As a Regional Partnerships Fellow, I work closely with the Northwest Council- a group of six advisers representing eight counties in the Northwest corner of the state. Growing up in Denver, visiting this region usually involved traveling for a high school athletic competition, a ski trip, or a quick stop on my way to Moab. The region seemed familiar; however it wasn’t until I began working with the council, that I recognized the intrinsic cultural, economic, and social characteristics that bring life to rural communities and perhaps go unnoticed when you’re just passing through.
My interest in better understanding the dynamics of rural communities, the broad challenges and issues facing those communities, and the impact small nonprofits have in Northwest Colorado was fulfilled when I attended the Northwest Rural Philanthropy Days event in Winter Park. In the midst of the instant yet sometimes impersonal communications of today, Rural Philanthropy Days (RPD) reminded me of the value in emotional connections and compassionate leadership. It is the interpersonal relationships, innovative brainstorming, and candid connections between grant recipients and funders that acts as a catalyst to make things happen. As RPD founder, Sue Anschutz Rodgers shared, "A setting like Rural Philanthropy Days is meant to reinforce the fact that funders don't breathe fire or have three heads."
The conference was packed with panel discussions, receptions, speakers, small group discussions and brainstorming sessions, but the Action Planning Session was particularly powerful. In preparation for Rural Philanthropy Days, there was an organized Listening Tour during which funders met with community leaders to discuss the characteristics of the region, existing needs and assets, and current actions to being taken to address them. Following the Listening Tour, delegates met with 96 community leaders across the region. Through these meetings, mental health and childcare are were revealed as two of the most pressing issues facing the region. The information gathered in advance helped to inform the Action Planning Session discussion. The conversation generated some community-based solutions through collaborative dialogue to address these most pressing challenges in the Northwest region. It was inspiring for me as a young professional, developing my leadership skills, to witness such a diverse yet cohesive group transform abstract ideas into concrete goals through collaborative effort. After only a few facilitated conversations throughout the two days, committees were formed to enact mental health prevention initiatives in the local school system and steps were taken to create a mental health services committee of leaders across sectors and counties.
The Rural Philanthropy Days event is an inspiring opportunity to bring together community leaders and region specific information and issues in order to find a purpose, set measurable goals and collaboratively develop a process to take action on those goals. The energy, optimism and camaraderie was infectious. Rural Philanthropy Days certainly opened my eyes to the opportunities, relationships, and measurable progress made possible through philanthropy. Going forward I will stay ever aware of the issues that were raised by this conference, and in my work at the foundation and beyond I will never forget the importance of building relationships in facilitating progress in the nonprofit sector.
If you’d like more information on the next Rural Philanthropy Days: http://www.northwestrpd.org/RegionwideIssues.htm