Grant to fund national study on philanthropy to improve health in rural communities

The health and well-being of rural America is at the forefront of a new partnership between Campbell University and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), the nation’s largest public health funder.

RWJF awarded Campbell a grant to fund an 18-month national exploration — the Rural Philanthropic Analysis — designed to create, identify and enhance new ideas and insights to improve the practice and impact of charitable organizations when it comes to supporting healthy, equitable rural communities.

The nature of the grant ties in well with the development mission of Campbell University, according to Vice President for Institutional Advancement Britt Davis, also a co-director of the project.

“Thousands of Campbell alumni and friends have invested in our programs in medicine, physical therapy, nursing, pharmacy, public health and other health sciences,” Davis said. “We see this innovative grant jointly supporting the missions of RWJF and Campbell to better serve individuals and families in medically underserved rural communities.”

The lead project director is Allen Smart, former senior vice president and interim president of the North Carolina-based Kate B. Reynolds Trust, one of the leading rural strategic funders in the South. Smart said that while there are many great examples around the country of funders working with rural communities to improve health outcomes, many of them aren’t well known regionally or nationally. Companies and organizations that are willing to invest aren’t always aware of the specific strategies for supporting long-term change.

“My experience says that philanthropy can be a critical part of helping communities support better health for their residents,” Smart said. “This project will help advance the knowledge base around effective rural philanthropy and help inform better and more effective investments going forward.”

The $730,248 grant provided by RWJF went into effect on June 15 and will allow the project to run through December 2018. The Princeton, N.J.-based foundation — established in 1972 after the death of Robert Wood Johnson II, son of the founder of health care conglomerate Johnson & Johnson — generates roughly $400 million in grants nationally each year. Its goal is to “build a national culture of health, enabling everyone in America to live longer, healthier lives.”

“Partnering with an organization like the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation — a private foundation of outstanding reputation that makes strategic investments in improving the health care of America — is an honor for Campbell University,” said Campbell President J. Bradley Creed. “Campbell’s mission is strongly tied to the health and well-being of rural communities across North Carolina, and the nation and the focus of the Rural Philanthropic Analysis grant is an outstanding fit.”

Local and regional analysis of private and public investments in rural health along with other cross-cutting areas such as rural economic development and K-12 education will ultimately generate a series of best practice reports, recommendations and new partnerships for consideration and use by funders interested in better rural philanthropic practice.

“We really have a tremendous opportunity to advance thinking and action on how philanthropy can best support rural communities,” Smart said. “There is a wealth of exciting and important rural work being supported by local and regional philanthropy. The project will dig deep into the characteristics of the work and the communities throughout all the rural regions of the country. We see this as a major opportunity to advance the field.”