CDFF Newsletter: The Value of Investing in Rural Communities

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

The Value of Investing in Rural Communities

Hello! We’re back with issue #2 of the CDFF Newsletter Series: Learning for Immigrant Justice. Today we’ll learn more about nonprofit organizations serving immigrant communities in rural California and explore why investing in rural communities is crucial.
As we sit down for holiday meals this season, we don’t often think about where our food comes from and who grows it. It’s easy to forget about the farmworkers – many of whom are immigrants – facing dangerous and often exploitative working conditions while performing the most essential work.

Immigrants in rural communities experience a unique set of challenges, and local nonprofits are working to address issues such as lack of access to information and legal counsel.
The California Dignity for Families Fund is helping to address these issues through its grantmaking and has raised nearly $11 million to date, 97% of which has been distributed to 45 immigrant-serving nonprofit organizations, including $2 million in aligned giving through the LA Justice Fund. The nonprofits funded by CDFF represent a diverse range of geographical locations and are spread across urban and rural regions.
Graphic shows the regional breakdown of the funding distributed to 37 nonprofit partners across California from September 2021 - March 2022. (Nonprofits funded in June 2022 are not included.)

We talked to Ivy Suriyopas, Vice President of Programs at GCIR, to learn more about the importance of investing in immigrant communities in rural areas and why we need to work to reverse the historical trend in philanthropy of under-investing in rural areas.

Why do you think philanthropy historically places less of a priority on investing in rural areas and communities?
Ivy Suriyopas: Many funders prioritize resourcing areas where they think they can have the greatest impact. The thinking goes, “we should give money to the areas with the most people.” Immigration funders can be prone to adopt this limited thinking since, traditionally, immigrant populations tend to be concentrated in urban areas. Because of this, more philanthropic dollars are directed toward urban areas with better-resourced organizations. 
We need to spark change to think more expansively and lead the effort to encourage increased philanthropic investment to support immigrant communities in rural areas. That will in turn lead to stronger infrastructure and the ability to serve more people. 

Why is it important to fund nonprofits based in rural areas? 
Ivy: Rural communities have specific needs related to their relative isolation and reduced access to services.They often lack access to transit, internet connectivity, and other basic resources. Immigrants in rural communities often work in agriculture, which is extremely dangerous, with significant health hazards and often exploitative working conditions. 
Immigration detention facilities are often located in remote, rural areas, which makes it more difficult for legal counsel or loved ones to visit detained immigrants. Detained immigrants – who do not have a right to counsel – benefit significantly from having access to counsel to resolve their cases. 
What is the value in helping to build the capacity of these organizations?  
Ivy: Immigrants and refugees need culturally competent services and opportunities to organize and build their power. Rural organizations have connections to the communities they are a part of and can provide assistance that is responsive to the local context, unlike nonprofits based in urban areas that often “parachute in” to rural areas and leave.
When disaster strikes, immigrants in rural areas can suffer from a lack of information available in their language. Building local culturally competent infrastructure in rural areas can help provide life saving information in the event of natural disasters, as well as access to benefits (such as food, shelter, and cash assistance) that community members otherwise might not receive.
Supporting rural organizations goes beyond serving immigrants. By building the capacity of rural nonprofits, there is also opportunity for cross-movement work between the immigrant justice movement and the climate justice, workers’ rights, and racial justice movements.

What are some strategies that philanthropy can employ to better support nonprofits serving immigrant communities in rural areas? 
Funders can help strengthen organizations based in rural areas by focusing on capacity-building and engaging in place-based philanthropy, in which a geographical location is strategically selected for support. They can also offer matching grants and fund fellowships to place staff at organizations located in rural areas and encourage the development of mutual aid networks.
We look forward to sharing more about the Dignity Fund’s work and learnings over the next few months!

The next issue of this newsletter series will focus on the need for nonprofits to provide a holistic blend of legal and humanitarian services to the communities they serve. For example, many migrants who require legal services also need access to housing, transportation, and more. Learn how nonprofits supported by CDFF work to provide a full spectrum of services for their clients.
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