These Five Funders Are Supporting Rural Communities in the Pacific West

Mt. Hood, Oregon. Photo: Robert Crum/shutterstock

At Inside Philanthropy, we've written at length about the underfunding of organizations that support rural communities. But while there are some national funders that provide grants to rural America, the majority of support — and some of the most effective — comes from regional and place-based funders. So far, we've covered New England and the Mid-Atlantic, the South — including Texas, which got its own post — the Midwest, and the Mountain West. Now, we come to one final region: the Pacific West, which includes Washington, Oregon, California, Hawaii and Alaska. 

Though the majority of residents live in urban centers, a fairly significant part of the Pacific West is rural. In Oregon, for example, a full 33% of the state's population lives in rural areas, according to Oregon Health and Science University. 

Rural certainly isn't the word that comes to mind when you think of California. And while the majority of the state’s population lives in urban counties, about 5.5 million Californians live in rural counties, which make up about 60% of the state's land mass, according to Rural County Representatives of California. (For reference, roughly one half of all U.S. states have total populations under that number.)

Meanwhile, over 2,000 miles away, the majority of Hawaii's population resides in the City and County of Honolulu. Only about 10% of the state's total land is urban, per the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and according to the University of Hawai'i, any area outside of Honolulu's urban core is considered to be rural. 

Most of the funding for rural areas in these states come from regional funders. To that end, here are some of the funders supporting rural communities in the Pacific West.

Ford Family Foundation

Founded by Kenneth W. Ford and Hallie E. Ford in 1957, the Ford Family Foundation, which received its current name in 1996, is exclusively focused on supporting rural development in Oregon and in Siskiyou County, California. The foundation's impact areas are family, education and community. It offers support for Oregon's rural communities through scholarships, training, leadership development and grants. The foundation has also taken on a role as a rural advocate by encouraging greater attention to rural people and places in the state. 

To date, the Ford Family Foundation has awarded more than 8,000 grants to support rural communities. These include technical assistance grants of up to $5,000, Good Neighbor grants of up to $25,000, and larger funding requests. Its applications are open year-round. The foundation also offers a resource library, which includes rural data and research, as well as rural community building tools.

Humboldt Area Foundation and Wild Rivers Foundation

The Humboldt Area Foundation and its affiliate, Wild Rivers Community Foundation, are dedicated to creating thriving, healthy, just and equitable communities in the areas where they operate. The foundations serve three counties in California (Del Norte, Humboldt and Trinity), as well as one county in Oregon (Curry), all of which are rural. They also serve the 27 tribal regions in the area. Goals include racial equity, thriving youth and families, healthy ecosystems and environments, and a just economy and economic development. 

The Humboldt Area Foundation and Wild Rivers Community Foundation offer an array of funds, including opportunity funds, donor-advised funds, scholarship funds and organizational funds. As an example of recent grantmaking, the foundations distributed $120,000 across 12 grants for fire response and resilience. Grantees include Del Norte Search and Rescue, Big Rock Community Services Direct, Del Norte and Adjacent Tribal Lands Community Food Council, Rural Human Services and Mid-Klamath Watershed Council. 

Programs and affiliates include Equity Alliance, Humboldt Health Foundation, Native Cultures Fund and the California Endowment's Building Healthy Communities program, among others.

Roundhouse Foundation

The Roundhouse Foundation, which emerged in 2002 as a collaboration between founder and trustee Kathy Deggendorfer and her mother, Gert Boyle of Columbia Sportswear fame, is dedicated to supporting creative solutions to the challenges that face rural communities and tribal nations in Oregon. Its four program areas are arts and culture, environmental stewardship, education and social services. The foundation seeks to operate through collaborative and trust-based philanthropy. It offers both general support as well as support for specific projects, such as farm-to-school projects, library and reading programs, restoration projects, houseless community programs and many others. 

The foundation also owns the Pine Meadow Ranch Center for Arts and Agriculture, a 260-acre working ranch where art, agriculture and ecological projects can be developed and displayed. The foundation's goal is to preserve the land, views and historic buildings in the ranch. 

Hawai'i Community Foundation

The Hawai'i Community Foundation (HCF) is dedicated to creating an equitable and vibrant Hawai’i. HCF operates through its CHANGE Framework, which includes six areas of focus. These are community and economy (C), health and wellness (H), arts and culture (A), natural environment (N), government and civics (G) and education (E). 

Examples of HCF's rural-specific work include funding for Hawaii State Rural Health Association and Hawaii Rural Water Association, and a $1 million investment in the Rural Community Assistance Corporation, a community development financial institution that provides funding for affordable housing development, environmental infrastructure, community facilities and small business in rural areas. In 2021, HCF managed around $1 billion in assets and distributed $100 million in grants. But only about $85,500 in grants were awarded from HCF itself. 

Alaska Community Foundation

The Alaska Community Foundation (ACF) is dedicated to strengthening Alaska's communities, primarily through grantmaking, fund management and scholarships. ACF manages more than 2,000 funds, including 11 affiliate funds and five partner community funds, awarding a total of $7 million to $10 million per year. According to its most recent data, ACF's assets total more than $165 million.

In partnership with Rasmuson Foundation, ACF administers the Rural Health Care Fund, which was established by Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alaska. Other rural-related funds it administers include the Ray and Maxine Stephens Memorial Scholarship Fund to support students from rural Alaska, the Wells Fargo Rural Alaska Disaster Relief Fund, and the David E. Knox Memorial Nursing Fellowship. ACF's own Alaska Fund also provides support for organizations serving rural Alaska.