Nonprofit organizations across the country serve the needs of rural communities in critically important ways. Yet the conditions under which they operate, challenging in the best of times, are becoming even more difficult as the current economic crisis unfolds.
Rural nonprofits experience a chronic lack of resources, which stymies their ability to adequately serve geographically dispersed populations with increasing needs. Continually challenged to do more with less, in areas that offer few funding opportunities, these organizations and their leaders face a host of challenges—financial, strategic, and organizational—which, while evident, are neither well understood nor supported with research. To help inspire discussion and additional research on the management of rural nonprofits, the Bridgespan Group undertook the research reported in this paper—research that shines the spotlight on one particularly acute challenge, the resource gap.
The genesis for this paper was a business planning partnership between the National Indian Youth Leadership Project (NIYLP), the Atlantic Philanthropies, and the Bridgespan Group. While helping NIYLP consider growth opportunities across rural America, we learned some important lessons that we believed deserved further exploration. The Atlantic Philanthropies made funding available for Bridgespan to conduct additional research and to prepare this paper; NIYLP served as both the inspiration for the paper and a case study.
We would like to thank McClellan Hall, the founder and executive director of NIYLP, for his long service to Native youth across America and around the world, and for being a willing partner in the development of the paper. We’d also like to recognize and thank the nonprofit and foundation leaders who offered their time for interviews during the research. Finally, we thank Alli Myatt and Christine Tran, formerly of the Bridgespan Group, for their research support.
We hope that this paper is a thought-provoking read that spotlights rural nonprofits and adds to the dialogue about the challenges they face. We would appreciate any feedback you might have for us.
Partner, The Bridgespan Group