On April 8, 2022, around 90 community and economic development practitioners and community members gathered at a Thrive Rural Open Field session to share tips, techniques, and resources to help build rural and Native nations’ capacity. One of the questions participants engaged with during the Open Field session focused on how the government, at all levels, could better foster rural capacity. Click here to read more about the event and lessons learned.
Here are the top five suggestions offered by participants:
- Foster Information Sharing: More multi-agency coordination and information sharing is needed between rural towns, cities, counties, and state entities. Government agencies need to share funds availability information more widely and with a wider diversity of rural stakeholders. The development of regional councils of government, interagency working groups, and roundtable convenings of local leaders can help foster information sharing and relationship-building across geography.
- Hold Longer Application Windows: Extend federal Notice of Funds Availability (NOFA) announcements and open periods to prevent small, rural places from scrambling to put together applications. Participants were particularly concerned with the narrow window of time available for places to put together applications for the Directed Spending Allocations described here. A more equitable approach to this type of funding would be to give plenty of lead time and notice to rural organizations to ensure that they can submit competitive applications.
- Provide Government Grant Writers for Rural: More hands are needed to support rural communities as they write grants. Help writing grants to draw down government dollars can be a big boon to rural communities that often lack staff capacity. One participant shared state legislation from Oregon that creates a special initiative to help rural communities with grant writing.
- Provide More and Better Capacity-Building for Grant Recipients: Government agencies at the state and federal levels should provide more training resources for rural communities. Some agencies don’t traditionally provide technical assistance (TA) even when they offer grants. Participants suggested those agencies offer TA and to have agency staff be there as a resource as needed for rural places. Other participants suggested that the agencies need a mindset shift regarding their TA programs. They urged agencies to move from a traditional training model (being talked to) to a more supportive system for grant applications (working with). A more tailored approach means rural communities get more help and was seen by participants as critical for rural success. As such, agency leaders should deemphasize rote training and instead emphasize walking with a community from the time they set a goal to the completion of goal-related projects.
- Site Visit Feedback: Often, as part of a grant, agency staff conduct site visits. Participants suggested that site visits should go both ways, e.g., the nonprofits visited should have the opportunity to share with funders and the government some of the challenges and barriers that might be reduced or removed in the application process to help agencies improve the way they provide assistance and grants management.
Hosted by Aspen CSG, Thrive Rural Open Field sessions are conversational gatherings where rural and tribal community and economic development professionals can meet and share stories and resources. Sign up for our newsletter to get information on our next Open Field session on June 10, focusing on rural environmental justice. Register here.