Investing in local leaders and organizations to transform the lives of people in rural communities and small cities

Invest in a Winning Rural Network

RDI invests in a network that can transform the lives of rural people. With over 125 groups and leaders, together we engage hundreds of thousands of people in rural areas, small towns, and small cities. Our common goal is to change major local, statewide, and national policy and political outcomes so we all have the tools and opportunities to build a good life. 

Featured Program

Rural Youth Voter Fund

Expanding civic engagement and power-building strategies to mobilize young voters under 35

Rural Democracy gives our grantees the tools and resources they need to transform their communities.

Our Grantees

Decade of organizing bears fruit in Minnesota

In 2023 Minnesota passed an ambitious agenda for widespread prosperity. State legislation included paid family and medical leave, affordable healthcare, and improved access to child care and early education. Minnesota also adopted an important clean energy plan, protected reproductive rights, improved access to voting, and ensured the opportunity for driver’s licenses for all. This profound policy shift was the product of years of organizing by Isaiah and their coalition partners.

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Rural Youth Building Power in East Texas

Three friends decided they wanted to do more for their community. So in 2020, they founded Este Poder, a youth Latine-led organization building power for their rural East Texas communities of color. Each year, their organization grows, and they organize more local people to make progress in their community.

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Alaska Grantees Strengthen Democracy

Alaskans transformed their democracy landscape in 2022 — advancing fair election districts and state recognition of Alaska’s 229 federally recognized tribes. A broad coalition mobilized Native, young, and women voters with well-executed strategies, including canvassing, communications, and legal fights.

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We met the Rural Democracy Initiative when we were first starting in 2020. Their early support allowed us to hire our first full-time staff, putting us on the sustainable path to becoming Arizona’s anchor rural power-building organization. Connecting through RDI with rural innovators in other states in those early days also gave us inspiration and much needed community.
Natali Fierros-Bock and Pablo CorreaRural Arizona Action (RAZA)

Engaging Rural Voters

We create momentum that improves the lives of rural people when we support programs that educate and mobilize rural working families. Years of RDI investment have created a growing network of trained organizers, trusted messengers, and local leaders with the tools and resources to lead transformational conversations with rural people.

We support diverse groups across the country with a deep investment in Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin.

US Map

Impacting Elections

Our grantees have had tremendous success registering and turning out voters, as well as recruiting and developing grassroots candidates. Organizations in the RDI network are key to increasing participation and winning state and local races, including Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, Supreme Court, legislatures, and local municipal races. We’ve seen the formula for success: year-round organizing over multiple years with focus and scale.

Rural Voters Are Swing Voters

Between 2012 and 2022, rural voters swung 8%, moving in both directions. That’s more than urban and suburban voters.

These vote swings determine electoral outcomes, especially because rural voters have disproportionate voting power. Less than half of the US population is represented by 82 of the 100 Senators. And rural and small-town voters are central to deciding statewide races in many battleground states. For example, in Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, 40% of voters are in small towns, small cities, and rural areas.

We Are Winning

Local engagement changes outcomes in local, statewide, and national elections. Changes in rural and small-town votes were critical to Biden’s 2020 victory. RDI-supported groups in Georgia, Arizona, and Wisconsin profoundly impacted those state outcomes. Other recent electoral highlights include:

  • Our grantees’ organizing leads to decisive increases in voter participation in nearly all counties our grantees work in.
  • Rural voters and the RDI network demonstrated our power in Ohio’s resounding 2023 ballot measure outcome for reproductive rights.
  • Thanks in part to the Wisconsin Rural Coalition and RDI grantees, pro-democracy Justice Protasiewicz performed better in small towns and rural areas throughout Wisconsin than she did in the Milwaukee suburbs.
  • 14 of 20 local candidates recruited by PA United won for school board and city council in Erie, State College, and Beaver County in 2021.
  • Montana rural voters elected progressives in Red Lodge, Livingston, and Lewistown in 2021.
  • 603 Forward won 54 out of 60 of their small-town and school board races in New Hampshire in 2022.

Rural Groups Build Power by Solving Problems

As some rural voters become discouraged about politics, more groups in our network are building power by first addressing practical problems in their community. For example, Neighboring Movement in Kansas starts by leveraging community participation in projects like a new child care center, and Latino cultural festival, then transitioning to relational voter outreach. Food AND Medicine in Maine organizes rural working people, starting with food donation and distribution. And West Virginia Can’t Wait’s Hometown Heroes program builds local leaders who provide critical senior services, support for people with felony records, and clothing pantries in local schools. Starting with tangible successes, these community leaders are more effective in tackling policy change and electoral participation.

New child care center opens in Kansas, with support from the Neighboring Movement
Group photos of Rural Communicators Cohort
Rural Communicators Cohort

Building Capacity

Our capacity-building programs help groups to become more effective and sustainable. We provide our grantees access to enhanced voter data and outreach tools, opportunities for learning and collaboration, and ongoing lessons and updates from the field. We also offer an intensive communications training and coaching pilot, new fundraising support, and urgent safety and security resources for organizations and individuals.