Rural Philanthropy: Helping Wealth Flow Back to Appalachian Communities

Gerry Roll, executive director of Community Foundation of Hazard and Perry County, wants to see more endowment legacies directed to rural areas in Central Appalachia, and Kentucky in particular. Writes Roll in an op-ed piece for the Lexington Herald-Leader and the Courier Journal of Louisville, “Philanthropy has played a huge role in shoring up metropolitan areas…but there aren’t many examples devoted to comprehensive community development; they are rarely in rural areas; and certainly not in rural areas of Kentucky.”

Citing 2006 legislation passed in Iowa that stimulated local endowment building, Roll advocates for comparable legislation to be enacted in Kentucky to support the infrastructure needed to “capture millions of dollars to support all the things we know we need to do, but don’t always have the public resources to implement.”

A similar recommendation on a national scale is included in the Council on Foundation’s publication of the 2009 Philanthropy and Rural America Conference: Outcomes and Recommendations, which calls for a public initiative to build philanthropic rural development endowment funds and capacity in underserved communities of rural America.

While she is optimistic about the chances for success, Roll says the philanthropy initiative started last year in Perry County “has a long way to go to build an endowment sizable enough to move our nonprofit and educational institutions from teetering on the edge of disaster with every annual budget to being good partners and stewards in combining state and local funds.”

She points to a wealth transfer study and says that just 5 percent of the wealth that will be transferred in 18 Kentucky counties within the next 10 years would net $300 million in an endowment that could provide $15 million in additional resources. The problem, she writes, is that most of those who will inherit the wealth do not live in the counties or even in the state.

Writes Roll, “if our counties have the appropriate infrastructure for people to contribute to the communities they love, and we create reasonable incentives for them, they will make those contributions.”