Hello Kim,

I live in an extremely rural (45 minutes to the nearest “big box store!”) and high poverty area in southwest Oregon. There are many worthy causes in our area, all of them competing with each other for a very small piece of the local donating pie. Some time ago I saw a brief article on a website about a rural county where local nonprofits got together and formed their own “mini United Way” type organization, for the purpose of joint fundraising. But I cannot, for the life of me, recall where I read this, and wonder if you have ever heard of such a thing, and can direct us to a source of more information.

Thank you,

How to Bake a Bigger Pie

Dear Pie:

I haven’t heard about this, and a quick survey of colleagues did not turn up anything.  Further, the organization that would have known, called the National Alliance for Choice in Giving, has a disconnected phone and their website is not accessible.  Readers, if anyone knows what happened to them, please let me know. 

Rural organizations can form alliances to raise money together and you simply need to sit down and think through how that might work.  Because money brings out both the best and the worst in everyone, I would start with something simple and time-limited.  One rural community I know has a flea market every year, which benefits all the nonprofits in the community.  A local store donates their parking lot (which is not used very much as parking is not a big issue).  Residents, stores, artists, etc. rent a “booth” for not too much money.  The nonprofits each get a booth free and they can sell whatever they want. The money from booth rental is divided evenly among all participating nonprofits, but each one gets to keep whatever they earn at their booth. A pitch is made for people to donate to a joint nonprofit fund on their way in or out of the flea market.  It lasts two days in the late spring, and has grown every year.

Once you have a good experience working together on something simple, move on to something more complex, like a joint appeal or a joint website.

Do keep in mind that you will need to create income streams outside of your very rural community—you probably simply don’t have the population to sustain all the needs.  However, if you have tourists or people with second homes, or people who grew up in your community and left to get jobs, see them all as prospects.

Raising money in super rural communities like yours is not easy, but I have found the most creativity in those kind of communities.  Keep in touch with what you decide.

~Kim Klein