In the last three months, Rural Democracy Initiative’s 501c3 Heartland Fund and 501c4 Rural Victory Fund approved $3.4 million to 56 creative, effective groups engaging rural voters, shaping policy, and building support. Working with the Tides Foundation, we advised another $3.1 million for civic engagement and communications in rural areas and small cities. With this round of grantmaking and our first quarter grants, we have committed close to $10M and advised an additional $6M total in 2022. Thanks to our generous donors, these funds support organizations at a critical moment to defend democracy, secure policy victories, and build momentum ahead of the 2022 elections.

The stakes are sky high this year. The same factions that conspired to attack our country on January 6 are taking away women’s right to make healthcare decisions, placing deliberate barriers to voting, and spreading disinformation meant to divide us. While we push back against these divisive forces, we also have opportunities to pass historic legislation that will give people the tools they need to improve their lives.

Rural Democracy Initiative (RDI) grantees engage hundreds of thousands of people in rural areas, small towns, and small cities, changing what’s possible in rural communities. 


We recently renewed support to AKPIRGThe Mobilization Center, and Alaska Native People's Action, who led and contributed to two major Alaska victories: fair election districts and Tribal recognition of Alaska's 229 federally recognized tribes. These policies transform Alaska by establishing foundational pro-democracy policies, and shift power so communities are in a better position to address the challenges they face. 


More Ohio voters have been purged from the rolls in the past decade than any other state except Georgia — disproportionately stripping the opportunity to vote from young and low-income people, and voters of color. A smart and disciplined pro-democracy coalition is fighting back, laying the groundwork for a voting access ballot measure, and winning multiple state Supreme Court decisions against highly gerrymandered districts. However, the Republican majority has refused to accept the rulings, sticking with their extreme, unfair maps in 2022. This year’s state-level and local outcomes will determine the state landscape for the decade ahead. We are funding seven groups that make up a new rural coalition that includes several small industrial cities and key exurban battlegrounds. These efforts are central to the democracy defense strategy this year, and we’re excited to support: Freedom BLOCRuralOrganizing.orgRed Wine and Blue OHOhio Student AssociationFaith in Public Life OHInnovation Ohio, and River Valley Organizing.

We also are providing critical support in Montana to Montana Rural VotersNorthern Plains Resource CouncilBig Sky 55+Western Native VoiceMontana Women VoteMontPIRG, and United Today Stronger Tomorrow. Our grantees will be working to turn out voters in a key State Supreme Court race and newly formed 2nd congressional district. They are also striving to prevent a Republican supermajority in the state legislature — which threatens to amend the Montana State Constitution and strip important freedoms such as the right to abortion and right to a clean and healthy environment.


For many rural communities and small cities, small businesses provide valuable jobs and services. They often play a significant cultural role, creating unique main streets. Small business owners speak with moral authority and have unparalleled public support. With grants to Small Business MajorityMain Street Alliance, and Institute for Local Self-Reliance, RDI is supporting small businesses to advocate for the solutions we all need — limits on giant corporations to encourage competition, support for working families, and voting rights. These coalitions are shifting the narrative and have won state and federal policy victories. 


The actions we take over the next few months will determine how many rural young voters participate in this year’s elections. Rural voters under 40 are highly undecided and turnout varies significantly. But don’t mistake inconsistent voting patterns for apathy. Rural young people care about their communities, often hold a deep connection to local outdoor places, and are concerned about larger environmental and social issues. Most young people support policies to ensure good jobs, affordable housing, and healthcare. They also want authentic ways to meaningfully participate in the decisions that affect their lives. When young people carve a path to participate, they can make a big difference in outcomes. We recently committed funds to Loud LightMontPIRG, and New Hampshire Youth Movement — organizations developing successful youth leaders who bring fresh energy and new voters to larger statewide coalitions. 


These are just a few examples of how recent grants support the RDI network to defend democracy, and give people the tools they need to transform rural communities. Our grants ensure the groups in our network can build their capacity, engage in meaningful policy, and mobilize people to engage in this year’s elections. This work requires ongoing, year-round engagement, and the opportunities far outstrip our current resources. With your help, we will continue to support the highest impact efforts in small cities and rural areas.

Support rural people working to transform rural America. Make a gift to Heartland Fund today!

Photo Credit: MontPIRG