Research & Innovation
Each year the center identifies specific issues for in-depth exploration. Current projects include research on:
From its first days, the Rural Center has been committed to helping rural communities access the resources they need to realize their locally driven visions for the future. Generally, this has meant providing grants and loans through the center’s own programs and helping communities obtain other funds, primarily from state or federal sources.
But there’s another potent source of funding that often goes unrealized: local communities themselves. Gifts of time and money to church, neighbor and community are essential to the character of most rural places.
In recent years, there has been increasing interest in building on this legacy of rural generosity to improve prospects for long-term economic renewal. The Rural Center has begun investigations of this potential in rural North Carolina.
As a first step, we assessed the potential for homegrown philanthropy, particularly community foundations, to become a stronger partner for economic development. Among the major findings:
- In 2007, the 22 community foundations serving North Carolina spent $213 million in grants and programs, raised $357 million in contributions and held total assets of $1.5 billion.
- Community foundations directly serve all but five of the state’s 85 rural counties.
- Twenty rural counties are served by two community foundations.
- The North Carolina Community Foundation alone has a network of 65 county affiliates. In addition, the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina covers 18 western counties through county or town-level affiliates.
- Both urban and rural foundations are accepting the challenge of taking a leadership role in their communities: identifying needs and shaping solutions.
- North Carolina has become a center of innovation in models of collective giving, in which individuals pool their charitably resources and set joint goals and guidelines for their charitable impact. A major reason is NCGives, an initiative to create a more inclusive definitive of philanthropy and broaden participation.
A second arm of this research examined the untapped potential of philanthropic giving. Measuring charitable giving and potential giving is imprecise, but indications are that philanthropy could become a significant resource for rural community development.
Consider these findings from the Rural North Carolina Transfer of Wealth study, which the Rural Center commissioned in 2009.
- Although rural communities are often classified as low-wealth, there are in fact substantial financial resources in many communities. The current (2010) net worth of North Carolina's 85 rural counties is estimated at $321.8 billion.
- A sizeable portion of this wealth will pass from one generation to another in the next 10 years. Conservative projections indicate that $78 billion will transfer between generations by 2020. Over the next 20 years, it could reach $186 billion.
- Where will this wealth go? To heirs within the community? Within North Carolina? In another state? Given the increasing mobility of individuals and families, the probability is great that, without intervention, financial resources will move out of rural communities and never return.
- Increasingly, rural communities are challenging local residents to designate some portion of their estates for long-term community advancement. These funds become the core of a community endowment.
- In North Carolina rural counties, if just 5 percent of the financial wealth being transferred were placed in endowments, it could produce $195 million for community use in just 10 years. In 20 years, funds available for use would climb to nearly $465 million.
The transfer of wealth study also includes county-level data on current wealth and the transfer of wealth potential. It is intended to help local communities recognize the possibilities and determine their own response.
Summaries of both studies are included in the report Funding Our Rural Future: Creating vibrant communities through homegrown philanthropy. The fall 2009 Rural Partner Forum also focused on homegrown philanthropy. Read more or view videos from our forum page.
To discuss the potential for homegrown philanthropy in your area, contact Jason Gray by email or by phone at 919-250-4314.
The Rural Center has advanced economic opportunity and prosperity for rural residents and communities for over 20 years. It knows that rural people want brighter futures for themselves and their children. Yet, too many are being left behind in the 21st century economy. Some live in areas of pervasive poverty. Others live in the midst of well-being but have been unable to grasp the opportunities swelling around them.
The center likewise understands that no community truly prospers if prosperity falls to embrace all of its citizenry. Small communities especially must be able to take advantage of the skills, creativity and productive capacity of every individual if they are to build economies and answer complex challenges.
Concerned about growing economic gaps and persistent poverty, the center in 2005 launched the Rural Center Rural Economic Opportunity Initiative with funding support from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.
Living on the Margins, a series of three reports, presents the major findings of this work.
On the economic margins
Rural North Carolina in the Aftermath of the Great Recession, the first report, documents the extent and challenges of rural poverty. It shows how the recession of 2007-09 exacerbated long-term economic trends and the effects of natural disasters, leaving much of rural North Carolina reeling long after the official end of the recession.
Among its findings:
- 1.7 million rural residents -- nearly two out of every five -- live in poverty or teeter on the edge.
These rural North Carolinians either don’t earn enough to rise above the federal poverty level, which is widely acknowledged to understate true poverty, or they are just one crisis away. This includes families and individuals below 200 percent of poverty, which for a family of four in 2009 meant an annual income of less than $44,100. Because these individuals and families often live in communities of limited resources, they have few places to turn for help in the event of serious illness or job loss.
- In 11 rural counties, over half the population lives on the economic margins.
These counties are Sampson (55.9%), Robeson (55.5%), Graham (55.3%), Northampton (54.4%), Duplin (52.6%), Edgecombe (51.7%), Richmond (51.3%), Alleghany (51.1%), Bertie (50.8%), Halifax (50.3%) and Vance (50.1%).
- These numbers likely understate reality.
Income estimates are drawn from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. The bureau has eliminated annual estimates for many socioeconomic factors for counties with fewer than 65,000. Instead, new estimates are based on three- and five-year averages, depending on the size of the county. Current conditions thus may be masked by estimates from previous years.
- Rural unemployment doubled during the recession.
Between October 2007 and October 2009, nearly 110,000 rural jobs disappeared. As a result the unemployment rate skyrocketed from 4.8 percent to 10.9 percent. In March 2011, rural unemployment remained 10.4 percent, representing 219,583 out of work and still seeking employment. In many rural counties, the rate is significantly higher.
- Nearly a quarter of rural, working-age adults lack health insurance.
Even before the recession, 17.2 percent lacked health insurance. As jobs disappeared, so did the source of insurance. In 2009, 23.8 percent of rural, nonelderly adults were without health insurance.
- Housing challenges grow more serious.
Housing costs are a significant issue for many rural families. Initial home foreclosure filings rose more than 50 percent between 2007 and 2009 in western counties. Furthermore, in a statewide Rural Center survey, nearly 40 percent of rural respondents said housing costs consume half or more of their wages.
- Poverty intertwined with race, ethnicity.
Minorities account for a disproportionate share of those living in poverty. The poverty rate among blacks (29.7%), Hispanics (34.7%) and American Indians (27.3%) was more than twice that of whites (11.8%). Because whites constitute a larger share of the population, in absolute numbers they account for approximately half of all rural North Carolinians living in poverty.
The other two reports provide guidance to rural communities in helping individuals and families on the economic margins to overcome those challenges.
Projects for asset-building
Asset-Building Strategies for Low-Income Families describes more than 30 individual projects with potential for implementation in rural communities. These success stories come from communities in North Carolina and across the national. They include contact information for project leaders and list other resources to allow interested individuals to learn more about the projects and the issues they address.
Project descriptions are organized across 19 asset-building strategies to make it easier to identify those with the greatest potential for matching the needs and available resources in any given community.
Guidebook for communities
A Guidebook for Connecting Individuals to Opportunity is a workbook for use by community groups seeking to connect low-income residents to economic development opportunities. It offers a different way of thinking about and working on issues related to poverty, with the stress on community assets and partnership development.
The six steps and associated activities cover a planning process that may be tackled in an intensive weekend or in smaller pieces over a several weeks or months. The planning process is designed to lead to small, practical action steps that will achieve tangible results within six to eight months of implementation.
Although others may find it useful, the guidebook will be most effective if the process is led by a trained facilitator. To consult with the Rural Center’s senior fellow on economic opportunity, contact Yolanda Burwell by email or phone (919-250-4314).
To order any or all of these reports, visit the publications catalog.