Funding Rural | Episode #9 | Everybody Likes Happy Hour with Barton Robison

Barton Robison of Willamette Partnership tackles what he calls ‘weird projects’: those things that are hard to manage or hard to fund – because rural capacity is limited in city and county governments. With his lighthearted approach, Barton makes it seem easy.  But in reality, there are many ways grant processes can be improved, starting with happy hour.

The more folks can move across communities and get to understand each other, the easier it will be for everyone to understand we have similar values.”—Barton Robison

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More about Barton Robison

Barton Robison is the Program Director at Willamette Partnership, where he’s worked in some capacity since 2018. Driven by his own transformative experiences in nature, Barton’s personal mission is to ensure that everyone has equitable access to a healthy environment and its benefits. He received his Masters in Public Administration and a Certificate in Tribal Relations from Portland State University, and he currently lives in Portland with his husband, their geriatric dog, and too many houseplants.

“It doesn’t matter how much money is set aside at the state or federal level for these communities. If the applications aren’t accessible, or you need a master’s degree to fill it out, it’s never going to get off the ground.”

—Barton Robison

Discussion Questions

  • What is an intermediary? Do you work with any? What regional support organizations exist in your area?
  • What is your organizations tolerance for risk with projects? How could you take a risk to support rural spaces?
  • Funders: What does scale mean to you? When you think about smaller communities – what roadblocks or challenges has your organization come up against when you try to fund them? Why do you think that exists?


“I wish more funders on the private side went out to rural spaces.” —Barton Robison

Transcript: Funding Rural Episode #9 Everybody Likes Happy Hour with Barton Robison

Erin Borla:  0:10  

I’m Erin Borla, Executive Director and Trustee of the Sisters Oregon based Roundhouse Foundation. Today I want to bring you a conversation with Barton Robison. Barton is a Program Director with Willamette Partnership. I met Barton working on a project in the rural community of Chiloquin Oregon. I know we’re not supposed to pick favorites with grant partners. But this project I think of incredibly fondly. The redevelopment of the Chiloquin Elementary School yard as a partnership between the Trust for Public Lands, Greening Schoolyard project, Willamette Partnership, and the Community of Chiloquin . Barton has such a kind, funny and open minded soul. And you can hear it in the way he talks about his work. He’s based in Portland, the largest city in the state of Oregon. But he works all across the state. Willamette Partnership is a bridge builder. And he’s a great example of how to support and connect communities to opportunities. I’ll share some takeaways after the conversation. And remember, you can always read more about what you’re hearing in our show at


Barton Robison:  1:08  

So we help communities understand government agencies, we help government agencies understand Community Priorities, we work really closely with tribes, in a lot of our work, splitup between state agencies, federal agencies, local governments, community based organizations, really runs the gamut. And a lot of our projects are weird, {That’s good} there just not things that you can like, point to really clearly, you know, what is the thing that Willamette  Partnership does. It’s the way that we do our work, that kind of unites all of it. So very community centered in the outcomes that we’re looking for, we’re really intent on capturing as many benefits for communities through projects that we can, then that part of the process is kind of what makes it a Willamette Partnership Project. 


Erin Borla:  1:59  

That’s super cool. So, and we met around one of those projects, the Chiloquin Greening School Yard, through Trust {We did} Republic land. So talk a little bit about how that project came to fruition. And how Willamette Partnership partnered with other folks down in the region and TPL and others?


Barton Robison:  2:15  

Yeah, I love that project. Because it’s the only I think the only thing I’ve ever done that I can be like, look, something exists because we did it. It’s not super process driven  something at the end. But, I mean, the shorter version of that story is I knew a claim of tribal council memberthrough a different project. And the tribal council had been meeting talking about ways to improve community pride specifically for children in Chiloquin. So for folks who don’t know Chiloquin is the current administrative center and historical homelands of the Klamath tribes. And after the logging community, business collapsed in the 50s, and then termination of the tribes happened around the same time, it really sunk the community into poverty with no real economic development opportunities. The tribes were restored, which is great. And so now have a pretty active presence there. But the school at the time was in desperate need of some joosh, shall we say? It was really sad. And the kids were mostly playing on, you know, a playground that was a paved loading zone for trucks.they would have to move out of the wayhen deliveries came through. There were propane tanks in the middle of the basketball court. And a lot of open field. So after tribal council had this idea, we want to improve the school yard so that kids feel like they’ve got something nice and exciting to be proud of in their community. This council member reached out to me and said, We just said we want to do this thing. It’s weird. You do weird stuff. Is this in your weird stuff bucket?


Erin Borla:  4:05  

I love this on your resume. Weird projects.


Barton Robison:  4:09  

And it was. So at the same time, they were talking to the Trust for Public Land, who is the national nonprofit that really owns the screen schoolyard concept. So they go into places up to that point, all in urban communities that didn’t have any nature based play at their school yards and would do these really cool like community engagement processes, update the school yards to have trees and outdoor classroom areas, all these things that we know carry huge mental, physical health benefits for kids, but they’ve never done it in a rural space. And so TPL and Willamette artnership partnered up because we could do all the weird squishy stuff. And TPL really knew this model inside and out and Chiloquin was kind of just a big exploration of can we make this project that works really well in urban communities, translate into rural spaces?


Erin Borla:  5:06  

It’s such a cool project. And I think the other piece that is really unique about the greening school yards, is that they serve as community parks after hours. {Yes.} And so the community has a lot of buy in, they have a lot of interest. And, and I love that you brought up the TPL have done a tremendous amount of work. And the projects are amazing in more urban spaces across the country. And now we have this unicorn project. And it, no one knows how to do that no one knows how to manage rural, because frankly, there’s limited capital in rural right, 100%} and limited access to equipment, to resources. And so it became this sort of interesting and unique challenge. We got involved as a as a funder in the beginning with the Chiloquin project, and saw the community buy in, talk a little bit about the process of the student engagement, the community engagement.


Barton Robison:  5:58  

Yeah, and I mean, that’s a hard thing to do in rural spaces, too, because in urban places, it’s a lot more dense. And so just physically, it is easier to access people for engagement. Not only did we have to do it in a rural community, I think the longest bus ride into Chiloquin Elementary is two hours, like they serve as a massive physical region. {That’s daily lets just paint that picture} Yes every day, in one direction. {Yeah} It’s wild. We also had to do community engagement during COVID whichmade it extra strange. But those initial meetings and partnerships that happened at the end of 2019 were, those were the most important three months. Because us being able to have a physical presence to do that initial engagement is really what established trust between us andthe community, but then also gave us an opportunity to see in person like what are the relationships between community organizations here? Where is there leverage with certain organizations or like the tribe to have extra capacity to do this? When it came to do the actual engagement, which I’m remarkably proud of, in a community of about 700 people, we got more than 250 people to give us input on what they wanted to see in this community park school yard, which is wild things like getting, you know, 400,000 survey responses in Portland. And.


Erin Borla:  7:29  

Wait, say that again, as far as the scale their relationship to scale. I think that’s something that we talk about all the time as people say that rural doesn’t scale. {oh my gosh} And I think the comparison of a community of 700 and getting 250 responses. Versus I mean, that’s incredible.


Barton Robison:  7:48  

It’s wild. {Yeah.} And it at first there were some funders that we approached, who saw that number of like, how many people have you talked to now like 250? That’s it. But then when you put it in the context of like. Do you realize what percentage of the community that is, you would never get that on an urban project. I don’t know if that many people vote in urban spaces, like, it was so cool. We focused on like, cross generational engagement too. So for the actual school kids, my fabulous designer, Emily Irish, at work, made a coloring book for the kids to take home. So they could learn more, like fun activities about like the benefits of being outside. We worked with the Klamath tribes cultural department to actually include like Klamath language in that, and that the ended up being represented in the project as well. And then for targeting, like elders and seniors in the community, especially during COVID, when we couldn’t do real listening sessions. It’s a rural community. So there’s not great internet service out there. We ended up sending surveys and utility bills, because those were the things that got to every person in the community. {Yeah} And so got a ton of responses from like older adults to, to see what would you want to see in the space. And every once in a while still get, you know, pictures from folks in the community will be like, look, it’s been well used. And the coolest thing is just seeing the mix of generations. So, knowing during the day, it’s this beautiful place for kids to have fun and learn. But then at night, it’s like a safe, healthy place where families can come, where grandparents can take the kids out on the weekend to just like get the willies out on the basketball court. That’s pretty cool.


Erin Borla:  9:36  

That’s awesome. And I think, talk a little bit about like, other projects that you may have done and maybe the challenges and you’ve mentioned and you touched on like how, how challenging it was to describe to funders while you only interviewed 200 people. What does that mean? So, so how does that work when you’re out seeking funding for this project or others? 


Barton Robison:  9:54  

Yeah, I mean, it’s we’re in a really interesting place with funding, and rural communities in particular right now. So, vast majority of the work that Willamette Partnership does is in the rural spaces, a lot of my work in the past, I’ve done a lot of development and fundraising stuff. And, so many times, you’ll hear funders both on like the private foundation side, but also on the public side, say, we have all this money set aside for rural communities. We really want to work with rural communities. How can we work with rural communities? But then they have these criteria for you know, the number of people that are going to be impacted. How does the size like what’s the buy in and dollar amount from the local community for these projects? That’s one we’ve run into recently. And they’re obviously set up for the large urban communities where you have a high concentration of wealth, both at the community scale and at the individual scale. And there’s a real disconnect between wanting to fund rural communities to build that equity, and your actual ability to do that and put it into practice based upon the criteria you have set.


Erin Borla:  11:07  

Yeah, we like to hamstring ourselves in criteria. Box checking, it becomes really difficult. I think one thing I wanted to note about the Chiloquin project and the how impressed we were as an organization, with what what had happened in that community and seeing that revitalization. And recognizing that it hadn’t happened in other rural spaces. And when we had those conversations with Trust Republic land, it was like, hey, this is great. How do we do, What other rural spaces are you working in, and I was like this is the first one. Sorry. So we actually ended up funding another three rural school yards that are happening here in Oregon as a pilot project. So we’re super thrilled for Ontario, Madras, and Riddle to be going through this same process moving forward in hopes that there can be some additional information about this work. And I know, the partnership alongside the Klamath tribes also enabled an additional 10 school yards at Bureau of Indian Education schools across the west. So, I think not only did we see community revitalization, we have seen that this project can be replicated in other spaces, and that there’s a value. So just trying one thing, and that’s it so it’s long way to get back to your saying of like, how do we talk to funders and say, let’s try it, let’s take that risk, and move outside, maybe what you would be seeking for your criteria to pilot something in a community that might be smaller and out of your wheelhouse. And we’ll try it and then maybe it’s going to be the best thing you’ve ever seen. And it can grow and grow and grow.


Barton Robison:  12:40  

It’s an interesting thing Funding those projects, in particular, like Chiloquin, I know this sounds weird, it was really easy to get that project funding. And it’s because it just checked a lot of boxes. I mean, it was really explicitly a collaboration with the Klamath tribes. The majority of students enrolled at the school are Klamath tribal members. So you have that nexus, it was happening during kind of our national reckoning with racism. And so there was added attention on you know, how can we make equitable investments in these places. But I think with that masked as we expand to these other projects, is urban spaces, and schools have so much more money because they have such a larger tax base. And so, for a lot of those places, the school district just has more money to invest in these places. The families that are going there, have more money to invest in these places. And it has been really critical as we look at funding structures for the next few to figure out, you know, how can we redistribute some of that money and direct it to rural spaces. That’s why private philanthropy is so critical for these projects. Is because some funders will require, you know, I want to see $50,000 or 20% of this project, you know, raised by the local community. We pick these communities, because of the challenges they’re facing, like, a lot of them are are full free and reduced lunches for their students, because there’s such high rates of poverty. And so on one hand, you have some folks who are like, Yeah, that’s so great. These are the communities we’re investing in. And then that but also you need to have $200,000 invested from the local community before we’ll consider, so frustrating. {Yeah} Which thing we love about Roundhouse, because just more funders need to understand the different realities on the ground inrural spaces. 


Erin Borla:  14:46  

Yeah, I think it’s, I remember in Chiloquin and I think they’ve done it in Ontario and Madras as well,the students are doing Penny drives. I mean, kids are coming in and emptying their piggy banks for projects like this because it’s that important to them as a young person to see that their community be successful and they want to be a part of it, they want to be invested. And I think that’s what we see, in rural spaces. Philanthropy is not always a check. It is investment of time. It’s investment of passion, it’s building garden beds, it’s giving of their skill set. And I think maybe we need to get back to that just a little bit. It doesn’t always have to be about the Capitol. 


Barton Robison:  15:25  

Yeah, it’s relationships too like, that’s one of the other things that I’m super excited about these new projects is a lot of those communities, especially the ones that are farther out physically from Portland in the Willamette Valley in Oregon, there’s a disconnect over the mountains, where it’s just knowledge and information and relationships that don’t get plugged into each other. And so having the opportunity to get to meet those community partners on the ground in rural spaces, but then introduce them to funders, like Roundhouse, or like our other private philanthropies in Oregon, has potentially a long term impact if those relationships can continue past the project. And so anytime that we can be the, you know, people that we don’t do all the work, we just kind of put those two chords together. So that there’s a relationship information exchange is really important. And it requires the funders to put in a little time and investment into those relationships.


Erin Borla:  16:31  

Yeah, and I think you that’s something that we really look at a lot of like, we can’t solve every problem as a funder, as an institution, as a nonprofit. But if we can connect people to things that they may need, or other people, so they don’t feel so siloed in that space, where they can ask those questions. And they’re like, oh, I’m having a problem with my board member, or oh, our city council is stuck in this spot. There are other communities that have been through that. So how do we make those connections? And I think it breaks down that power dynamic as well. I mean, you touched a little bit on reckoning with equity, and what that looks like. It’s all about that balance of power. And sometimes it it’s more of recognizing what other gifts and things we can bring to the table.{Totally} So tell me a little bit more about some of the other projects you’re working on. I know you have some you’re doing a ton of work around water. And water is a hot button issue, particularly in rural spaces, we talk about agricultural uses. So I’d love to hear about some of those other things.


Barton Robison:  17:33  

Yeah, it’s, it’s in the name, you know, Willamette, a lot of our projects touch on water, partially because everything toucheson water, it’s just very important. But there are also a lot of water challenges facing Oregon, honestly, the whole west right now. So the majority of our work around water tends to be water quality, we don’t do as much quantity work and runs the gamut. So we work pretty closely with NRCS to do pilot projects around agricultural communities and municipal water systems to help try and address water quality issues through natural infrastructure. We’ve done some cool stuff up in like Whatcom County, in Washington around that with some local farmers who were facing, you know, potential adjudication at the state level, because of downstream water quality issues. And so they were like, let’s avoid litigation, what can we do, that still lets us you know, preserve agriculture as an important economic development opportunity in the area. We do a lot of stuff with rural communities around their actual hard infrastructure, too. So we’re working with the communities of Blue River, and Mill City, both of which were devastated by wildfire in 2020. Really, to help them figure out how do we rebuild, like basic water intake systems? And how do we, you know, find maybe a less expensive way to repair all of our water treatment or septic systems, which has been a fascinating thing, because people don’t think about it. Like, if my house burns down, there’s, you know, a strong government response during that immediate emergency period to make sure I have shelter, I have food, those basic things covered. And then I’m kind of on my own to rebuild my house, but who’s around to make sure I can like tap into water afterward. All the septic systems through those massive fires just get destroyed. And so it’s like, what do I do with my wastewater? And it can push back recovery of a community by like three or five years if that initial planning doesn’t start early. And a lot of people just won’t move back after that. {Yeah} So that’s another cool thing we’re working on right now.


Erin Borla:  20:02  

Nobody wants to talk about septic systems. {They don’t} There’s limited federal dollars. I mean, this is we had. {Its a crappy subject} “laughing”


Erin Borla:  20:12  

That’s the headline, the title of this episode. Its a crappy subject. {oh please no} Oh, that’s funny. So there were several communities that were were devastated in 2020. And this has been an ongoing issue of how do we find, many of them are unincorporated. And so they’re not on sewer they’re on septic. How do we find federal capital or state capital? For a crappy subject?


Barton Robison:  20:37  

Yeah. So what we’re doing right now, we’re creating a wildfire infrastructure toolkit. And so talking to federal agencies, state agencies, county emergency management folks to figure out, okay, who’s in charge of which parts of this process who’s coordinating this. And when we publish that toolkit, it’ll be something that government agencies can use to help them figure out how to collaborate and make sure this important planning work is getting done. But it’s also going to be for communities because where there’s capacity, community leadership just needs to be aware of this. And there are so many opportunities to bring in technical assistance providers like Willamette Partnership, or even just to contact the state and be like, hey, this is something we’re flagging, we want to move forward with it.


Erin Borla:  21:27  

I think that’s the piece that we forget, especially if you’re not necessarily if you’re from a more urban or metro space, city council, county commission, city leadership in rural communities are all, we always say you have the biggest hat rack we’ve ever seen, because they’re all wearing 1000 hats, and they’re all volunteers. And so they may have lost their home, their families may have lost their home, they may have lost pets or or people. And then they feel this other burden of their community leadership role in trying to find just even what to do next in crisis, and feel like they’re being pulled in 1000 directions. And frankly, we have a lot of information from unfortunately, I’ve been through a lot of fires recently, or other devastating disasters, but how do they get connected to those communities to those technical assistance providers and others? 


Barton Robison:  22:18  

Yeah, I mean, it’s been cool to see the state respond to that need in particular. So we’ve got this like massive influx of cash from the feds right now through the inflation Reduction Act, bipartisan infrastructure law. And so like our Department of Environmental Quality is kind of starting up their own TA process. And they’re working with groups like Willamette Partnership to figure out how can we coordinate across like our agencies, these nonprofits that provide TA as well, to figure out who has what covered and which places probably need someone to go and knock on the door and say, how are you doing? {Yeah} So that, that’s amodel, we’re building out in a much larger way through our new environmental justice center that we’re setting up for the region. Just a quick, easy way for communities to get in through the door and say, hey, this is an issue my community has, I don’t know what to do. Someone tell me how to get some help. And so we’ll be able to coordinate with our partners in Washington, Idaho and Alaska, Rural Community Assistance Corporation, and Portland State University’s Institute For Tribal Government to help I don’t know how many communities over the next five years, but I’m assuming hundreds, just know how to access that basic TA.


Erin Borla:  23:44  

It’s the front door, right? {it is} You just have to figure out where the door is. 


Barton Robison:  23:48  

And we make it really hard. {We do, don’t we?} Yeah, there are so many doors. 


Erin Borla:  23:53  

Yeah, I think one thing that I was really pleased with that came out of the 2020 fires, in addition to that, that wonderful work that we’ve seen happen. And the challenges that we’ve learned from, is the funder community in the state came together. And so we were part of the Oregon Disaster Funders Network. So now not only do we have this front door for technical assistance, for communities to access to federal and state capital, for, you know, prior planning, mitigation, recovery and response, and the longer term recovery, I did response, then recovery. But now the philanthropic community is actually working more closely together. And that’s something that has been a challenge for me stepping into this space over the last three and a half years of going. We asked all of our nonprofit partners who are they working with, how are they working together? But we don’t ask each other on the funding side whether and not only on private or corporate or public foundation side, but on the state like and  the feds? How What do you mean we don’t work together? Do you mean we don’t talk to one another? Those pieces I think are missing and I am really pleased to see that momentum.


Barton Robison:  24:55  

Yeah, and I’m gonna be real with you. We’re just gonna steal that model. So but when it comes to setting up, you know, new environmental justice funding across all the foundations in Oregon, we’re very excited just to have that venue that already exists, and it’s so much easier for communities to. Like, I take for granted how to write grants, because I’ve had to do it for so long, but also, like, I got a master’s degree in public administration. And even for me, it took three years before I actually knew what the heck I was doing. And so it doesn’t matter how much money is set aside at the state or federal level for these communities. If the applications aren’t accessible, or you need a master’s, to fill it out, it’s never gonna get on the ground. It’s just too much. So that’s another role that we can play in a lot of those processes is bringing down that funding, helping write the grants, pushing money out to communities sometimes because it’s easier for us to manage those. Just to reduce the burden so that folks who are obviously hurting and lost their community can focus on rebuilding it and not trying to understand bureaucratic jargon. 


Erin Borla:  26:06  

So you touched a little bit on the environmental justice project that you’re working on, I want to go back to not only the water quality, but also the work that you’re doing around agricultural communities, because I think what people forget, when we talk about being a climate funder or siloing our funding, is that there’s so many intersections in that work, especially in the rural West, right. A lot of, we settled where the where the water is, when we were moving westward, as in the colonial days, and that water is privately held. So if we want to do watershed work, if we want to do climate work, if we want to do environmental impact, any of those things as funders, we have to work with the private landowners. And we’re not.


Barton Robison:  26:54  

Yeah, and I mean, I’m, we’re recording this in Portland, right? Super urban, very liberal community. I think because we are so geographically divided, it’s really easy to stereotype people on the other side of the state. And so there’s this idea that our farmers are, I’m trying to think of a PG word to say, asshole is PG, that farmers are just like, I don’t care about the environment, right? Like screw the sage grouse, I want cows. I don’t care if there’s water in five years, I want a farm. And it’s just wrong. Like it’s cartoonishly evil, how some people characterize the folks who make our food. And I think it goes both ways to, it can be really awkward rolling in some places saying I’m from Portland. But, but everyone can benefit from that exchange of information. The biggest myth that I would love to bust for urban people, urban funders is that the people who grow and make our food don’t care about the environment, because they work more closely with the land than almost anyone else you can think of. It is a big part of why I think I’m actually successful at my job is I grew up in a farming family. So unfortunately, we had to sell the family farm a couple years ago. But before that, it was like seven generations of Robinsonsthat had primarily grown in the Midwest, so corn, soybeans, and that’s all that happened year over year for like 50 years. And my grandpa who ran the farm was so invested in making sure that there is good habitat for deer close by he lined all of his fields with trees, decades before that was standard practice, because he was like, oh, yeah, I don’t like flooding out my neighbors who are at lower elevation. And I don’t want all that fertilizer to make our ditches super gross and smelly in the summer. There are all of these things that folks in agricultural communities are doing to try and improve the environment around them. And if you walk into a community and demonize them, it makes it really hard to work. So, so just recognizing that connection to the land, how important it is for them, I mean, deeply and often spiritually as people who have grown up in farming families, but even just for their livelihood, they’re not ignorant. They understand, oh, yeah, I need things like access to clean water, to be able to make a living and feed my family. It’s, it’s just frustrating that that message doesn’t get shared more.


Erin Borla:  29:53  

So let’s talk about what you think is working around how philanthropy is currently serving rural communities. And then I want to dig in a little bit about how we can maybe do better. Especially, I mean, the majority of the money, frankly, is, is centered in urban centers, {100%} that just is the reality. And so, so how do we, what’s going really well? How can we do better?


Barton Robison:  30:17  

So things that are going well, it’s been really nice to see more funders identify rural spaces as an equity priority. Which I think is something else that’s easy to forget about as an urbanite, we tend to think of equity along lines of race, along lines of economic development. And we just assumed those things don’t exist in rural spaces. But if you look at the data, like rural spaces are, they have less access to money, less access to health care, higher rates of suicide, all of these things that we would take as markers for oh, we should invest there in an urban area, and it just doesn’t translate. So it’s been nice to see that improvement. Another thing is just the application process. It is so nice to send people to a handful of funders, because I know their applications are really easy. And I know the reporting can be done by someone who doesn’t have grants as a full time job. So those are really great things that I appreciate for sure. 


Erin Borla:  31:24  

Yeah. Well, that’s good. I mean, it feels like that’s the direction you know, we talk a lot about in the, in the philanthropic industry, about shifting to trust based practices, and what does that look like, and giving power back to community. But I think sometimes that’s hard to do in practice. {Yeah.} And in application, you know, we, we tend to think that we need certain things or has to look a certain way. And so it’s exciting to see those things shift a little bit. {agreed} What gets to change? {Oh man} Punch list.


Barton Robison:  31:57  

You know, the number one thing I can think of is, I wish more funders on the private side went out to rural spaces. Something that we’re trying to work on with a group of private funders right now, is identifying priority communities in Oregon, just because we know the way urban migration is happening. A lot of these small communities aren’t super resilient to challenges. So, a wildfire comes through a lot of folks will just be displaced permanently, and those communities won’t come back. So where are those regional hubs that are really worth investing in now? And how can we set them up to be increasingly resilient, as more rural folks congregate into those smaller, tighter communities? I also just think it’s good practice to build those relationships. I know I keep talking about it. And part of it is I don’t understand what’s hard. Everyone likes happy hour. Everyone likes lunch. And if you can get paid to do that with people like what more do you need. But without that, it’s not possible to have that continued, sustainable support in a community. You can’t develop trust on the funder side, if you don’t know the people pretty well, who you’re working with. And same on the other side, like rural communities get burned so much, by people coming in and saying, I have this great idea, I have this project, let’s do it, and then dipping out for one reason or another. And so there’s a really understandable hesitancy sometimes to work with new people who are outsiders. And speaking from experience, it’s pretty easy to overcome, if you just keep showing up. 


Erin Borla:  33:46  

Yeah. Well, I’m super excited to have a chance to chat with you and spend some time and learn all about the wonderful things you’re doing. We do have opportunities for show notes and things like that at the end. So anything we talked about, we can plug in information so people can find that. Other things you want to leave with?


Barton Robison:  34:01  

Oh, man. I, something I would love to leave with is I just really deeply love working in rural communities. Like do they have challenges? Yeah. Are they complex? Yeah. But so are urban communities. It’s just in different ways. And the more that folks can, can move across communities, and get to understand each other, I think the easier it would be for everyone to understand that we share a lot of similar values. So that’s it. Yeah. Go get a bite to eat in a rural community.


Erin Borla:  34:48  

No, I think it’s really important to recognize the that we are very similar and, you know, when I started this project, I’ve made these notes to the National Center for Family philanthropy, and I said I think if we have these conversations and people truly hear about the wonderful things that are happening in these communities and how communities are trying to work together and that it is really easy to work with these communities. And they’re, they want to work with us. And I was like, we can change the world. I know we can change the world like, and that feels really naive. But it is, I honestly believe that if we all just spend a few minutes grabbing a bite to eat, and a place that maybe we haven’t been to before. We are going to change the world.


Barton Robison:  35:30  

I see it every day. Yeah.


Erin Borla:  35:33  

Thanks for being here.


Barton Robison: 35:35

Of course. Thanks Erin.


Erin Borla:  35:44  

I think Barton said it perfectly. Just show up, show up, show up, show up. I think we sound like a broken record when we talk about that here on, on the podcast. But that truly is what we’re hearing from communities. Make a good visit happen. Show that respect to the community because they’re worthy of your time. Break bread with people, grab a beer, grab a cup of coffee, hey, you may find your next favorite beer, or your next favorite coffee. Ask people about their lives,not just about their work. We need to get out from behind our desk and explore the world and the issues that not only we’re trying to tackle, but our communities that we work with are trying to tackle. We’ve talked a lot about foundations referring to grant partners as like extensions of their mission. I think if that’s truly the case, we can look a little bit deeper, we can get to know someone and be a little bit more creative. I think what I loved the most was talking about weird projects. Look for the weird ones. Look for those really odd grant partners, because they’re often the most rewarding. There where you can make a really significant impact. I think the biggest lesson for funders is that we can’t solve every problem, especially on our own. But we can pull other people to the table. We can connect people, we can break down silos and provide advice, guidance or support. Building relationships with the groups we fund being available and picking up the phone. Those are critical steps to help really move things forward. Thanks again for listening to Funding Fural. You can check out a transcript of our episode at


Published On: April 20th, 2024 / Categories: Funding Rural Podcast /