Bringing Philanthropic Capital to Underserved Rural Nonprofits

As CEO of Sherwood Trust, Danielle Garbe Reser’s creative thinking is bringing additional philanthropic capital to her region’s underserved rural nonprofit leaders.

Sherwood Trust is the largest discretionary funder in southeast Washington State, but even its roughly $1 million each year is not enough to meet local needs in its rural region. With an estimated 19% of the U.S. population living in rural areas but receiving less than 7% of philanthropic investments, what’s true in the Walla Walla Valley is also true nationally.

In Washington State, the vast majority of philanthropic capital exists in the Puget Sound region. For organizations that would like to work across the state, it is not easy to know where to start or how to create meaningful relationships and partnerships with organizations serving rural communities.

Through brainstorming with her board, Danielle, CEO since 2015, identified a strategy to attract outside philanthropy to the region by hosting a funders’ tour. She learned from funders in Montana and Colorado who had organized similar tours in their states, and she partnered with Kari Isaacson at the local Blue Mountain Community Foundation in 2017 and again in 2018 and 2019 to host 3-day tours covering the towns across their funding region.

By creating opportunities for funders to meet one another and interact with local nonprofit and community leaders, participants are able to learn first hand about the unique collaborations and initiatives underway in the region as well as opportunities to invest in these rural communities.

To date, the tour, coupled with other outreach and collaboration that Danielle has cultivated with organizations around the region, has resulted in over $500,000 in grants to local organizations.

In addition to attracting investments, the funders’ tour has increased the knowledge and skills of grantmakers and of local organizations who learn more about one another and how to build relationships with funders.

It also has attracted repeat tourism to the region as visitors are charmed by its people, natural beauty, historic charm, and amazing food and wine.  They are returning for longer stays.

Danielle believes in the power of collaboration and relationships—two tools that don’t necessarily require dollars or a large team of people, just time and vision to see what more is possible when we all work together, share ideas, and imagine a brighter future for our communities.

Danielle Garbe Reser was winner of Exponent Philanthropy’s 2019 Outsized Impact Award, honoring an individual whose style of philanthropy achieved greater-than-expected impact.