural, remote, and Reservation communities," said Borla. "In a country where 97 percent of the land mass is considered rural – and 19 percent of the population – there are rich stories of the people who live there. There are complex histories that have led to challenges seen across America today, and they are not being heard."

In her work with RHF, Borla has seen many successful, collaborative projects between government, philanthropy, and communities, and she knows big and meaningful things can happen in small towns. She's also heard a lot of skepticism from well-intentioned corporate and family funders, based in urban wealth centers, who cast doubt or judgment on RHF's decision to give grants to rural and indigenous projects.

Rather than being satisfied with being a different kind of philanthropist, as part of her work with the RHF and as a Fellow for the National Center for Family Philanthropy (NCFP) she has created the Funding Rural podcast as a means of building empathy and humility as a bridge between rural and urban spaces. Borla is specifically focusing on ways in which to engage communities that funders may not know or understand. Through the conversations, Borla not only carves inroads for America's philanthropic decision makers and philanthropic institutions, but she also invites anyone who is curious and wants a better understanding of rural America to listen in.

Funding Rural can be streamed wherever folks get their podcasts. For more information on RHF and Funding Rural visit


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