Rural Democracy Initiative supports and connects rural leaders working to transform our lives and communities.

Fueling Rural Progress

Rural Democracy Initiative is the first funding collaborative building power toward a thriving democracy and shared prosperity across diverse communities in rural areas and small cities. As a funding collaborative, we bring together resources from leading philanthropic organizations and individual donors to implement a coordinated strategy.

We invest in civic infrastructure in small cities and towns to impact public opinion, elections, and redistricting processes. We also fight for policies that make a difference for rural people. We are building sustainable organizations that support rural people working to transform rural America — and therefore our national politics — for decades to come.

Why Rural?

Rural is Ready

Across the country, people in rural communities are passionate about the places where we live and are deeply connected to the people, lands, and traditions that make each of our communities unique. But many of our communities have limited access to quality affordable housing, healthcare, education, essential services, and even the ballot. These challenges have snowballed due to lack of government and philanthropic investment. Rural communities are ready for change, and we are ready to provide working-class folks with the tools and support they need to enact that change for their families.

 

Seeing Rural

Rural America’s demographics and cultural histories are rapidly evolving; 24% of rural residents are people of color, and many are immigrants. And these rural voters matter: 25% of the population control 60% of the Senate. RDI amplifies new rural voices, ideas, and energy. We promote racial justice and seek partnerships with groups working in rural communities of color, with young people, and groups leading bold race-forward social and economic justice work in majority-white communities. The changing cultural fabric of rural communities is reflected through the many partnerships and coalitions we help foster.

The Montana Public Interest Research Group (MontPIRG) advocates for public lands, the environment, and renters’ rights.
Farmers work with Northern Plains Resource Council in Montana, to practice regenerative farming techniques to advance healthy soil, food, and community.
Alex Spragens canvasses door to door before the election in Buchtel, OH; © Maddie McGarvey 2023, Photo provided by RuralOrganizing.Org

Grantees Spotlight

Rural Ohio Turns Out for Democracy

Anti-democratic policies in Ohio make it hard for voters to shape important decisions that impact their lives. The current legislative majority’s heavily gerrymandered state house maps were rejected five times by the Ohio Supreme Court. Ohio also purges the most voters – especially voters of color and young voters – of any state except Georgia. To overcome these barriers, Rural Democracy has invested deeply in rural, small-city, and exurban efforts. Our grantees are a vital part of the winning coalition fighting for fair representation and core freedoms like the right to reproductive care.

Tool

Rural Map and Dashboard

Our Rural Map and Dashboard helps answer the common question: “How do we define rural?” Informed by nuanced feedback from our grantee network, the Dashboard provides rural classifications for each of the country’s census tracts. You can sort by state, county, congressional, and legislative districts. The Dashboard also provides detailed insight into voting trends and demographics.

Rural dashboard on laptop

Racial Justice Is Essential To Our Mission

Rural Democracy Initiative practices racial justice in action throughout our work.

By the numbers

In 2023 our donors helped us grant millions to groups in areas where rural action will define policy and civic engagement outcomes. Through grants and strategic investments, Rural Democracy provides our grantees with the tools they need to support inspiring leaders, lift local voices, mobilize new voters, and advocate for better government.

$9.4 mil

in grants

136

organizations across 25 states

57%

of funding for Black, Indigenous, and people of color led and/or serving groups

$2 mil

in funding for youth organizations

Photo: Rural Utah Project

Discover More About the Rural Democracy

Learn more about who we are and how to support our work.

The Rural Democracy Umbrella

Rural Democracy Initiative includes the civic engagement and multi-issue advocacy work of the 501(c)(3) Heartland Fund and 501(c)(4) Rural Victory Fund. It is the first funding collaborative building power toward a thriving democracy and shared prosperity across diverse communities in rural areas and small cities. To learn more about the Heartland Fund’s Rural Climate Partnership and Resource Rural programs, visit the Heartland Fund.

No funds from the Heartland Fund have been used to conduct any political activity or intervene in any election. The grantee work described in this report may describe activities that were not directly funded by Heartland Fund or Rural Victory Fund, but are provided to provide a comprehensive overview of the impact of our grantees’ work.

Our Grantees

We support diverse groups across the country. We provide tools and support to build capacity and create transformative change in their communities.

Our Grantees→

Impact Report

The Rural Democracy Impact Report celebrates a year of success and growth. It includes lessons from 2023, priorities for 2024, grantee spotlights, and financial and grantmaking details.

Impact Report

Funding Collaborative

Funding collaboratives bring together multiple funding partners to learn together and support a common mission with greater grantmaking flexibility and focused expertise. The Rural Democracy Initiative utilizes this funding collaborative structure to combine resources in support of progress across rural America. Funding collaboratives offer a new way of giving that augments the individual capacity of philanthropic organizations and donors.