With a growing tech sector, an influx of newcomers, and ample outdoor recreation, Boise has been a hot city for a while, now. It checks all the right boxes for young professionals, families with kids, and entrepreneurs looking for the next big opportunity.
But while this spark of growth is positive for Boise and the surrounding suburbs, Idaho’s rural communities are more isolated than ever. They’re coping with population loss as young people are drawn to the action in cities, while struggling with other problems common to rural America: a lack of economic opportunity, aging residents, and disinvestment in community resources and services.
Last fall, Steven Moore and Allen Smart collaborated on an article to address this topic in the Idaho Statesman. Moore, the executive director of the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, has been working with the Idaho nonprofit community for more than four decades. Meanwhile, Smart is an expert on rural community needs and puts Idaho’s situation into context with what is happening in other places nationwide. Smart has been quoted in Inside Philanthropy’s coverage of rural philanthropy, and recently wrote a guest column on this subject for IP.
With its growing urban-rural divide and a land mass twice the size of Maine’s, Idaho offers a case study in the need for smart rural philanthropy. Perhaps the biggest need at the moment is rural healthcare, because residents in remote parts of Idaho have increasing difficulty finding care nearby, and are forced to travel long distances for better options. Investing in rural health clinics and other types of rural businesses is crucial right now, because, as Moore and Smart wrote, “Communities thrive when business can thrive.”
Yet another issue that local philanthropy can address is affordable housing. While you might think this wouldn’t be a problem in a state with so much land, rural areas in Idaho and elsewhere face serious housing affordability challenges—a problem that the National Rural Housing Coalition has documented in detail. One reason for this situation in Idaho is that the development of vacation properties leaves few affordable housing options in high-tourism parts of the state.
The M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust has emerged as a leader in getting rural Idaho back on its feet. Yet in recent grant cycles, Idaho-centric grants have made up only around 5 percent of its overall funding. In addition to Murdock, quite a few other foundations have shown interest in rural communities, including the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation and the Cambia Health Foundation. But these funders can’t solve Idaho’s rural issue without the support of the lesser-known, hyper-local funders like the Innovia Foundation and the Steele Reese Foundation. These groups offer a unique perspective and on-the-ground experience, with local leaders that need to be heard.
Keeping rural communities vibrant for the greater good isn’t a goal unique to Idaho. But the situation here is a reminder to philanthropists across the country that rural philanthropy matters, and even modest sums can make a big difference in local lives.