A letter from Funding Rural Podcast Host, Erin Borla

Philanthropy is a big word with a new, more corporate meaning these days – but giving back to community – that’s how I was raised.

Erin Borla at RodeoI grew up as a 4-H kid, going to the county fair and showing my horse, Texas. Raising market pigs and entering (terrible) articles of clothing I’d sewn.  All that hard work was worth it for the week of fun we got to have every August.  I worked hard all year long for that week and it’s where most of my memories were made.  But more important were the skills I learned, the lifelong lessons and the people I met along the way.

The world was bigger than how well they performed, or the money made at market (often saved for college).  We leaned on each other – and our community for support, education, expertise and to lift each other up when we needed it.  That’s philanthropy to me.

Philanthropy: A Family Tradition

My family has always given back – my dad, Frank Deggendorfer, was a schoolteacher and spent extra time working with his students as a coach.  As an adult I still run into his students, and they tell me, “Your dad was my favorite teacher – he really understood me.”

My mom, artist Kathy Deggendorfer, worked hard to tell her story in a different way.  She showed up for community as a thought-leader, a fundraiser, a board member and so much more.

Both of my folks spent years on the County Planning Commission, participated on City transportation committees, the County Fair Board, and countless other committees.  They dedicated their time, their talents, and their expertise to help shape the community they wanted to live.

My grandmother, Gert Boyle, was a boot-strap kind of gal.  She was dealt a hand I don’t know how I would manage.  She taught me you must work for the community you want, and you must work hard.  Don’t take anything for granted – and when you have a little you share it.  When you have a little more – you share that too.  And speak up.  Speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves – and more importantly for those who aren’t listened too.

Roundhouse: A Family Foundation

When I stepped in as a staff member at The Roundhouse Foundation in early 2020 our organization was growing, growing a lot.  I leaned into community, both the familiar and the unfamiliar.  I started building relationships with leaders on the ground doing good work.  At Roundhouse rural Oregon is in our roots – and that is where we chose to focus our expanded grantmaking.  Through this growth we were sure to include the Federally recognized Tribes and historic bands of Indigenous people across the region.

I traveled and learned about so many organizations across Oregon and the people behind them.  The vision, the passion, and the strength.  Many are doing this work while they also have a full-time job, raise their kids, and serve on the boards of multiple other organizations in their communities.  These places are hard to get to – they are up to 8 hours away from the power centers in our state and they are making it work.  These are my people.  My Oregon.  Working hard in their community to make it a better place to live, work, and love.  Their stories of strength and empowerment are heartfelt and passionate. Those initial stories, those voices and that gift of sharing helped me on my journey.

Why Funding Rural?

I reached out to folks in philanthropy, to folks across our region and nationally for best practices.  I kept hearing the same things:  You work with rural communities?  Why? How do you even do that work? You’re the only organization we know that focuses on rural spaces.  You work with Tribes?  Are you really doing that work? That hurt my heart.

To me that meant, stories of community, of gifts, of giving of oneself while being rooted in place – they weren’t being heard, like they didn’t matter.  And I learned something, Roundhouse’s style – just picking up the phone and building relationships with organizations on the ground doing the work – was not normal in this field.

National Data on Rural Funding

In the latest study (FSG 2021) only 7% of philanthropic dollars, nationally, goes toward rural America.   Of the 125,000 private foundations and 125,000 corporate foundations across the country – with a total of just under $5B (2022) and only .4% supports Native-led or Native-serving projects (2019).  Let’s put some numbers on that – per capita, rural Mississippi Delta receives approximately $41 from philanthropy; versus over $1900 per capita in New York City (2017).

Numbers like these helped me have a better understanding of the rural ‘divide’.

In 2021, we started getting phone calls and emails from organizations outside of Oregon asking if I’d tell the story of why rural matters in philanthropy.  I started presenting about the importance of rural issues on a national stage.  Roundhouse Foundation now co-convenes the Rural Peer Funders Network through NCFP for other place-based funders to connect and learn from each other.

What came next was the parallels we hear about between rural funding and inner-city urban funding.  Communities of color in urban centers shouting the same things our rural counterparts were saying.  Every opportunity I told a story about rural Oregon, I would hear from inner city Black communities, or farm worker communities that they experience the same thing, disinvestment, distrust and inability to have any agency over the things that happen to them by folks in power.  The through-lines came through strong.  We are all so similar, if we could just talk to one another.

Roundhouse Foundation built internal systems to ensure our contributions were going to the right places, we continued to build relationships and show up in community, and we thought creatively about how to be present – more than the check.  Roundhouse’s work is a touch point.  I have the privilege to connect, to elevate and to share the stories of folks across our state doing incredible work.

Funding Rural Podcast

In late 2022, I was accepted as a Fellow for the National Center for Family Philanthropy and was asked to build a project focused on rural philanthropy.  My story isn’t the important one – it’s the stories of the folks I have met along the way.  Building up communities, families, schools and each other.  It’s their stories of hope.  I wanted to share how they have made an impact on my work and how I believe investment of time, energy and talent in these communities can make us all better people and can spark systems change across sweeping issues in America.

Listen to Funding Rural Podcast: Available Now

Funding Rural Sheep

Join me on all the major Podcast platforms and hear from experts and friends about their experiences.  I’ll talk with folks who are experts in federal funding, those working hard in communities distant from resources, philanthropic leaders and everything in between.  You’ll hear about how funding in rural and Indigenous communities is critically important – how it may be different and take more time than the way you have been working – but it will be so worth it.  I’m hopeful it gives another perspective of how communities work, who America is – outside of the big city.  And how, we really can lift each other up to solve some of our biggest challenges.


One More Story: Making Our Communities a Better Place

Erin Borla Rodeo with cattleI’ll share one more story.  When I was a kid the grandparents of one of my fellow 4-Her’s, a cattle rancher, Ralph and Dee McNulty, were at every County Fair, every weigh-in, every event.  He was the ‘chute-man’ at the rodeo and horse show and always a smiling face for every kid that came through that gate.  She stayed up late every Friday night at the county fair and helped with the food for the Buyer’s Picnic the next day and together they did so much more.  They sponsored several animal scholarships for students to purchase a steer, hog or lamb to raise and learn and grow with, a colt for a horse 4-Her to train and gain experience, and countless awards for recognition of hard work and excellence.  I thought about this couple often as an adult and how much they gave to the program and our county’s kids.

Ralph had a heart attack when he was in his late 70’s and Dee forced him to slow down – stop jumping in the chutes to help – and find another way to give back.  He taught himself to knit.  Before he passed, he made several hundred knitted hats for NICU babies.  At his funeral, I thought of his quiet presence throughout my childhood.  His gift of being there – being present – and encouraging young people to get real-world experience in projects that helped shape who they would become.  He taught us about hard work, about dedication, about love for something greater than ourselves – and even as he began to slow down – his gift of time and of himself – helped to shape the

Knitted caps for Ralph

community he loved.  I don’t think he knew just how much he impacted our community – and me especially.

After Ralph’s death, I taught myself how to knit to honor both he and his wife’s memory.  I felt like it was a tangible way to keep their legacy strong.  It started with hats for the NICU, then I moved to adult hats for cancer patients at the hospital.  Now they are gifts for our grant and foundation partners – our community.  I’ve made over 1,000, and with every stitch I think of Ralph and Dee.  This is my way of giving a piece of myself to those dedicating their lives to making our communities a better place to live.

Take a Listen

Take a listen to Funding Rural.  Let me know what you think. Share the stories of the Ralph and Dee McNulty’s of your life.  I can’t wait to hear them.

Published On: February 28th, 2024 / Categories: Featured Grant Stories, Funding Rural Podcast, Grant News /