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How To Build A Rural School Foundation

Rural schools should develop foundations for two reasons: They need the money, and foundations will help counteract the capital flight devastating rural America, says one rural school advocate.

Gary Funk speaks from experience. He's the former president and CEO of the Community Foundation of the Ozarks, a group that's been successful in growing resources for rural schools in the Missouri Ozarks, and now he's head of the new Center for Midwestern Initiatives. The center, a project of the Rural School and Community Trust, is building on the work of the Community Foundation and trying to reach more schools in more states. It's currently working with schools and small towns in Missouri, Arkansas, Illinois, Nebraska, and South Dakota.

"As is well documented, a great number of rural districts are under-funded, and a working rural school foundation can serve as a much-needed supplemental funding source," Funk says. "However, perhaps of greater value, is a community-driven rural school foundation can become an excellent vehicle to combat the inheritance drain, or capital flight, where estates and other forms of capital have historically out-flowed from small towns and rural places."

Funk wants to give rural schools more information on what they need to establish foundations, and the Community Foundation of the Ozarks and the new Center for Midwestern Initiatives have collaborated to develop a toolkit that does exactly that.

Here's what they've put together:

• First, the Center for Midwestern Initiatives has dedicated a portion of its Web site to this issue. It includes examples of successful foundations across the Midwest, and Funk said its blog gives readers an opportunity to share their stories.

• Second, the partners have developed a booklet, Building Rural School Foundations, that provides action steps for establishing a rural school foundation. It also has a donors' guide on how to make contributions. The booklets are available upon request by e-mailing [email protected] or by calling (417) 848-9083. The booklet is free for those who want a few copies, but large orders would have a fee. (Funk said that's to cover costs, not produce revenue. He sees this as a public service).

• Finally, they've produced a film, "Hats, Pies, and Fiddles," that's available on the center's Web site. The 10-minute video talks about how three small-town foundations in Arkansas and Missouri created a school-centered philanthropy.

We'll try to feature some of these successful, small town foundations on the blog in the future. If you know of any that aren't on the Web site (or on the center's radar), let me know!

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